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The Dark is Rising    by Susan Cooper order for
Dark is Rising
by Susan Cooper
Order:  USA  Can
Pulse, 2007 (1973)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Will Stanton, the seventh son of a seventh son, belongs to a chaotic, happy family of eleven in the English countryside. The spooky, magical story of The Dark is Rising, written in lyrical prose by Susan Cooper, opens a few days before Christmas and also the day before Will's eleventh birthday, which he eagerly anticipates.

Strange things begin to happen as Will and his brother James walk to Dawsons' Farm in search of hay. Animals react oddly to Will, he spies a tramp in the woods, and Mr. Dawson gives him a flat iron circle quartered by two crossed lines, telling him to loop it through his belt like an extra buckle. Snow has begun to fall. The next day is Midwinter Day and Will's birthday. Unable to waken any of his family, Will goes outside to a different world. He meets a blacksmith and the Walker, and escapes, on the back of a white mare, from a tall, dark-cloaked Rider. He finds on a snowy hill 'two great carved wooden doors' and opens them to learn that he is the last Old One with great responsibility and a frightening destiny.

Merriman tells Will that 'Any great gift or power is a burden', that he has much to learn and is in great danger. Will is the Sign-Seeker, who must find and guard 'the six great signs of the Light' and vanquish the Dark which is rising across the world. Will learns to raise fire, but also makes an impulsive mistake that may have dire consequences. From there the story continues alternating between Will's ordinary, cheerful English family life during the Christmas season, and the adventures that his power pulls him into, through time and in search of the signs. Will is mentored by Merriman and his role seems passive in many ways - he reacts much more than he acts, in the grip of the magic.

As Will gathers the signs, one by one, the attacks of the Dark intensify - there's a snowstorm and deep freeze that isolates people in their homes without power or supplies, as well as individual attacks on Will's family. Of course he wins through, and he learns that the six Signs were the second of four Things of Power needed by the Light - the others being the grail, a sword of crystal, and a harp of gold. At the back of the book is the first chapter of the next in this spellbinding series, Greenwitch, and don't miss The Dark is Rising movie this Fall.

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