Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Silver on the Tree

Susan Cooper
Puffin Books

The Dark is rising in its last and greatest bid to control the world. And Will Stanton -- last-born of the immortal Old Ones, dedicated to keeping the world free -- must join forces with this ageless master Merriman and Bran, the Welsh boy whose destiny ties him to the Light. Drawn in with them are the three Drew children, who are mortal, but have their own vital part in the story. These six fight fear and death in the darkly brooding Welsh hills, in a quest through time and space that touches the most ancient myths of the British Isles, and that brings Susan Cooper's masterful sequence of novels to a satisfying close.

And so we come to the end of The Dark is Rising sequence and I'm a little bit sad about it.  Now, if you'd told me a few months ago after I'd read the first in the series that I'd be lamenting their passing I'd probably have raised a disbelieving eyebrow at you but four books later here I am doing that very thing.

The first book in the quintet was a competent enough magicky tale on the tried and trusted Famous Five, Secret Seven, Existential Eight formula and felt a little bit old fashioned.  The second raised the bar significantly with the introduction of young Will and his induction as a 'Old One'.  It was still a bit pat and there was little suspense but Cooper had created a world that looked like it would be fun to visit and peopled it with characters that you wanted to watch. 

By the time she got to the third book she was flying; it blew me away!  I was nervous about the reintroduction of the trio from the first book but her depiction of them was much more nuanced and she slotted them seamlessly into the new, more substantial, universe.  The fourth built on this further and added a new element of Welshness into the story of the fight against The Dark that gave the narrative depth, age and a heritage.  Now, finally we are at the end; The Dark is coming and all those we have met have a part to play.

For 'Silver in the Tree' we are back in Wales roaming the mountains of the west and the lost land even further so.  Cooper weaves Welsh and Arthurian folktales into her narrative as Will, Bran and the three Drews explore the landscape and are also thrown both into the past and travel to lost lands of legend.

Reflecting, perhaps, the time it was written the book touches several times on issues of racial and cultural bigotry; explicitly so in the case of Will's elder brothers confrontation of three racist bullies and it's aftermath and later in passing following Bran's first meeting with the English Drew children.  Obviously, within the story these events are intended to show the power the resurgence of The Dark has in the hearts of people but I'd have liked more to have been made of them as they remain an issue that is depressingly current but perhaps in her handling of the topic as the beliefs of venal men that don't deserve to be lingered over she says far more.

At the book's conclusion we see the promised six in their final attempt to turn back The Dark and a seventh find his true nature in the final counting.  It's an ending that's very much in keeping with what has gone before as  - spoilers - you always know they'll win out and there's never been much jeopardy in these stories as it's regularly and specifically stated that The Dark are not allowed to hurt the Old Ones although there is one moment that is staggering in it's cruelty and which makes the injured party's subsequent actions all the more powerful.

The book ends with a nod to (or a lift from - depending on how you feel) Tolkein and the promise that most of the participants will forget the events which is kind of one step away from '...and then they all woke up' but I'll not belabour that point as the journey getting there was certainly worthwhile and I lament the passing of this series.

Buy it here - Silver On The Tree (The Dark Is Rising)


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