The Grey King

The Grey King

"Fire on the Mountain Shall Find the Harp of Gold Played to Wake the Sleepers, Oldest of the Old..." With the final battle between the Light and the Dark soon approaching, Will sets out on a quest to call for aid. Hidden within the Welsh hills is a magical harp that he must use to wake the Sleepers - six noble riders who have slept for centuries. But an illness has robbed Will...

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Title:The Grey King
Author:Susan Cooper
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Edition Language:English

The Grey King Reviews

  • Lexish

    This is one of the most well-written young adult books I've ever read. They don't write 'em like this anymore! There's a reason Susan Cooper won the Newbery Medal for this. Her incredible, melodic descriptive language and her ability to interweave history, mythology, legend, and good old-fashioned fiction bring this book far beyond a traditional "boy with special powers" book. If you appreciate the English language and if you have an interest in history and legend, this one is for you. Susan Coo

    This is one of the most well-written young adult books I've ever read. They don't write 'em like this anymore! There's a reason Susan Cooper won the Newbery Medal for this. Her incredible, melodic descriptive language and her ability to interweave history, mythology, legend, and good old-fashioned fiction bring this book far beyond a traditional "boy with special powers" book. If you appreciate the English language and if you have an interest in history and legend, this one is for you. Susan Cooper did her research--one can look up the background of many of the people, places, and mythical figures and see how they relate to the history of what is now the United Kingdom. I realize that many are skeptical about this genre after the Harry Potter craze; however, this is one of the classics. It's next to The Chronicles of Narnia on my bookshelf.

    P.S. If you're looking to change formats, I would also recommend the audiobook of this (read by Richard Mitchley, who speaks Welsh and who thus makes this reading even more interesting).

  • Maggie Stiefvater

    *Happy sigh* I just finished rereading this one again last night. With the exception of the first book in the Dark is Rising series, I love all of them -- atmospheric, dreamy, and creepy, the lot of them. And steeped in old folklore and told in lovely prose so that they feel like they grew out of the ground instead of being written by a modern author.

    I cannot recommend them highly enough . . . but do read them in order.

  • Nikki

    It's pretty much a tradition for me now to reread this series at this time of year, so I wanted to get it done before we move into 2013. The 2012 reread of The Dark is Rising sees me struggling with anxiety and depression issues, and I nearly didn't get round to reading this, this year. But it is my comfort reading, so it was a good idea that I just planted myself firmly down with the book in hand today -- the same old battered copy as always, of course.

    To my mind, this is the point

    It's pretty much a tradition for me now to reread this series at this time of year, so I wanted to get it done before we move into 2013. The 2012 reread of The Dark is Rising sees me struggling with anxiety and depression issues, and I nearly didn't get round to reading this, this year. But it is my comfort reading, so it was a good idea that I just planted myself firmly down with the book in hand today -- the same old battered copy as always, of course.

    To my mind, this is the point in the sequence where more subtlety begins to come in. Owen Davies' shame, Guinevere's betrayal, John Rowlands' speech about how the Light can be as cruel in its absolute cold justice as the Dark in its horrors, from the point of view of humanity... I still feel like I'm discovering this world, every little bit of it, noticing little things like where in Silver on the Tree Will still doesn't understand quite how it is that Old Ones do what they do, and Merriman says he's still too close to human...

    Obviously, I think these books reward rereading, or I wouldn't keep doing it, though, so I think I'm preaching to those who understand where I'm coming from, if not quite to the converted. I do think these books are beautiful and worthy, though. I do sometimes wonder what the story would be like, turned round the other way, like Jacqueline Carey does to Lord of the Rings in Banewreaker/Godslayer.

