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The Grey King by Susan Cooper Review

Title: The Grey King

Author: Susan Cooper

First published January 1, 1975

165 pages, Paperback

ISBN: 9781416949671 (ISBN10: 1416949674)

Rating: 4.16


“Amidst the approaching final battle between the Light and the Dark, Will embarks on a perilous quest to seek out aid. He must find a magical harp hidden deep within the Welsh hills, and use it to awaken the Sleepers – six noble riders who have been slumbering for centuries.

However, an illness has robbed Will of his knowledge of the Old Ones, leaving him only with a fractured riddle to guide him on his journey. As he travels blindly through treacherous terrain, Will will come face-to-face with the most formidable Lord of the Dark – the Grey King.

The King holds the harp and Sleepers within his lands, and no force has yet been powerful enough to wrench them from his grasp. Will’s courage and resourcefulness will be put to the test as he battles the Grey King and struggles to save the world from eternal darkness.”

About the Author

Susan Cooper, an English author, was born in 1935 and grew up in Buckinghamshire, which was green countryside then but has now become part of Greater London. As a child, she was an avid reader, as was her younger brother who also became a writer.

After completing her studies at Oxford, where she edited the university’s newspaper and became the first woman to do so, Cooper worked as a reporter and feature writer for London’s Sunday Times. Interestingly, her first boss was none other than Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond.

Cooper’s career as a writer began when she entered a publishing house competition and wrote her first book for young readers, “Over Sea, Under Stone.” It later became the basis for her critically acclaimed five-book fantasy sequence, “The Dark Is Rising.” The fourth book in the series, “The Grey King,” won the Newbery Medal in 1976. Cooper had been living in America for 13 years by then, having moved there to marry her first husband, an American professor.

She was stepmother to three children and the mother of two.

Cooper has written many other well-received novels, including “The Boggart” (and its sequel “The Boggart and the Monster”), “King of Shadows,” and “Victory,” as well as several picture books for young readers, collaborating with illustrators such as Ashley Bryan and Warwick Hutton. She has also written books for adults, as well as plays and Emmy-nominated screenplays, many in collaboration with the actor Hume Cronyn, whom she married in 1996.

After Hume Cronyn’s death in 2003, Cooper now lives in Marshfield, MA. When she is not working, she enjoys playing the piano, gardening, and traveling.

Cooper’s recent works include the collaborative project “The Exquisite Corpse Adventure” and her biography of Jack Langstaff titled “The Magic Maker.” Her latest book is the YA novel “Ghost Hawk” (2013).

For more information, you can visit Susan Cooper’s Facebook page.

Editoral Review

Susan Cooper’s The Grey King is a seminal work in the field of young adult fantasy literature. First published in 1975, it is the fourth book in Cooper’s acclaimed “The Dark is Rising” series.

Set in Wales, the novel explores themes of power, sacrifice, fate and the use of myth and legend in contemporary life. Cooper, who was born in Buckinghamshire, England, is a celebrated author, poet and playwright.

She is best known for her fantasy novels, which frequently incorporate mythological elements and consider the relationship between the everyday and the otherworldly. Her work, including The Dark is Rising series, has won many awards, including the Newbery Medal and the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize.

In The Grey King, a fourteen-year-old boy named Will Stanton travels to Wales to recover from a serious illness. There, he meets Bran Davies, a local boy who claims to be the golden king from a Welsh myth.

The two boys embark on a quest to awaken a mythical creature that can help them prevent the rising of the dark, which would plunge Wales into peril. However, they must navigate the treacherous landscape of Wales, face unexpected dangers, and learn to trust their instincts.

The novel’s main strength lies in its vivid and lyrical prose, which evokes the rugged beauty of the Welsh countryside and creates an eerie sense of atmosphere. Cooper’s descriptions of the Welsh legends and folklore are enchanting, and she manages to blend them seamlessly with the modern-day setting.

The book’s themes of fate and the cyclical nature of history are woven throughout, and Cooper uses these to great effect in her character development. Will’s journey is not only a physical one but also a metaphysical one, and Cooper deftly explores his inner world and the choices he must make.

However, one weakness of the book is its slow pacing in the beginning. It takes some time for the story to really pick up and some readers may lose patience with the slow build.

Additionally, some of the characters, while lovingly portrayed, may feel underdeveloped. Comparing The Grey King to other young adult fantasy novels reveals a distinct style and tone unique to Cooper.

The book is not as action-packed as some other works in the genre, but it excels in its metaphysical underpinnings and skilful interweaving of myth and reality. Fans of the series will find this book a satisfying continuation of the earlier books.

Overall, The Grey King is an evocative, poetic and enchanting work of young adult fantasy. Its vivid imagery and compelling characters will leave readers spellbound.

A must-read for fans of the genre, this book earns a solid four out of five stars.