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Over Sea, Under Stone

by Susan Cooper
Series: The Dark is Rising #1
224 pages, Fantasy
Reviewed by Jeanne

A suspenseful tale ideal for teenaged readers, though with occasional slowness in plot development.

Plot

While spending their holiday at Cornwall with their parents and Great-Uncle Merry, the three Drew children - Simon, Jane, and Barnabas - accidently find an ancient parchment in a concealed attic of the Grey House in which they are staying. The discovery launches them into a timeless battle of good against evil and begins Cooper’s "The Dark is Rising" sequence.

Morality

The three children, while never specifically lying to their parents, hide the truth behind the map found in the attic, as well as breaking the rule that they are not to touch any of the books or locked up items in the house. Jane specifically feels bad about telling half truths and refuses to all-out lie. The evil characters are smooth, sly, and deceptive; Great-Uncle Merry and the children work to fight against the dark and uphold what is good.

Spiritual Content

The battle that rages between good and evil is frequently mentioned as a battle that is never won by either side, but never completely lost by either; the parchment found by the children reads "...For only in the western land did men still love God and the old ways," and then, speaking of a grail, says, "...each panel told of an evil overcome by [King] Arthur and the company of God." Great-Uncle Merry's housekeeper sings hymns and one of the bad characters poses as a vicar. Though the tale surrounds Arthurian legend, there is no magic in this first book.

Violence

A character is kidnapped and past the midmark of the story there is a great deal of intrigue, but no overt violence. The most graphic the book gets is using the adjective "bloodcurdling" — not exactly enough to make the reader lose their lunch.

Drug and Alcohol Content

A man uses a glass of brandy in an analogy.

Sexual Content

None whatsoever save for the mention of a woman wearing a skin-tight cat outfit.

Crude or Profane Language or Content

Exclamations like "golly," "gosh," "gee," and "shut up" speckle the children's speech, really only offensive when the reader takes into account the fact the first three of those are simply euphemisms for God.

Conclusion

Cooper begins a fascinating fantasy series in "Over Sea, Under Stone," weaving Arthurian legend into modern Britain. Her writing brings scenery into bright colours, character’s feelings to heart, and ancient legends to life. The characters, specifically Great-Uncle Merry, are brought through good developments in both this story and the ones that follow, though the reader might get frustrated at the apparent slowness of the Drew children in their discoveries. What is clear to the reader is not always immediately clear to the characters, which occasionally brings annoyance. Over all, however, Cooper has written an enchanting, suspenseful read that will be not only fascinating but also clean for teenage readers.

Fun Score: 4.5
Values Score: 4
Written for Age: 13+

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