Book four in Susan Cooper’s series The Dark is Rising finds Will Stanton delirious with illness, an illness that steals from him the poem he was to remember with the clues for the next quest which must be completed by the youngest of the Old Ones — which is him. When he recovers, Will is sent to relatives in Wales to recuperate and, hopefully, to regain his lost memory in order to retrieve the golden harp and release the sleepers, tasks he must complete in Wales, in the land of the Grey King. Even from his first arrival, though, Will feels the Dark all around him, oppressing him, and making him even weaker than the illness has left him. He senses who his friends and allies are, but the boy Bran, whose father works for Will’s Uncle David, was a bit of a mystery and, at first, Will doesn’t know if he likes him.
[The boy] was dressed neatly in what looked like a school uniform: grey trousers, white shirt, red socks and tie. He had a schoolbag slung over one shoulder, and he seemed to be about the same age as Will. But there was a quality of strangeness about him, as there had been about the dog, that tightened Will’s throat and caught him motionless in a wondering stare; for this boy was drained of all colour, like a shell bleached by the summer sun. His hair was white, and his eyebrows. His skin was pale. The effect was so startling that for a moment Will found himself wondering whether the hair was deliberately bleached — done on purpose to create astonishment and alarm.But the idea vanished as swiftly as it had come. The mixture of arrogance and hostility facing him showed plainly that this was not that kind of boy at all.
. . .
Well, — ” Will began, and then he stopped. He had looked into the boy’s face and found there another pair of eyes to shake him off balance. It was not, this time, the unearthliness he had seen in the dog: it was a sudden shock of feeling that he had seen them somewhere before. The boy’s eyes were a bit strange, tawny golden colour like the eyes of a cat or a bird, rimmed with eyelashes so pale as to be almost invisible, they had a cold unfathomable glitter.
“The raven boy,” he said instantly. “That’s who you are”.
While the raven boy, Bran, is to aid Will, he is still a puzzlement that dogs Will throughout most of the book. The Grey King was not who I thought he would be, and the sleepers different and more exciting than I had imagined. The small community in Wales has it’s own problems, no doubt fomented by the Dark, as they are aware of Will’s presence, and “the night of the dead” approaches. The narrow window for Will to find Cadfan’s Way, the ancient road which will lead him to where he must “open the oldest hills/Through the door of the birds” gets closer, and together, he and Bran must answer three riddles to obtain the golden harp. Then there still remains the second part of the quest — to awaken the sleepers.
Fires, foxes that transform, Caradog Prichard who hates Bran and his father (as well as John Rowlands), and is intent on killing their dogs, the mystery of who Bran really is, and the bravery of dogs who try to protect their masters, all come together to create a thrilling adventure that leaves you waiting for Book 5, Silver on the Tree — tomorrow.