Recent Reads: “Over Sea, Under Stone” by Susan Cooper

Over Sea Under Stone cover

Over Sea, Under Stone (The Dark Is Rising Sequence, Book #1)
Susan Cooper
Fantasy / Young Adult / Children’s

Synopsis:

“I did not know that you children would be the ones to find it. Or what danger you would be putting yourselves in.”

Throughout time, the forces of good and evil have battled continuously, maintaining the balance. Whenever evil forces grow too powerful, a champion of good is called to drive them back. Now, with evil’s power rising and a champion yet to be found, three siblings find themselves at the center of a mystical war.

Jane, Simon, and Barney Drew have discovered an ancient text that reads of a legendary grail lost centuries ago. The grail is an object of great power, buried with a vital secret. As the Drews race against the forces of evil, they must piece together the text’s clues to find the grail – and keep its secret safe until a new champion rises.

Rating: 3.75 / 5

There’s nothing more rewarding than picking a long-unread book from your shelf and coming away from it satisfied. I can’t tell you how long I’ve neglected Over Sea, Under Stone, the first installment of Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising Sequence. Two years? Maybe three? It may be a good idea to prioritize more recent releases (Over Sea, Under Stone will be 50 years old in 2016), but that doesn’t help with alleviating TBR guilt. So, I decided to stop feeling guilty and dive into Cooper’s world of darkness, light, and Arthurian legends – and I really enjoyed it!

Over Sea, Under Stone takes place in the fictional coastal town of Trewissick, Great Britain. Three siblings – Simon, Jane, and Barney Drew – and their parents join their wise yet peculiar Great Uncle Merry for a summer vacation, renting a castle-like mansion known as the Grey House. While exploring the Grey House, the siblings discover a manuscript from the days of King Arthur. Strange things happen afterwards. The Grey House is ransacked by burglars, yet nothing is taken. Mysterious visitors try to slither their way into the family’s “inner circle.” The only person the children realize they can trust then is Great Uncle Merry, who seems to know a great deal about the manuscript and its significance. With their great uncle watching over them, the Drew siblings must piece together clues and find the grail mentioned in the manuscript – before their enemies do.

Over Sea, Under Stone takes a few chapters to get going. Once it does, it becomes a quick, fascinating read, with smart pacing and breezy language that readers young and old will appreciate. Its surprisingly intricate plot is effortless to follow, too. Cooper plays every detail as if it’s a chess piece; characters who initially don’t seem important weasel their way back into the story in ways that make complete sense, and then threaten the Drew children and their chances of success. These twists and turns are marks of great storytelling, regardless of the genre or target audience.

Cooper also excels at building tension and suspense. As conflict mounts in Over Sea, Under Stone, she constantly leaves the reader fearing the children’s lives. She achieves this through dialogue, internal reactions from the Drew siblings, and action. The chase scene at the end of Chapter 7 is one of my favorite parts of the book. By the end, my heart was pounding and I was recovering my breath from the pacing and the constant worrying over whether the chase would end badly for Simon.

Another aspect of Over Sea, Under Stone that I loved was the relationships between Simon, Jane, and Barney. It’s so obvious that they’re siblings! They argue, joke around, poke fun at one another, and fret about each other’s safety. Cooper never reveals their ages; if I had to guess, they’re probably 10 (Simon), 9 (Jane), and 7 (Barney), which fits how they interact with each other and with adults. Their banter does get tiring at times and can affect the pacing. Yet, Cooper’s realistic portrayals of the Drew siblings endeared me even more to the story, and to the characters themselves.

The only real gripe I have with Over Sea, Under Stone is the third-person omniscient narration (a.k.a. the all-knowing POV that shares thoughts and feelings from all of the main characters during a scene or chapter). I know this was acceptable back in the 1960s when Cooper wrote the book. (Other classic fantasy series like Tolkien’s Lord Of The Rings trilogy and C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia were also written this way.) But it was jarring to learn Jane’s thoughts in one paragraph, and then Barney’s the next. I was also irritated by the couple times the omniscient narrator focused on a minor character instead of one of the Drew siblings. It may help with showing how the  scope widens as the story goes on, but I still questioned its necessity.

