Over Sea, Under Stone

by Susan Cooper

Susan Cooper's Over Sea, Under Stone
1st book in The Dark Is Rising sequence

Children's book review by Sarah Denslow

Young Adult

Kids chasing the Holy Grail

It’s easy to think that The Dark Is Rising sequence begins with the book of the same name, but Susan Cooper’s classic set of sagas actually begins with Over Sea, Under Stone.

Although this tale is sometimes overlooked, Over Sea, Under Stone is a great book for summer reading (and likely to be on summer reading lists). With a map to hidden treasure, a little magic, and a centuries-old quest, Over Sea, Under Stone contains the kind of summer adventure every child wants to have.

Simon, Jane, and Barney Drew have come to the Cornish seaside with their parents and the somewhat mysterious Great Uncle Merry. Exploring the beach house one day, the children come upon an ancient treasure map with instructions in a language they can’t understand.

The children are quite intrigued, but hesitant to show the map to their parents, lest the adults spoil the fun. But when their house is broken into and nothing taken but a few old maps, the children become nervous.

Someone clearly wants the map very badly.

Eventually the children come up with a compromise: instead of telling their parents, they can show the map to Great Uncle Merry. He, they feel, will understand.

And indeed he does. Far from dismissing the children, Great Uncle Merry explains that they have found the key to locating the Holy Grail, not seen since the time of King Arthur. Furthermore, Merry is able to translate the writing on the map, which turns out to be cryptic instructions to the grail’s location.

Merry also explains that while they are not obligated to do so, he believes that Simon, Jane, and Barney are meant to be the ones to find the grail. However, he warns them that in seeking the grail, they will be up against the forces of the Dark.

Merry, of course, will be there to protect them as much as possible, as he works for the Light.

Thus the children’s adventure begins. Simon, Jane, and Barney work to solve the map’s riddle without giving any of the information away to the forces of the Dark. Although you can probably guess how it will end, Cooper tells a compelling tale that entertains throughout.

Although Over Sea, Under Stone is timeless classic, it’s set a good fifty years ago. With technology moving so fast, children may feel slightly disoriented by what was at the time a perfectly ordinary setting. Nevertheless, this should not deter you child’s enjoyment of the book. (I myself enjoyed many books as a child despite not understanding why the character’s mothers never seemed work outside the house.)

Over Sea, Under Stone is the first book in The Dark Is Rising sequence, but it is a wonderful, magical tale all on its own as well.

The Dark Is Rising Sequence is:

Read more of Sarah's book reviews.

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