Thursday, December 5, 2013

Review - Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper

Short review: A mysterious treasure map leads to adventure for the Drew children in Cornwall.

Down on the seaside
A map leading to treasure
And into a myth

Full review: Over Sea, Under Stone is the first book in Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising sequence, which was so poorly served by the recent awful movie allegedly based upon it. Aimed at the young adult market, the books hold up well even for older readers (although an older reader will likely figure out the mysteries in the books long before their answers are revealed in the text). The book follows the adventures of the Drew children on holiday in Cornwall as they try to figure out the meaning of a treasure map they found in the dusty attic of their vacation home. Through the book, the Drew children are opposed by mysterious enemies, and aided by their Great Uncle Merry.

The plot of the novel reads like a standard young adult mystery – I think it may be no accident that the Drew children share their name with Nancy Drew. However, the writing is good, and the mystery is interesting. There is just enough suggestion of the supernatural to set up the more standard fantasy elements of the later books in the series while still allowing for one to believe that this sort of story could really happen. In that regard, the novel captures one of the very wonderful things about childhood: That feeling that something magical may be hidden just around the corner, and if you just look for it hard enough, you could find it. Great Uncle Merry, through the revelations concerning his involvement in the story, hints at a larger hidden world full of magic and adventure.

The world depicted is somewhat quaint by current standards – sleepy seaside towns in Cornwall during the 1960s were apparently somewhat less than cosmopolitan, but without the homey atmosphere generated by the setting, the novel wouldn't work. The novel captures the magic of being a child, without talking down to the reader, or oversimplifying the story, making it a fine start to a very good series.

Subsequent book in the series: The Dark Is Rising

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