If you joined in the readalong last month thank you and welcome back, and hello to any new readers. If you need to nip back – here’s the link to my post on the first book – Over Sea, Under Stone …
The second novel is where things really begin for many people, it’s the one that gives the sequence its name. There was a gap of eight years between the publication of first book in 1965 and the second in 1973, and for many readers, the first book is a mere curtain-raiser, written for a slightly younger audience. OS,US is, first and foremost, an adventure story and quest, with just a hint of magic. That’s not to dismiss it though, as the book introduces us to Merriman Lyon who also plays a large part in the second volume too. (Remember, I’m reading these books for the first time, I have no idea of where they’re going to end up).
Thus the sense of dislocation was quite strong for me as I opened TDiR as there is no sign of the Drew family at all. We’ve left summer holidays in Cornwall far behind, our new locale is a village in the Thames Valley to the west of London. It’s approaching Christmas and the large Stanton family are getting ready for the yule celebrations. But first comes young Will’s birthday, which is on the winter solstice and before that Will goes out with his older brother James to collect various bits and pieces for his mother. They meet Farmer Dawson who mysteriously takes Will to one side, sending James to the barn for the hay they need.
‘You have a birthday coming,’ the farmer said.
‘Mmm,’ said Will.
‘I have something for you.’ He glanced briefly round the yard, and withdrew one hand from his pocket; in it, Will saw what looked like a kind of ornament, made of black metal, a flat circle quartered by two crossed lines. He took it, fingering it curiously. It was about the size of his palm, and quite heavy; roughly forged out of iron, he guessed, though with no sharp points or edges. The iron was cold to his hand.
‘What is it?’ he said.
‘For the moment,’ Mr Dawson said, ‘just call it something to keep. To keep with you always, all the time. Put it in your pocket, now. And later on, loop your belt through it and wear it like an extra buckle.’
Will slipped the iron circle into this pocket. ‘Thank you very much,’ he said, rather shakily. Mr Dawson, usually a comforting man, was not improving the day at all.
[…] ‘Keep it safe, Will. And the less you happen to talk about it, the better. You will need it after the snow comes.’
This is the first of many strange events that will happen, and the first of a series of talismanic objects that Will will have to find over the coming days. But first the snow comes – a blizzard – and on Will’s birthday he’ll wake up early to a world of deep, white, snow. His family can’t be roused, so he goes off to explore in it before breakfast, having encounters with crows, a black horse, a white horse, an old lady inside the big hall in the village, where Merriman turns out to be the butler.
For Will is special. He’s the seventh son of a seventh son, and he doesn’t know it yet, but he is the last of the Old ones, the Light who will prevent the world being taken over by the Dark. With Merriman as his guide, Will will be shown his innate power, protected by the increasing number of amulets threaded onto his belt. We’ve jumped feet first into a full-blown fantasy! Divided into three parts, ‘The Finding’, ‘The Learning’ and ‘The Testing’, each does to Will as you’d expect and the book moves towards Christmas after a first battle between the Light and the Dark, in which the Dark is driven away – for now!
Yes, it’s Will’s ‘Coming of Mage’ story!
Again, Cooper fills her text with references to the folklore of the area, particularly the legend of the Wild Hunt and Herne the Hunter who are particularly associated with Windsor thanks to Shakespeare, (more on that here when I wrote about Zoe Gilbert’s wonderful Herne-based book – Mischief Acts, and it is instrumental in Garner’s The Moon of Gomrath too).
A lot happens in TDiR; the building of Will, at the ripe old age of eleven (!) into the powerful mage is, of course, the main business, but there are a lot of peripheral things going on in the Light and the Dark. We meet many characters who belong to each side; doubtless some of them will recur, and one character goes from one side to the other – boo, hiss! There is Will’s quest to collect the five amulets mentioned in prophecy that will protect, amplify and focus the Light’s power. In the background is mentor Merriman, moving forward as needed, to direct Will. As in the first book, plenty of the villagers are involved – on either side, but Will’s parents and siblings are outside all of this, just carrying on with their preparations for a huge family Christmas.
Unlike The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe‘s winter that never becomes Christmas (until, spoiler, it does!) there was never a sense that Christmas wouldn’t actually happen here – it would carry on for everyone else – and when the power goes out in the village, everyone congregates at the big house where the festive spirit flows. I did love Cooper’s wintery writing though, the passage when Will wakes up to find that the snow has blanketed everything but the tree trunks poking through, and just the curve of the river Thames visible in the distance was very evocative.
The tone is very different to the first book, and it did take getting used to. The complete change of location and cast (Merriman excepted) made it seem like reading a completely different novel and not the second in a series. For these reasons, I didn’t completely love TDiR, although I can understand why Cooper needed to depart from the pure adventure to give us the story of the powers that lurked in the background at the beginning. I’ll be interested to see your views on the differences between the two books, so if you’ve read them do join in the conversation below.
Next month, Greenwitch. I’ve now read it, and all I’ll say is that I LOVED it. Let that be a teaser for those of you who haven’t read it yet. See you back here around the 24th.
Source: Own book from the TBR. Red Fox paperback, 388 pages. BUY at Blackwell’s via my affiliate link