Review – Over Sea, Under Stone

Cover of Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan CooperOver Sea, Under Stone, Susan Cooper

It’s time for a The Dark is Rising sequence readathon again! If you wish to join, you can do so via this blog. It’s the perfect time of year to reread the books, at least the second one in particular, with the winter solstice coming up. I always try and read them around this time of year!

With that said, here goes my millionth (ish) review of Over Sea, Under Stone. I’ve noted before that it’s basically an Enid Blyton adventure/mystery story, with Arthurian trappings. This time through, I noticed a bit more than that; despite the fact that it is much lighter than the later books in tone, for the most part, there are moments of darkness and fear: the moment on the top of the cliff with the standing stones, Barney captured, Barney in the cave, the last few pages before the epilogue… Because of that link to Arthur, because of the figure of Merriman, the seriousness that we see later in the story is still there. The Dark doesn’t go away safely in the way that the criminals always do at the end of a Famous Five book.

I think it’s partly that which makes the books survive for me — under the concerns of the children, there’s that darkness and fear.

Another thing which gets me is how all the people act like people. Jane and Barney and Simon get scared, they get jealous of each other, they puff themselves up and act important… The adults are indulgent, complacent. And then there’s the poetry of the quiet moments, the moon on the water and the quiet dusty attic and… Yeah. Brilliant writing. Not as compelling as the later books, but even here it’s very fine.

Rating: 4/5

Review – Ghost Hawk

Cover of Ghost Hawk by Susan CooperGhost Hawk, Susan Cooper

It’s a shame that I didn’t enjoy this book more, given how much I adore The Dark is Rising and Seaward. Unfortunately, I’m going to have to venture into spoiler territory to explain why, so here’s the non-spoilerish thoughts: the writing is still good, and I actually found the first section of the book pretty absorbing, despite criticisms I have seen about the portrayal of the Native American culture.

Given that it’s written in the voice of a Native American character, it has a certain authority about that, but apparently it’s not very accurate, taking elements from different tribal cultures and mixing them up. The end result is a pretty generically Native American setting, with the characters behaving and believing in a general Native-American-ish way to the casual reader… but despite all the details and the sense of authority, this doesn’t fit the tribe Little Hawk is supposed to be a part of. It fits with what I sort of expected, but I’d have liked something more accurate — even with fiction, I don’t read just to get a general stereotype reflected back to me.

And now for the spoilery part.

Just under halfway through the book, the point of view character is murdered, and thus we pass from the Native American experience to a Native American hanging around relatively unable to act, like white people become the focus. I’m not a big fan of the narrative trick Cooper pulls to begin with, and it makes it worse that it takes a character who was active, engaging and unique and makes the story all about the experiences of a young white boy, just arrived to colonise North America, while the Native character hangs around being sympathetic and trapped. And dead.

So much no. That set up just… no. And then, surprise! We get some white saviour stuff.

I still enjoyed the general quality of Cooper’s writing, but in terms of plotting, the book was rather slow, and that ‘gotcha’ in the middle just annoyed me. Bah.

Rating: 2/5

Top Ten Tuesday

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is a freebie, so I’m going to borrow an idea that came to me via Guy Gavriel Kay:

“My youngest brother had a wonderful schtick from some time in high school, through to graduating medicine. He had a card in his wallet that read, ‘If I am found with amnesia, please give me the following books to read …’ And it listed half a dozen books where he longed to recapture that first glorious sense of needing to find out ‘what happens next’ … the feeling that keeps you up half the night. The feeling that comes before the plot’s been learned.”

So here’s my ten… Consider this an order if I am ever found with amnesia!

