The Grey King

by Susan Cooper
Series: The Dark is Rising #4
192 pages, Fantasy
Reviewed by Jeanne

A skillfully written young adults novel, but with a mix of good morals and doubtful ones.


After a long, dangerous illness, Will Stanton, last of the Old Ones, is sent to Wales to recuperate. All his memories have been swept from his mind: the memories that would help him to find the second Thing of Power. But when he meets the strange boy Bran, with his white hair and golden eyes, the memories return. Will must find the harp of gold, challenge the Grey King of the mountain, and wake the six Sleepers in preparation for the greatest rise of the Dark.


The question of the morality of the Light is raised when a man remarks that, at its heart, the power of the Light is very cold, often using men to their hurt for the greater good of mankind. Will's reply is that the Light is there only to turn back the Dark, and that such emotions as pity cannot be allowed to sway the Light from its purpose. Those feelings are, he says, good for men, but not the Old Ones.

Knowing that no one would believe him were he to tell the truth about his mission, Will lies a fair amount to his uncle and aunt about what is going on. The man Caradog Prichard, nearing insanity and obsessed with killing Bran's white dog, Cafall, is once described as "innocent" simply because he is not actually one of the Dark, though his actions clearly indicate that he is not at all innocent. The things he does, however, are not condoned.

Spiritual Content

The actual entities of the Light and the Dark become clearer in this book, though they are most clearly defined in the next one, "Silver on the Tree." They are recognize to be the powers that control the universe, and that they are the only powers which do so. There isn't really a place for God.

One character is ridiculed, covertly, for the time he spends at church. Will and the Grey King both use spells of sundry natures, but Will most often uses spells of concealment and protection while the Grey King's are usually for destruction. The Grey King uses a warestone to control creatures and objects around it; the golden harp is of a magical quality, able to wake the sleepers.


Owen Davies, Bran's adoptive father, gets into a fight with Caradog Prichard after the latter attempts to rape Bran's mother. Several sheep are killed by grey foxes throughout the story, and two sheepdogs are blamed and one shot by Caradog. The Grey King threatens to destroy Will (for a time, as no Old One can be annihilated forever).

Drug and Alcohol Content


Sexual Content

Will is told the story of how Bran's mother stayed in a hut with a man for three days, and even though nothing happened, the man continues to feel guilty about it. Later, Caradog Prichard attempted to force himself on Bran's mother.

Crude or Profane Language or Content

One "d*mn" and, once, the use of the adjective "b***dy." One man also exclaims "Iesu Crist" (Jesus Christ), and another calls Bran a b*****d.


This Newberry Medal winner is an interesting and entertaining continuation of Cooper's "The Dark is Rising" sequence, but it has more sticky parts than do the previous books. There's more spiritual content that surrounds the Dark and the Light now, as well as the questioning of the Light's morality previously discussed. The violence level, like the Dark, is rising through the series, and while it never reaches the point of being graphic, Cooper's description of a dead sheep is fairly detailed and gruesome, as is her depiction of a fox attacking a herd of sheep.

On the up-side, this book does have great parts, one being Cooper's skill in writing. A reader would have a hard time disliking it because of a deficiency on the author's part, as every point of the tale is well executed. Some parts tie into the culture of Wales and the history of Britain. One section even deals with a short lesson, from Bran to Will, on Welsh pronunciation.

There are some great morals too: even though other boys his age make fun of Bran because of his oddities, Will befriends him; the side-plot dealing with Bran's cold relationship with his foster-father is neatly resolved; hatred and cruelty, as portrayed in Caradog Prichard, are shown for what they are: corruption.

That said, parents and readers should weigh the bad content against the good and make their decision accordingly. Because of some of its controversial content, this book is best read by mature teenagers who have a good understanding of what a Christian's outlook on life, including the scope of morals, should be.

Fun Score: 4.5
Values Score: 4
Written for Age: 13+

Review Rating:

Average rating: 5 stars
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