Monday, December 11, 2006

Last week, I read The Grey King by Susan Cooper.

The copy I read, being from the library and the original hardback, had the original cover with a dog's head on it. It looked like a dark grey German shepherd, which of course made little sense since the key dog in the book is white, but hey, whatev, and on with the review.

The Grey King won the Newbery when it came out (noteworthy because it is in the middle of a series, folks, although in fairness, one of Lloyd Alexander's did that as well seven years earlier). I believe that one of the reasons it succeeded in winning the award was that, although it is book four in a five-book series, it is also a self-contained story. Were you to pick it up first and read it all by itself, you'd still have a pretty good idea what's going on -- at least as much an idea as a person would have, having read it all. Although you'd be a little freaked out by the time-travel bit, you'd be able to deal because it's explained briefly in the book.

I found myself wishing I could speak Welsh as I read this one, since it seems like such a cool language. Still, there was a lot of time devoted to pronouncing a complicated "L"-ish sound that still doesn't help the novice Welsh student. But it was nice of her to add the lessons in if she was going to use so much Welsh in the book.

In this story, Will (first introduced in The Dark Is Rising) is sent off to Wales to recuperate from a terrible illness. He's forgotten the prophecy that was the key discovery in Greenwitch, but he's working on figuring out what it is that he's forgotten. When he arrives in Wales, he learns that he's truly on his own for this particular quest -- there's nary an Old One around, although there is a strange person about: a young albino boy named Bran who Will can't really "read" the way he can Old Ones, the Dark or humans. Bran is a bit of a conundrum, and his identity turns out to be a large part of the mystery of this book.

The thing is, when I finished reading, I was still a bit mystified about Bran. Like "why did he have to be an albino? Is there significance to that?" and "isn't he just a human? Sure, I know who his parents were, but weren't they just humans?"

The Grey King is by far the most "Arthurian" of the series thus far, and I'm truly hoping that the final book will tie that up neatly in a bow for me. I know my basic stories of King Arthur, but somehow I believe that Ms. Cooper is much more deeply steeped in that tradition than I. I "get" where Merriman Lyon fits in (since that was done rather heavy-handidly at the end of book 1), and I now know who Bran and his parents are/were, but I still feel I'm missing a key puzzle piece.

I shall read book five and see if that clears it up. I very much look forward to spending more time with the Drew children, in any case. And my final thought? I liked The Grey King just fine, but so far, Greenwitch is the one that sings loudest to me, with The Dark is Rising a very close second.

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