    Thinking about it right now, it reminds me of Assassin's Creed 3. Spoilers for that follow:

  • Nikki

    Normally, The Grey King would be my favourite of the five books that make up this sequence. Something about the setting in Wales, and Bran's loneliness and arrogance, and of course the tie-in with Arthuriana, and the way that it begins to bring in some more moral ambiguity when John Rowlands questions the coldness at the heart of the Light. Somehow, I didn't love it as much as usual this time -- possibly because I'd just spent a lot of time debating the merits of Greenwitch with various people,

    Normally, The Grey King would be my favourite of the five books that make up this sequence. Something about the setting in Wales, and Bran's loneliness and arrogance, and of course the tie-in with Arthuriana, and the way that it begins to bring in some more moral ambiguity when John Rowlands questions the coldness at the heart of the Light. Somehow, I didn't love it as much as usual this time -- possibly because I'd just spent a lot of time debating the merits of Greenwitch with various people, and thus missed some of the stellar things about that book (more involvement of female characters, more mysteries like the various hauntings of Cornwall, contact with the Wild Magic) when reading this one, which is more straightforward in some ways. If you've read the series before, then there's little mystery about who Bran is and what role he has to play.

    Still, it's a lovely book, with Susan Cooper's usual understanding of people and lyrical way of describing things so that the sound of the words is an important part of the experience for me. The relationship between Owen and Bran, with that lovely section so near the end; the levels you can see, particularly depicting Owen and in the character of John; the touches of mystery there are like the issue of the Grey King himself -- all of it is as wonderful as ever on what must be at least my tenth reread, and probably more than that.

    And, of course, there's Cafall -- the courage and loyalty, and the heartbreak. That whole section brings a horrid lump to my throat every single time.

  • Nikki

    I somewhat put off reviewing The Grey King after finishing reading it, because I’m not sure what there is to say about it anymore. I’ve rhapsodised about it at length: the use of mythology, the casual use of the Welsh language, the home-ness of the landscape and the people… The shades of grey and the adult touches when it comes to Owen Davies and John Rowlands, and Will Stanton’s interactions with them. There’s some beautiful passages, especially the section spent in Craig yr Aderyn, and some ge

    I somewhat put off reviewing The Grey King after finishing reading it, because I’m not sure what there is to say about it anymore. I’ve rhapsodised about it at length: the use of mythology, the casual use of the Welsh language, the home-ness of the landscape and the people… The shades of grey and the adult touches when it comes to Owen Davies and John Rowlands, and Will Stanton’s interactions with them. There’s some beautiful passages, especially the section spent in Craig yr Aderyn, and some genuine moments of horror, loss, anger, fear…

    And there’s Bran Davies. One of the first Welsh heroes I came across in fiction — at the age of sixteen or so. And he really is Welsh; Welsh-speaking, Welsh-thinking, a part of the Welsh landscape and mythology. But he’s also very human — vulnerable. Angry. Resentful, even. Strange and unhappy and alone. And then his friendship with Will is just lovely, the immediate rapport between them, the ways Will being an Old One damages it, the ways Bran adapts.

    And there’s Cafall. All too briefly, but so key to the plot, to Bran.

    There’s quite a lot of more adult themes here — quite far from the world of Over Sea, Under Stone, which is almost entirely concerned with Barney, Jane and Simon. There’s Owen’s grief for Gwen; Gwen’s grief at betraying her husband; the jealousy and rivalry between Owen Davies and Caradog Prichard; Arthur’s yearning for connection with his son… And of course, those shades of grey I mentioned. The conversation between John and Will about how the Light will ignore the good of a single person to pursue the greater good, and John’s reaction, really highlights to me that the humans are the real heroes of this series. And the villains, too, because Lords of the Dark choose to become what they are — they aren’t born, like Old Ones.

