(The previous review for Books I-III in the Dark is Rising series is here: https://cannonballread.com/2020/05/over-sea-under-the-stone-and-the-dark-is-rising-and-greenwitch-jormis/)
The last two books in the Dark is Rising series are situated in Wales. In the whole series, 3 books happen in Wales and 2 in Cornwall. So, all are historical Celtic parts (before Saxons and Jutes and Normans came and conquered).
In The Grey King, we meet Will Stanton who is recuperating from a liver infection. His parent send him off to Wales and its fresh sea air to help him get better. So, he visits his relatives, Jen and David Evans.
In Wales he meets an albino boy, Bran, who lives with her father – her mother having disappeared when he was young. Bran wears sunglasses, underneath which are piercing golden eyes. But what is most striking is that Bran identifies Will as being one of the Old Ones. How is that possible? What’s with the Welsh people?
(Incidentally, the Grey King has a good primer on Welsh pronunciation; you’ll be uttering “Mynydd Ceiswyn” or “Machynlleth” correctly in no time, thanks to Bran’s [the writer Susan Cooper’s] tutoring.)
Will knows that he is to find a golden harp, one of two still missing objects needed for the final battle between the Light and the Dark. Additionally, the resting place of The Sleepers, six ancient Arthurian knights, is somewhere in the vicinity of the Grey King’s hoods, also near where Will is now.
The Grey King is another player in addition to the Light and the Dark. He has his own will, agenda, and means – which Will and Bran are going to find out. He most definitely does not want them snooping around his domain, but snoop the boys will.
Eventually, the harp and the whereabouts of the riders is discovered. Susan Cooper’s depiction of green, grey & misty Wales is the best in the whole series; it is as if I was there. Moreover, storywise, The Grey King is the most gripping book. Susan Cooper has excelled in combining fantasy action and realistic settings.
The last book in the series, Silver of the Tree, happens mostly in Wales, too, and brings together Will, Bran, and the Drew kids, Jane, Simon and Barney. The posse will be hunting for the last missing item, the crystal sword Eirias, which was commissioned by the Light. And prepare for the final battle.
There is a lot happening: time displacements where Merlin (uncle Merriman) and Will and Bran travel in time, to see the Celts prepare for battle against the Saxons – it is the previous big one between the Light and the Dark. Also the Drews get transported back in time in Wales. Will and Merlin also hide an item (from the Dark) in the Roman times and retrieve in the present, knowing the hideout. Neat, neat, neat.
One cardinal rule in children’s books is to have no despair. You can write scary situations (your brain filters scary words, scary images are worse) but no despair. Thus, any stressful tension must be resolved fast; in fantasy and science fiction writers may introduce deus ex machina.
Silver on the Tree satifies this rule – too perfectly, in my opinion. There is a lot happening: beautiful and interesting places that are rushed (like the Lost Land/City) and would have merited a more thorough treatment; threats by the Dark that stay as threats and really just weakly punctuate the action; puzzles that need urgent solving. Furthermore, the final battle that is preceded by the legal “battle” for Bran’s right to bear Eirias (it is his as he is no ordinary boy) is basically a rush job from start to finish. It’s over. The Light has won.
Will be the last Old One left. His friends do not remember anything of what has happened. In the end, Jane, Simon, Barney, Bran, and Will start to walk in the brisk Wales wind towards new adventures.