Over Sea, Under Stone – Susan Cooper

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Over Sea, Under Stone is the first book in Susan Cooper’s acclaimed fantasy series The Dark is Rising. It’s one I’ve been meaning to read for some time. The books were highly recommended on a gifted homeschooler list I followed for years but somehow we never put our hands on one. I was poking around the library shelves looking for novels to read and thinking I ought to reserve Susan Cooper’s books when, suddenly, there it was—the first volume in the sequence and a nice new copy that seemed barely read but had never been there when I’d looked before. Hmmm.

The praise is earned. Over Sea, Under Stone is the richly detailed, tense, quite prosaic but utterly fantastic adventure of three siblings living in a strange old house on the coast of Cornwall for their summer vacation. Their slightly distracted parents are along and the whole family has been invited by a dear friend who is close enough to their mother to be considered ‘Uncle’ Merry. Merriman Lyon is an eccentric and distinguished antiquities professor with a habit of disappearing for months at a time and then popping up with some fabulous discovery that changes history or flabbergasts the director of a museum.

This time things are a bit different. Uncle Merry wanders in and out but he doesn’t take off. He is very much present and closely involved with the children. Good thing, as inexplicable events endanger Simon, Jane and Barney as soon as they uncover the secret entrance to a dusty attic that holds a mysterious parchment, scribbled in cipher, with a hand drawn map. It is and it isn’t a treasure map. If Uncle Merry knows more about it than he is telling, so do some threatening characters lurking about the edges of the family vacation. When their house is ransacked while the family sleeps, the children confide in Uncle Merry about their find and an epic struggle between good and evil begins.

Some things are obvious—Uncle Merry could be none other than, well, that’s easy to figure out. Clues on the treasure map are a bit tougher and good guys and bad guys turn out to be mostly bad guys. Cornwall is the territory of Arthurian legend and still adheres to its old patterns of fishing, folk festivals and superstitions. All of them are woven into the unexpected quest that absorbs the children and places their lives in danger. Over Sea, Under Stone would be fine for a younger child, although it does get scary in parts so suitability depends on the kid. It’s a satisfying read for an adult and will have you glued to the page to see how various perils are resolved. I’m sorry I waited so long to read it and I will reserve the rest of the series to catch up on the adventures of Merriman Lyon and his troika of bright and eager apprentices.

 Over Sea, Under Stone (Dark Is Rising Sequence (Simon Pulse))     Susan Cooper | Aladdin Paperbacks 1989

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