  • J.M. Hushour

    You know you love a book from your childhood a lot when you go out of your way on trips abroad to see the places where the action happened. Cooper's fourth novel in the DiR series is so steeped, no, drowned! in all things Welsh that you can't help but want to get the hell there and check it out. Which I did many years ago. Her works in this series especially are refulgent and replete with all kinds of British lore, especially Arthurian, and then some, but she reaches new heights of weaving them

    You know you love a book from your childhood a lot when you go out of your way on trips abroad to see the places where the action happened. Cooper's fourth novel in the DiR series is so steeped, no, drowned! in all things Welsh that you can't help but want to get the hell there and check it out. Which I did many years ago. Her works in this series especially are refulgent and replete with all kinds of British lore, especially Arthurian, and then some, but she reaches new heights of weaving them into this penultimate volume. Plus, we learn some Welsh to boot.

    Will Stanton, the kid/Old One, goes to Wales to convalesce, meets a weird albino kid and his dog and fights the dark forces of the Brenin Llywd, the Grey King. Now, if you aren't familiar with these and were born within the last, say, 20 years, the phrase "fights the dark forces" likely means something different to you, something loud and blaring and colorful. Here it means subtle things, changes in weather and shadow, strange stones of unbearable, crushing weight, local farmers driven mad by the Grey King, and ghost fox/wolves.

  • Lightreads

    The really upsetting one. I'd been calling it that in my head all along, but I didn't realize I didn't actually remember

    . It turns out this upset me so much as a child that I literally blanked out the relevant details; I remembered about two pages before it happened, in the same horrible swooping lurch that Will experiences as he realizes something bad is about to happen. Animal harm, man, that shit fucks you up. /profound.

    Anyway. I found this intensely interesting. It follows on ver

    The really upsetting one. I'd been calling it that in my head all along, but I didn't realize I didn't actually remember

    . It turns out this upset me so much as a child that I literally blanked out the relevant details; I remembered about two pages before it happened, in the same horrible swooping lurch that Will experiences as he realizes something bad is about to happen. Animal harm, man, that shit fucks you up. /profound.

    Anyway. I found this intensely interesting. It follows on very well from

    , like the next sentence in an argument. Which is how a series ought to work, in an ideal world.

    My understanding of this book is filtered through two contrasting scenes. One is Will and Bran questing for the harp, coming before the three hooded powers and answering the riddles set them. There's something so constrained about that scene, so bloodless and controlled with the representatives of the polls of magic fulfilling their assigned roles. As a child, I found it hugely confusing that Merriman is one of the hooded figures; he's on their side, so why does he make them go through the song and dance? Because he has to, because the scripted magic prophecy says he must, and he is an Old One, so he does. (BTW, if anyone would care to educate me on what significance the three riddles have, I'd love to hear it. Their content, I mean -- they have always been entirely puzzling to me, and I did not stop to Google this time like I meant to).

    Contrast that with the other scene of riddles asked and answered: Bran screaming at his father in the hut on the hillside, demanding to know who he is and where he came from. The complete opposite of bloodless and constrained. This book is like that -- the magic has that stilted, staged feel of predestiny, while the parallel human story is messy and wildly alive. The Grey King might roll out his menacing fog, and I'll grant you he's creepy. But the most profound, awful evil in this book for my money is purely human. And for all Will is the questing hero, the greatest kindness and bravery aren't his. They're John Rowlands's, and Bran's, and most profoundly, Bran's father's.

    It all really works. See John Rowlands talking to Will about the coldness of the Light. This book really digs into what we've only seen in glimpses before about how the Light is fighting for mankind while being profoundly outside it. Try and picture

    screaming at anybody, demanding the secrets of his history. Doesn't work, does it?

    Humanity has a range, a resonance in the book that the people of power just don't. Will's most profound moments for me come early, when he is still amnesiac and in a fundamental way, not himself, just a boy. Will gets his memory back and instantly steps out of the center of the emotional arc, which belongs almost entirely to Bran and his connections.

    Which is another thing -- why the

    is Bran albino? I've always wondered, and I figured an answer would come to me on this reread, but nope. There's the obvious -- Cooper is using physical disability as a marker of strangeness. Bran's appearance works that way in the narrative -- it's code for a different level of strangeness, of out-of-placeness. But is that all? It's implied very very fleetingly in the next book that Herne the Hunter is actually an incarnation of Arthur, and that's where Bran gets his looks -- really not sure what to make of that.