  1. The Dark is Rising, Susan Cooper. Well duh.
  2. The Earthsea Quartet, Ursula Le Guin. I’m curious as to how I’d feel about The Furthest Shore and Tehanu, reading them for the first time as an adult — originally I read them when I was quite young.
  3. The Fionavar Tapestry, Guy Gavriel Kay. I was torn between this and Tigana, but this was my first experience of Guy Gavriel Kay’s work, and I’d love to come to it fresh. Especially because it’s so influenced by prior fantasy.
  4. Whose Body, Dorothy L. Sayers. Well, all of the Peter Wimsey books really.
  5. Anything non-Arthurian by Mary Stewart. I’m not such a fan of her Arthurian books, but her other books are pure comfort to me. I might need that, if I’ve lost my memory!
  6. The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien. And Lord of the Rings, obviously.
  7. Among Others, Jo Walton. My first book by Walton was actually Farthing, but that’s less personal. It’d be interesting how much Among Others would resonate with me if I didn’t have the memories I do. (Mind you, neuroscience probably supports the idea that I’d still feel a sense of recognition, even without conscious memory.)
  8. I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith. An absolute must — I can’t go without knowing the opening and closing lines.
  9. Something by Patricia McKillip. Just don’t start me on Winter Rose unless you’re willing to take notes about my experience, compare them to my old reviews, and publish a study on unconscious memories of reading in amnesiacs.
  10. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Obviously a whole course of Arthurian literature would be essential — you could start by giving me my own essays on Guinevere and Gawain — including Steinbeck’s unfinished work. But this would make a good starting point, and you could check if I retained my knowledge of Middle English too.

Now I almost want that to happen, so I can study the neuroscience of reading and memory from within! It’d also be interesting to see how I reacted to the Harry Potter books if I couldn’t remember a) reading them as a child and b) the hype surrounding them. And —

Yeah, I’ll stop. Looking forward to seeing what themes other people have gone with this week!

Top Ten Tuesday

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday prompt is “ten authors I really want to meet”. Now, I’ve actually been lucky and met a fair few authors I love — Jo Walton, Robin Hobb, Alastair Reynolds… But I’m sure I can come up with ten more.

  1. Ursula Le Guin. And nobody is at all surprised. Not even a little.
  2. Patricia McKillip. I know very little about her as a person, but her writing is awesome.
  3. J.R.R. Tolkien. I mean, not as a zombie or anything, but if I could go back in time. Attend one of his lectures maybe?
  4. Hazel Edwards. She wrote There’s a Hippopotamus On Our Roof Eating Cake. Obvious.
  5. Cherie Priest. She seems cool, I want to pet her dog, and I like her on Twitter.
  6. N.K. Jemisin. Granted, I’d probably just babble quietly, but that’s the same with anyone I admire.
  7. Robin Hobb. Again. I was fourteen at the time, after all.
  8. Jacqueline Carey. Sign all my books. All of them.
  9. Guy Gavriel Kay. Ditto.
  10. Susan Cooper. The first thing I move into a new house is my copy of The Dark is Rising sequence, and I’m not even kidding about that. It goes in the first box or bag to enter the new place, and gets put on the shelf symbolically before anything else.

So, uh, yeah. I could probably think of more, but I’d better stop daydreaming now…

Top Ten Tuesday

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday prompt is “Top Ten Inspiring Quotes from Books”. Which is a little bit hard, because I don’t really keep track of quotes. But there are some that stick with me — maybe not inspiring, so much, but defining.

  1. “Only the margin left to write on now. I love you, I love you, I love you.” (I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith.)
  2. “If you marry a man like that and live his life, then I agree. You may not really want to hurt people, but you will.”
    “That is hateful. Hateful! To say it that way. That I haven’t any choice, that I have to hurt people, that it doesn’t even matter what I want.”
    “Of course it matters, what you want.”
    “It doesn’t. That’s the whole point.”
    “It does. And that’s the whole point. You choose. You choose whether or not to make choices.”
    (The Eye of the Heron, Ursula Le Guin.)
  3. Only in silence the word,
    Only in dark the light,
    Only in dying life:
    Bright the hawk’s flight
    On the empty sky.
    (A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula Le Guin.)
  4. “For Drake is no longer in his hammock, children, nor is Arthur somewhere sleeping, and you may not lie idly expecting the second coming of anybody now, because the world is yours and it is up to you.” (Silver on the Tree, Susan Cooper.)
  5. “The Jewish sages also tell us that God dances when His children defeat Him in argument, when they stand on their feet and use their minds. So questions like Anne’s are worth asking. To ask them is a very fine kind of human behavior. If we keep demanding that God yield up His answers, perhaps some day we will understand them. And then we will be something more than clever apes, and we shall dance with God.” (The Sparrow, Mary Doria Russell.)
  6. “Lord, if I thought you were listening, I’d pray for this above all: that any church set up in your name should remain poor, and powerless, and modest. That it should wield no authority except that of love. That it should never cast anyone out. That it should own no property and make no laws. That it should not condemn, but only forgive. That it should be not like a palace with marble walls and polished floors, and guards standing at the door, but like a tree with its roots deep in the soil, that shelters every kind of bird and beast and gives blossom in the spring and shade in the hot sun and fruit in the season, and in time gives up its good sound wood for the carpenter; but that sheds many thousands of seeds so that new trees can grow in its place. Does the tree say to the sparrow, ‘Get out, you don’t belong here?’ Does the tree say to the hungry man, ‘This fruit is not for you?’ Does the tree test the loyalty of the beasts before it allows them into the shade?” (The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, Philip Pullman.)
  7. “the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.” (On the Road, Jack Kerouac.)
  8. “It doesn’t matter. I have books, new books, and I can bear anything as long as there are books.” (Among Others, Jo Walton.)
  9. “Scars are not injuries, Tanner Sack. A scar is a healing. After injury, a scar is what makes you whole.” (The Scar, China Miéville.)
  10. “That’s how you get deathless, volchitsa. Walk the same tale over and over, until you wear a groove in the world, until even if you vanished, the tale would keep turning, keep playing, like a phonograph, and you’d have to get up again, even with a bullet through your eye, to play your part and say your lines.” (Deathless, Catherynne M. Valente.)