Overall, though, I’m happy that I finally snuck in time for Over Sea, Under Stone. It captures the innocence and curiosity of its young protagonists as well as the mythic weight of the battle between good and evil. And with believable characters, realistic relationships, and edge-of-your-seat suspense, it’s a vivid, compelling fantasy that appeals to readers of all ages. I have every intention now of continuing The Dark Is Rising Sequence now. Too bad it’s Christmastime and I’m still under my self-imposed book-buying ban for another 2 weeks!

Have you read Over Sea, Under Stone? What did you think of it? If you haven’t read it yet, do you think you might check it out based on what you’ve read above? Let me know by commenting below or visiting the same review at Amazon or Goodreads.

11 thoughts on “Recent Reads: “Over Sea, Under Stone” by Susan Cooper

  1. I love your marking system – 3.75 out of 5! I feel that I’ve made a complete mess of some of my marks, as I may give a book a 4, then I’ll read one still good, but not quite so good, and I’ll give it 3.5, which doesn’t seem that good a mark…Also over time my opinions of books will change. Yet it’s not fair to go back and change them! Plus I’ve given some books a 5 this year, but the ones that have stuck in my mind as genuinely original and memorable didn’t get a 5! Hopefully I’ll get better at marking as I go, or I’ll just borrow your system which has so many possibilities!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! You’re not alone with regretting some of the marks you’ve given on past book reviews, btw. There are a few of mine I don’t agree as much in hindsight. But what I do now is I take into account a) my overall feelings of the book as I read and when I’ve finished, b) aspects I enjoyed about the book, and c) aspects I didn’t enjoy. How do you come up with your ratings?

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  2. I had this book forever and I tried to read it this summer, but couldn’t get into it. Sounds like I didn’t try long enough. The best character was the crazy uncle. Yeah I guess their ages at around there too. I don’t like third omnipresent as much either. I think it’s harder for an author to use well, first just flows easily.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, definitely give Over Sea, Under Stone another chance, Molly. It’s a great story, and not too long, either. I think my copy is between 170 and 200 pages long…

      The writing style might be due to what was considered acceptable back in the 1960s, when this book was first published. LOTR and the Chronicles Of Narnia both were written in third omnipresent, so it’s not much of a surprise that Cooper wrote in that way, too.

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  4. I have not read this book, probably because I never picked up a fantasy novel with much enthusiasm. The one that has remained in my memory for the longest is The Wizard of Oz. Harry Potter was the only exception. But knowing you are writing one, I will pick it up when I can lay my hands on it. I am avidly following the progress of your work 🙂

    Nevertheless, since YA fiction is my favourite genre, I am going to read your reviews and maybe pick up some books too based on your review. What I like best about your reviews is that they tell me what is best, what riles you, why it would be a good read, in a chatty, friendly way. The rating also helps. I might not comment on all, but be assured that I am going to read every one of them!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ohhh thank you, Zephyr! 🙂 I always try to be honest in my reviews without coming across as rude or disrespectful. So, hearing something like this tells me that a) I’m achieving the tone I want to use in my reviews, and b) I’m doing my job too, since you’re considering reading the books in question.

      If you like YA fiction, Zephyr, you might be interested in the book I’m going to cover in my next review. I haven’t had a chance to write it yet, but I’m hoping it will post sometime next week.

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  5. It would be wonderful if you review some books in other genres of YA books like Historic or social fiction. These days I find thrillers and mysteries a little hard on my nerves. Maybe it has to do with age 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t read mysteries and thrillers very often, so you won’t see many of those here. 😉 I read mostly fantasy (which makes sense, given that’s the genre I write in), historical fiction, contemporaries, a little bit of science fiction, and a few other things here and there. So, that’s primarily what you’ll find reviews for here.

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  6. Pingback: Recent Reads: “Blackbringer” by Laini Taylor | Sara Letourneau's Official Website & Blog

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