5 Rated Books Book Reviews Old School Wednesdays

Old School Wednesdays: Silver on the Tree (The Dark is Rising Sequence #5) by Susan Cooper

Ana has been reading The Dark Is Rising Sequence for the past few months. Today, she takes on the final book in the series, Silver on the Tree.

Old School Wednesdays is a weekly Book Smugglers feature. We came up with the idea towards the end of 2012, when both Ana and Thea were feeling exhausted from the never-ending inundation of New and Shiny (and often over-hyped) books. What better way to snap out of a reading fugue than to take a mini-vacation into the past?

Old School Wednesdays Final

Logo designed by the wonderful KMont

Title: Silver on the Tree

Author: Susan Cooper

Genre: Children, Fantasy

Publisher: Multiple publishers over the years
Publication date: First published in 1977
Paperback: 368 Pages

Silver On the Tree

The Dark is rising in its last and greatest bid to control the world. And Will Stanton — last-born of the immortal Old Ones, dedicated to keeping the world free — must join forces with this ageless master Merriman and Bran, the Welsh boy whose destiny ties him to the Light. Drawn in with them are the three Drew children, who are mortal, but have their own vital part in the story. These six fight fear and death in the darkly brooding Welsh hills, in a quest through time and space that touches the most ancient myths of the British Isles, and that brings Susan Cooper’s masterful sequence of novels to a satysfying close.

Standalone or series: Fifth and final book in The Dark Is Rising Sequence

How did I get this book: Bought

Format (e- or p-): Print

Review:

SO.

It came to pass that I finally read the Over Sea, Under Stone, the first book in the Dark is Rising Sequence a few weeks ago and I really liked it. Most of all, I liked the fact that the review generated good discussion from enthusiastic fans of the series. It made me want to continue pronto so we can all talk about it.
Reviews so far:

Over Sea, Under Stone
The Dark Is Rising
Greenwitch
The Grey King

WARNING! THERE WILL BE SPOILERS.

Previously on Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising: THE DARK IS STILL RISING. The Light and the Old Ones are still trying to get all THINGS OF POWER. The Drew siblings got the Grail. Will Stanton, the last of the Old Ones and Sign Seeker, has found the Circle of Signs. Will and Bran got the Harp (which…serves for….I am not really sure). THE DARK IS STILL RISING. For the last time! It’s now or never, DARK.

The Directive: Bran, Will and the Drews, reunited in Wales must find the Crystal Sword that belongs to the Pendragons so that they have all the THINGS OF POWER to fight the Dark once and for all.

Straight talk:

Well, this was exceedingly disappointing.

snape-is-disappointed-1

Silver on the Tree encapsulates and highlights every single thing that was frustrating about the series as a whole: the vagueness of the plot, the lack of any real sense of danger (considering that the Dark!is!Rising!), the quests that are not really quests and are more like stumbling unto Things, the overwhelming sense that everything is pre-ordained even though everybody talks about free will, the lack of any character development, the romantic obsession with King Arthur.

Actually, I am still not really sure what exactly the Dark is. How is it Rising. What would happen if they did. I mean, I understand in theory because evil is something we all know about but I do not think this was transplanted into the pages that well – it almost feels like there is a reliance on pre-knowledge of tropes and ideas and because of this a lot of the world-building, if we can even call it that, is merely glossed over.

Speaking of the Dark and of Evil. There is one particular moment in this book that gave me cause for pause. The Drews witness a young boy being attacked because he is Indian. It is a very in-your-face moment that is later revealed to be a sign that the Dark is indeed rising – as though racism is a result of magical evil and not a social construct. Does this mean that now that the Dark has not risen, there will no longer be racism in the world? I’d say this is not the intention here because the idea that humans can be both good and bad and have free will is reinforced throughout but then I ask you, what is the point of the Dark?? Either Racism is a result of the dark rising or it’s a human thing. This series has no internal logic, guys.

Stuff happen because they must, tasks and quests are undertaken by rota and challenges are faced in the most anticlimactic way by people remembering things they already know “deep inside” or by reciting poems and singing. We are told over and over again that the main characters are protected and nothing will happen to them and as such, any sense of real menace is taken away and everybody (both Dark and Light) just follows these rules and it is just so, SO boring. The Drew siblings are brought back because they have an essential role to play and that role is… to hold a Sign? It was hinted throughout that Barney is special but that went exactly nowhere. Worst of all: this is the last book in a series and after a long build up to the Dark Rising, the ending comes and it is anticlimactic to the extreme. Did I get it right that the Dark Would Rise only if they got a mistletoe from a tree? Did that really happen?

An example of interaction between Light, Dark and Humans:

Dark: *dramatically rides into the scene* I CHALLENGE YOU, LIGHT
Light: OK.
Me: *perks* This is going to finally get good!
Dark: *darkly says* I challenge you to a… parley. Let’s talk about this boy Bran. He does not belong here and therefore cannot use his sword to do the thing.
Light: OK, let us ask this one human guy what he thinks.
Human Guy: He belongs here because he doesn’t speak Latin.
Everybody: Ok then, fine. Let him play.
Me: Wait. What just happened?

And what of the female characters? They are few and of the three with bigger roles, one turns out to be a villain, Jane spends most of this book having “strange feelings” about… things and then the Lady, whom we had been promised had an important role to play in the end, comes back to… give Jane a message?

And then, then we have that insufferable ending where everybody – all humans – are made to forget everything. Even though they are supposed to have free will. Except they don’t cause no one chooses this. I can see the intention behind this as I am sure the point here is that humans should go on living without knowledge of magic. But. Then. What. Is. The. Point. Of. This. Series.

