Susan Cooper - Over Sea, Under Stone

Genre: Children's/Adventure
Synopsis: Three children on vacation in Cornwall find an ancient manuscript which sends them on a dangerous search for a long lost artefact. With the help of their Uncle Merry, it's a race against time and their enemies in an eternal battle between the forces of the Light and the Dark.


Review: I started reading Over Sea, Under Stone tentatively, knowing last time I tried was over 15 years ago and that I didn't like it then. Boy am I glad I decided to give it another go! I fortunately didn't remember a single thing about the story, and starting it I had no idea that it loosely ties into some Arthurian legend (Cornwall - shoulda figured) but once I realised where it was going I was hooked. Admittedly I'm immediately sold on anything associated with Arthurian legends, but even if you're not this is still a pretty charming book which I think will appeal to a wide age group.

It starts out very similarly to a traditional Enid Blyton-esque British treasure hunt story, but it is far more detailed, carefully laid out, mature and even more realistic than anything Blyton wrote. (On a scale of Blyton to Tolkien, I'd rate it just left of centre, leaning more towards Blyton.) Either way, while it's clearly a children's story, it certainly had me captivated from the very first chapter. The characters aren't exactly the the deepest souls in the literary spectrum, but we can forgive that when it is in essence a children's adventure story. There is virtually no magic and little direct allusion to legend (I have heard this first book is very out of sync with the remaining four, Over Sea, Under Stone being the most grounded in reality versus the magic and lore of rest of the saga.) However, the settings are beautifully described, the characters are traditionally black and white and it's easy to get caught up in the successful if not formulaic approach Cooper uses.

One of the best things about this book is the realism. None of this famous five, 'our cousin's family owns a whole island' business, just good old fashioned exploring and stumbling upon something exciting. The treasure map and clues are intelligent, the events are a little over the top, but nothing extraordinary unlikely (apart from, of course, the treasure) not all your questions are answered, and never is there any magic. This meant that in the end, the absolute icing on the cake for me was Uncle Merry. What a wonderfully understated character - merely a guardian and guiding body throughout the book, (at one point, I suspected him of being an agent of the Dark!) However, just when you get to the final pages and think maybe legends are just legends, Barney has a sudden realisation that casts a whole new magical light on everything, especially Uncle Merry, and paves the way into the fantasy world of the remaining four books. Delightful, simple read which will appeal to the adventurous child in anyone. I'm looking forward to seeing how the series develops!

Rating: 4/5