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.

Time to Play TBR Book Tag!

Since Anya at On Starships And Dragonwings and Molly Mortensen openly tagged readers on their TBR Book Tags, I thought I’d continue the chain! So, I combed through my physical bookshelves, took some photos, and (finally!) finished updating my “To-Read” shelf on Goodreads to include my home collection. Now I’m ready to play!

For anyone who’s not familiar with the acronym, TBR stands for “to be read.” Therefore, a TBR pile or TBR list consists of the books in your personal collection that you haven’t read yet.

Ready to explore my bookshelves and reading wishlists with me? 🙂   Continue reading

Top 10 Science Fiction & Fantasy Series I Want To Start

I don’t normally follow The Broke and The Bookish’s Top 10 Tuesday meme because I doubt I’d be able to keep up with it (thank you, busy writing schedule and offline life). But after reading Anya’s list at On Starships and Dragonwings, I knew I should do my own Top 10 list of science fiction and fantasy series I want to start reading. So, here we go!

NOTE: There may be a slight trend toward the fantasy side of the spectrum. 😉

1. Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising Sequence (YA Dark / Contemporary Fantasy)

Dark Is Rising boxset

I like to catch up on the classics as well as more recent books. Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising was written in the 1960s and 70s, which puts it up there in age with Ursula Le Guin’s earliest Earthsea novels. The first book in the sequence, Over Sea Under Stone, has been sitting on my shelf unread for… at least a couple years *lol* This article is serving as my reminder to dive into The Dark Is Rising soon.  Continue reading