  • mark monday

    boy meets boy; antics ensue.

    boy with Old soul meets boy with dog with old soul; old king wishes they never met.

    sick boy with too many siblings meets sickly boy with some serious father issues.

    little weirdo meets his match in another little weirdo; the latter teaches the former how to pronounce Welsh words.

    super-powered boy meets albino boy with golden eyes; the former teaches the latter the meaning of friendship, power, and why old kings are bad ne

    boy meets boy; antics ensue.

    boy with Old soul meets boy with dog with old soul; old king wishes they never met.

    sick boy with too many siblings meets sickly boy with some serious father issues.

    little weirdo meets his match in another little weirdo; the latter teaches the former how to pronounce Welsh words.

    super-powered boy meets albino boy with golden eyes; the former teaches the latter the meaning of friendship, power, and why old kings are bad news for everyone.

    Ancient Immortal Being meets Boy Lost Out Of Time; together they play with dogs and avoid mean old kings.

    brave dog battles horrible grey foxes.

    grey foxes just trying to protect their boss battle uptight dog; sheep die during the rumpus.

    evil ginger says unkind things to two sweet boys and a noble dog; mean old king approves.

    two mean boys torment a mentally ill redhead who just wants to protect his sheep and maybe make friends with a sleepy old king.

    the white Light burns bright; the shadow of Dark shall rise.

    sleepy king just wants to keep things sleepy, for him, his 6 guests, and maybe the rest of the world; two busybody boys refuse to let anyone sleep in.

    two brave boys defeat one great evil; Light triumphs over Dark!

    lonely old man gets evicted from his last refuge by two young jerks. :(

  • Ben De Bono

    I'm beginning to think that this series would be better titled The Dark is Stumbling Around Awkwardly Without Ever Accomplishing Much. In this volume our heroes take on the Grey King, a villain who we're reminded every other paragraph is more powerful and evil than any other encountered so far.

    Despite this impressive reputation, the most evil things he manages to accomplish are (a) killing a few sheep and (b) making one small patch of ground briefly change shape. He also seems to hav

    I'm beginning to think that this series would be better titled The Dark is Stumbling Around Awkwardly Without Ever Accomplishing Much. In this volume our heroes take on the Grey King, a villain who we're reminded every other paragraph is more powerful and evil than any other encountered so far.

    Despite this impressive reputation, the most evil things he manages to accomplish are (a) killing a few sheep and (b) making one small patch of ground briefly change shape. He also seems to have it out for sheepdogs for reasons that remain murky throughout the entire book. In the end he

    gives up, shrugs his shoulders, and wanders away. Again, the reasons for the most powerful and evilest bad guy ever electing this strategy remain unclear.

    We also spend an enormously long time learning how to pronounce Welsh words. Which I suppose is helpful if you're planning on learning Welsh immediately after finishing the book.

    Normally when I hate a series this much, quitting it is a no brainer. Sadly, I'm reading it out loud to my daughter, which means I must soldier on. Susan Cooper is a truly dreadful author, but at least there's only one book left!

  • Tim

    So, I've been reading Cooper's

    series, which I somehow never got to as a kid despite hearing so much about it, and knowing it won a ton of awards. This one, for instance, won the Newbery, one of the biggest American awards for young adult fiction. And the overwhelming sense I've come away with so far is:

    Don't get me wrong, there are moments of good description, and good story-telling. But it is hung on a framework that doesn't really work. Sure, in theory we have an epic battl

    So, I've been reading Cooper's

    series, which I somehow never got to as a kid despite hearing so much about it, and knowing it won a ton of awards. This one, for instance, won the Newbery, one of the biggest American awards for young adult fiction. And the overwhelming sense I've come away with so far is:

    Don't get me wrong, there are moments of good description, and good story-telling. But it is hung on a framework that doesn't really work. Sure, in theory we have an epic battle going on between Light and Dark (don't get me started) but despite being frequently reminded of this fact by the narrator, we never actually have any sense of the stakes or any concrete reasons to care. In this book, the only thing we care about is the crazy dude going around on a sheepdog-shooting rampage, but that's not even treated as a proxy for the larger, magical struggle -- just sort of an inconsequential spinoff from it.

