Book name: The Grey King
Author: Susan Cooper
Publisher: Chatto & Windus, Atheneum
Format: ebook, print, audiobook
Genre: Fantasy, vintage children’s fiction
Publication Date: 1975
Star Rating: 5/5
Susan Cooper's 'The Dark is Rising' sequence of five novels was one of the best-known children's series of the 1970s.
The Grey King is the fourth book in the series. It won the inaugural Tir na n-Og prize for an English language book with an authentic Welsh background and the Newbery medal for the year's most distinguished contribution to American children's fiction.
Will Stanton has been seriously ill with hepatitis, and afterwards his mother sends him to stay with relatives in rural Wales.
He befriends an odd Albino boy of about the same age, Bran Davies, and the lad's white dog Cafall, who can see the wind. Cafall was also the name of King Arthur's dog. Cafall is mistakenly accused of killing sheep by a neighbouring farmer Caradog Pritchard.
There is a long feud between Bran's adoptive father and Pritchard, who assaulted Bran's mother, causing her to flee back into the mountains from which she had come, leaving the infant Bran behind to be raised alone by Davies.
Will and Bran seek to prove that it is the Welsh Milgwn, huge grey foxes controlled by the Grey King, who have been killing the sheep.
The Grey King is described as the most powerful of the lords of the Dark, who Will has been fighting in earlier books in the series, but even the Grey King is bound by the rule of High Magic, giving Will and Bran a way in to fight him and defeat his power.
The shift of location from earlier books set in Berkshire, where Will lives, and Cornwall, to Wales gives Cooper the chance to explore another vivid Celtic-infused location.
The majestic mountains, the sheer natural beauty and the unleashed forces of nature in the wild surroundings play an integral part in the plot as well as providing an immense backdrop to the narrative.
This tale is unlike the previous books in that this is Will's first solo quest without his mentor Merriman. Here he grows in stature to take the lead and confront the forces of the Dark himself.
Bran was a sad and lonely character quite unlike Will and the Drew children who feature in the other books and help Will in his quest. The revelation of Bran's natural parentage was fascinating and, against the odds, credibly achieved.
The main characters are all reunited in the fifth and last book in the series Silver on the Tree, which also takes place here in Wales.
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