Susan Cooper – Over Sea, Under Stone

This is one of those classic fantasy series that I’ve been meaning to read forever! It keeps coming up in recommendations lists, in the most influential fantasy books, in classics you have to read. And it’s a children’s series that sounds like a lot of fun. So I finally picked it up and, while it is indeed very much aimed at children, I enjoyed it quite a bit and will continue with the series.

OVER SEA, UNDER STONE
by Susan Cooper

Published: Puffin, 1965
Ebook: 224 pages
Series: The Dark is Rising #1
My rating: 6/10

Opening line: “Where is he?” Barney hopped from one foot to the other as he clambered down from the train, peering in vain through the white-faced crowds flooding eagerly to the St. Austell ticket barrier.

On holiday in Cornwall, Simon, Jane and Barney Drew discover an ancient map in the attic of the Grey House, where they are staying with their mysterious Great-Uncle Merry. They know immediately that it is special. But it is much more than just a map. It is the start of a quest to find a grail, a source of great power that could contain – or resurrect – the powerful, age-old forces of evil in the world. And the Drews are not the only ones searching for it.

When we were kids, going on holiday was always an adventure. Whether your family stays by the sea or in the mountains, in a buzzling city or by a quite lake – as kids, you always find things to discover, games to play, epic adventures to invent. That feeling comes across so well in the opening chapters of Over Sea, Under Stone. Jane, Simon, and Barney spend their holiday in Grey House, a house at the coast of Cornwall, a house with secret doors and hidden treasures. When they find a mysterious map that seems to lead to the location of the grail and mentions King Arthur and King Mark, they know they’ve got a proper adventure on their hands.

I adored the start of this book so much! Reading about these three kids and how they search their holiday house for hidden passages, it made me feel like a kid again myself. Jane, Simon, and Barney are easy to like and I loved how they actually behaved like children. Clever ones, of course, but children nonetheless. Over the course of this story, they find out that not all adults can be trusted (in fact, very few of them can) and that they may have found something much bigger than a treasure map.

I don’t want to spoil where the adventure leads them and what surprises wait along the way, but I did feel that – compared to the beautiful beginning – it gets a little predictable after a while. I don’t know why finding a secret attic kept me this excited when running from actual bad guys who want to steal their map left me rather cold but that’s pretty much how I felt. The three children have to learn who to trust and what secrets to keep among themselves. They need to outsmart the adults if they want to keep their treasure safe and they need to stick together!

The book builds up nicely to a climax although the epilogue felt a bit abrupt and didn’t exactly deliver all the closure or information I had hoped for. There is, however, one small revelation at the very end that definitely peaked my interest and that foreshadows things to come in the following books. This felt very much like the introduction to a larger story, not one that can stand well on its own. It was a cute tale, for sure, but more than anything it makes me excited for what will happen next and whether the series will keep following Jane and her brothers or whether we’ll get to see new protagonists.
Had I read this as a child, I might have loved it much more. As a woman in her mid-thirties who has read a rather large number of fantasy books in her time, my final verdict is: cute. Whether this turns out to be the groundbreaking series I’ve heard it claimed, I will find out very soon when I pick up the sequel. It is absolutely worth picking up however, especially if you like the nostalgic feeling of remembering being a kid who goes on a holiday adventure.

MY RATING: 6/10 – Good

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