    Look, if you're anything like me, you care a lot more that an innocent non-magical dog is kept safe from the lunatic neighbor with a shotgun than you do that a magical harp is retrieved via riddle game from a cave so it can be played by a lake to awaken six ghostly Arthurian knights who show up, literally do nothing except nod at the protagonist, and then vanish.

    The incoherence of the narrative structure aside, we also need to talk about Will Stanton. The ostensible protagonist of the series, Will is an 11yo with the powers of a mighty wizard that he "inherited" (I'm no fan of the hero-by-blood trope), were unearned (injected into him Matrix-style with a book), and which, maybe worst of all,

    . You know what this adds up to? The central character is nothing but a mobile plot advancement device. Four books in, and I couldn't tell you the first thing about Will as a person -- is he curious? generous? bold? shy? No idea. But he will suddenly know how to magically solve whatever problem presents itself, because.

    Except when he doesn't, of course, because he needs

    to solve it yet. For instance, much is made in the second book (

    ) when Will is introduced and being shown how powerful he is, that the first thing he can do is start and extinguish fires at will. He does it several times in that book; it's fairly reasonably developed and used as a plot point. So imagine my surprise when a major development early in this book is a wildfire that it

    :

    "But Will, beating hopelessly with his long flat-tipped broom, felt that nothing could halt or check the inferno before them." Boy, it sure would be a great time for someone with supernatural powers to, say, extinguish fire. Yep, sure could use someone like that right about now. Look, maybe you're saying, the whole mountainside is on fire, that's a bit much to ask of even an immortal wizard who's had his entire personality replaced with pure power! Yet even when it's just a single burning branch tumbling over a ledge toward a dry and unburnt area, no mention is made of Will trying to put it out; they just watch it go, helpless to stop it... because they need to flee the fire to a specific location, you see (that magic cave the harp is in).

    I don't lay this all at Cooper's feet; obviously a decent editor should have called her on this massive inconsistency. Heck, later in the book Will's powers are constantly being negated by the Grey King (the regional Lord of the Dark, Local 211) when they would too easily defuse the dramatic climax; why not just start that earlier, and have the Grey King make Will's level 1

    spell fail? Or why not at least carry the amnesia (specific to his powers, natch) that Will inexplicably starts this book with just partially persist a bit longer as a lazy excuse for his not knowing what he did two books ago, instead of just as inexplicably removing the amnesia and saying specifically that everything had come back to him?

    Okay, I'm just beating a dead horse now. Look, I'll say again, certain storytelling passages worked well; I liked the boy Bran's origin story (mainly the non-magical parts, but even the magical part too). I loved the Welsh setting, and wasn't even put off by Cooper's extended lessons on Welsh pronunciation embedded in the dialogue -- I liked it as a reader, and it wasn't implausible for a Welsh boy teaching his new English friend what was what.

    But seriously people, a Newbery? Were we that hard up for kid's books in 1975? At this point I'd say the only book in the series really worth reading is the first one (

    ), which is a pretty great puzzle-solving treasure hunt starring three

    kids (before Will showed up!) set in Cornwall. (

    is ok, mainly due to bringing back those kids; but the magic is also a bit more luminously original, and human emotions are actually central to the magical outcomes.)

    I am going to go on and read the last one -- not because I care whether the Dark that has supposedly been Rising all this time will finally stop hitting the snooze button, but because the ordinary kids will be back, it is also set in Wales, and if Cooper could get back to the trippier magic of

    it won't be a total waste of time. And at least then I can say I gave the series a fair shake.

    If you're still not sure... I do not recommend it.

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