Susan Cooper has yet to equal "The Dark is Rising," the second book of her classic Dark is Rising Sequence. Independent of the first book "Over Sea Under Stone," this is also darker, more magical, more intense, and one of the most beautifully written fantasy novels in existance.
Will Stanton is an ordinary boy, until his Midwinter eleventh birthday. On that day, he ventures out into a seemingly changed world. There, he encounters a sinister Dark Rider, then a beautiful white horse that leads him to a hidden place, where he finds two of the Old Ones -- the mysterious Lady and Merriman Lyon, one of the stars of the previous book. The Old Ones are immortal, powerful, wise, and it turns out that Will is the last one born.
And as an astonishingly cold winter settles over England, Will is taught some of the ways of the Old Ones, who fight the Dark (forces of evil, like the Dark Rider). He has one of the signs of power, but must get them all: Iron, Bronze, Stone, Wood, Fire and Water. And he must contend with the Dark Rider, his own failings, and a mysterious stranger whose future is inextricably entwined with his...
Susan Cooper is at her peak here. Will Stanton's adventures have a sense of unreal mystery and magic about them, where the slightest actions can have significance, time is easily manipulated, and two kinds of reality intersect. Welsh mythos and legend is interwoven more deeply here, including hints of the Arthurian tilt that was featured more prominently in "Over Sea, Under Stone." At the same time, Cooper accurately displays a more human side of Will, the side that is deeply attached to his family and home.
Her writing also becomes much more detailed here. In her first Dark is Rising novel, Cooper's writing was relatively spare and lacking in detail. Here, she more than makes up for it with intricate details about the halls of the Old Ones, the bustling farmhouse, and the eerie woods where the Walker wanders.
Nowhere to be found is the British-kids-on-holiday atmosphere. It's replaced by an warm atmosphere, and one of shocking, powerful magic. This isn't magic infringing on our world, but rather Will stepping from one to another. Her dialogue is more believable, even the little old lady bleating about the snowstorm; and Will tends to think, act, and talk like an eleven-year-old boy who is aged before his time.
Will himself is an astonishingly three-dimensional character: he flips between being a smart, quiet eleven-year-old to being an Old One, with all the power that suggests. This transition is not one that is handled lightly, as he gradually loses his innocent, boyish outlook and learns more about the battle between evil and good. Merriman Lyon is a more majestic character than in "Over Sea, Under Stone," and the reader gets a saddening view of the sacrifices he's had to make for his battle against the Dark.
Susan Cooper does an astonishing job with "The Dark is Rising," a spellbinding fantasy that secured the Dark is Rising Sequence as a classic. Truly an entrancing, magical novel.