Book Review: The Gray King by Susan Cooper

“The Gray King” by Susan Cooper is the fourth book in The Dark is Rising Sequence. There is only one more book after this that concludes the series.

This novel focuses exclusively on Will Stanton from the previous books and then introduces a new boy named Bran. The mystery of this novel is to find a golden harp and wake up the sleepers in Wales. In a twist, we begin to learn that Bran’s history is yet another mystery we must also unravel.

Like many of the previous books, this is a mix of a regular mystery novel in which the characters find clues and a fantasy novel with magical, even surreal, elements.

I really enjoyed the majority of the novel, but, just like some of the previous books, I have a few reservations. First, peppered throughout “The Grey King” is that the light is not very concerned about individual people. This implies that the light is not completely good, just the force against the dark. Then we also learn that there is a higher magic than light and dark called high magic. Most children reading these books will go with all of this and not have a problem with it. For me, this makes the magic system even messier than I found it before. The rules seem arbitrary and the ends now justifies the means, even somewhat cruel means by the light. I am not such an idealist to feel like life is tidy. Life is messy and can feel arbitrary, but this just seems illogical. If, as we learned in the first book, this is a battle of good versus evil, than good needs to stay good no matter what. I do believe that good can be hard, such as a parent disciplining a child for dangerous behaviors, but good does not use people heartlessly. The introduction of a neutral high magic seems to be a necessary band-aide for good becoming relative.

Other than my philosophical reservation, I was disappointed by the final reveal in the book. To me, without spoiling the book, I feel like some of the non magical characters, specifically Bran’s father, ended up having big flaws in what they seemed to have known before and the actions that they took in response.

Still, in talking to other readers, these issues didn’t color their enjoyment of the book. I would still recommend this book to middle school children for its great writing, compelling characters, vivid descriptions, and compelling plot. “The Grey King” is a solid book worth reading a wrestling with, and I will continue to read the last book in the series “Silver On The Tree.”