That was… surprisingly hard to choose. On the Road makes it only because of something else I once read that quoted that line; I’m afraid I don’t like the book itself.

Top Ten Tuesday

This week’s theme from The Broke and the Bookish is a freebie, so I’m gonna go with ‘top ten desert island books’. These are the books I’d take for when my ereader runs out of charge, which would happen all too soon…

  1. The Dark is Rising sequence, Susan Cooper. It comes in an omnibus, so this only has to count as one. I can’t imagine life without this series at least once a year.
  2. The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien. I am positive I could read this over and over again and get different things out each time.
  3. The Earthsea Quartet, Ursula Le Guin. A long-term favourite of mine, and even better, it’s been a while since I read it.
  4. I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith. Another one I periodically reread; I love the development of Cassandra’s character, and I don’t know a first and last line that stick better in my head.
  5. Tigana, Guy Gavriel Kay. I don’t think the Fionavar Tapestry books come in an omnibus, so I’d have this instead, although those might be my actual favourites.
  6. The Inheritance Trilogy, N.K. Jemisin. Just come out in an omnibus! I love these books so much, and I think they’d stand up to more rereading.
  7. Among Others, Jo Walton. This book means too much to me to be left behind.
  8. The Complete Brandstetter, Joseph Hansen. I think I’d enjoy rereading these, and there’s plenty of them in this omnibus.
  9. Good Omens, Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett. Because I think I’d need a touch of humour now and again.
  10. The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison. I’m taking a bit of a chance on this, as I’ve only read it once so far, but I’m pretty sure I could enjoy reading it over and over, imagining myself into the world, etc.

Looking forward to seeing what other people have done with the freebie theme, now!

Review – Seaward

Cover of Seaward by Susan CooperSeaward, Susan Cooper

I’ve been meaning to reread this one for a while. It was lovely to go back to it. It’s a bit more mature than The Dark is Rising, I think; certainly, there’s a physicality between Cally and West that isn’t even hinted at in The Dark is Rising. The first time I read it I said that this book ends perfectly, “neither too early nor too late”, and I still feel that way. It’s enough to have the promise of Cally and West’s future, at the end of the book; I don’t need to read about it, and that would take away from the bittersweetness of the story.

I didn’t like this as much as the first time I read it, I think; I still enjoyed it, found it interesting, loved the creativity, but this time I was asking more questions, picking more holes. Why was this element taken from Welsh legends, and not that? When is it set — it feels unrooted, which might make for universality, but it makes it hard to imagine how Cally and West will find each other again, how to read their absence, their changes — and where do Cally and West come from?

It’s beautifully written, though, and full of lovely things: gorgeous passages, enchanting creatures (Peth!), mysteries and metaphors. I do still love it, and I also appreciate that unlike The Dark is Rising, it’s a personal journey, not an all-out fight against absolute evil. The absolutism of the Dark and the Light in those books is completely absent here, with the dichotomy drawn between Life and Death instead, and with both wearing kindly faces and less kind. It’s a journey for Cally and West, one in which they’re frightened, have enemies and allies, but it isn’t moving toward some apocalyptic endpoint, some make-it-or-break-it scene where a few decide the futures of the many.

I’m not sure the new cover does the book any favours, in that sense; the traditional fantasy elements here are the least important.

Rating: 4/5