Silver on the Tree is not only an unsatisfactory end to a series but also I dare say… not a very good book at all.

So now that it’s all read and done, where does that leave me? I am ultimately glad I gave the series a chance and read it but I can’t really say I found it specially good or interesting. I know this is a nostalgic childhood favourite for many people and I do wonder if had I read this when a child at a time when YA was not such a strong presence in book stores, if I would have felt differently.

Rating for the series overall: 5 – Meh

Next: I am thinking about starting a new series – considering the Guards series by Terry Pratchett. Any interest in that? Or any other old school series you would like me to read?

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12 Comments

  • Andrea K
    April 15, 2015 at 9:20 am

    Stories should never end with memory wipes. Memory wipes are the worst.

  • Robert
    April 15, 2015 at 10:36 am

    I agree regarding the memory erasure. It’s about the worst thing I think you can do to someone. Everything they’ve struggled for, every triumph, every bit of character growth — all magically wiped away. Without asking, without any consent. By the “good” guys.

    Like Ana, I maybe would have enjoyed these as a kid. As an adult, the ultimate ending to this book made me dislike the entire series.

  • Mary Anne
    April 15, 2015 at 10:44 am

    I read this series as a kid and loved it..right till the end. Which I found very disturbing. I walked around pissed at the world for a week. Every few winters I reread “The Dark is Rising” just for the incredible Christmas atmosphere, but I’ve never read the rest again. And I am the ultimate rereader. I mean, WTF? What was the whole point if none of the kids will remember it? That’s a Dark and disturbing thing to do. And it says that all those Light people are important and their thoughts and deeds have weight and consequence, and everyone else is just window dressing. Insignificant.

    I raise my middle finger to you.

  • mary
    April 15, 2015 at 11:17 am

    Great review, Ana! Yes, that ending is awful, but it does not come out of nowhere. As you say, it encapsulates everything that’s disturbing about the series. As to what the “Dark” is, and what it’s doing, I have a suggestion, based on the timing of “The Dark is Rising”.

    It’s the dark. Literally. That’s why that book is set at the winter solstice, and why there is so much Pagan symbolism. The light has to beat back the dark so that the sun will rise again and crops can be planted! Or something. I don’t think it’s awfully well thought out, even so.

    And that’s a real pity, because there is so much that’s good in these books. On a sentence-by-sentence level, they are very well written, and Cooper gets us (me, at least) to care about her characters. She’s also really good at atmosphere. But, in the end, it means nothing.

    A suggestion for atmosphere and beautiful writing would be the “Green Knowe” books by L.M. Boston. They are really beautiful! Another old school reread I’d like to suggest is the “Young Wizards” by Diane Duane. Of course, she’s still writing that series, so it’s not exactly old school! But the first book was published in the early ’80s.

  • Hebe
    April 15, 2015 at 4:15 pm

    Not really relevant to the review, but it would be great to see some Pratchett on Old School Wednesdays!

  • Estara Swanberg
    April 15, 2015 at 5:01 pm

    I have to admit to never having reread all of the series because of my horror at the situation of Will Stanton at the end of this book. However, I find it enjoyable to only reread the second book, which is how I got to know the series ^^.

  • Amanda
    April 15, 2015 at 5:45 pm

    Oh, please consider The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede!

    I think you’d love Cimorene, who is an anti-princess, and the stories themselves, which are delightfully subversive, funny, and refreshing. The first book begins with Cimorene, who hates being a princess, and arranges to get herself “captured” by a dragon to avoid the typical fairytale fate of all princesses–being rescued, marrying a prince, marrying happily ever after, etc.

    The series also features wizards (the bad guys, surprise!), witches, a changing and unpredictable forest, and just about every fairytale trope poked fun of and turned on its head you can imagine. The series isn’t all fun and games, though–it’s also full of deep, meaningful relationships between characters (friendships and romance), struggles for power and choice, and develops the idea that finding yourself is perhaps the greatest adventure of all.

  • Amanda
    April 15, 2015 at 5:51 pm

    Also… I wasn’t a huge fan of the Dark is Rising sequence, but I read Susan Cooper’s Seaward as an adult and enjoyed it. I think I remember the entire book seemed like a metaphor for growing up, but I’m having trouble remembering. Might have reminded me of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, maybe? Anyway, it might be worth a shot, and it’s a standalone book.

  • Kim Aippersbach
    April 15, 2015 at 8:31 pm

    Ha! It’s a bit cathartic to hear you rant about this book, because it was always my least favourite, and I always thought I must be missing something. When I reread the series, I usually just read the Drew children books, because I find them the most fun. Will Stanton is just all Destiny and It Is What It Is which is boring. Though I love the atmosphere in all of them, and I do like Bran.

    I second the recommendation of Diane Duane’s Wizard series. It doesn’t get as much notice as I think it deserves. Wrede’s Enchanted Forest is pretty fun, and Pratchett is, well, Terry Pratchett. The Bromeliad trilogy doesn’t get as much airtime as his other stuff, and I thought it was very good.

  • Ana
    April 17, 2015 at 7:22 am

    I am just 100% relieved that these comments seem to align with my thoughts, THANK YOU.

    as for the recommendations, I am inclined to go with Terry Pratchett first then do the Enchanted Forest series.

    I’ve already tried the Diane Duane series (it was ok, didn’t spark me to try to read more) and I loved the first Green Knowe books, maybe I ought to continue with that one as well.

    Thanks guys! Comments are the best

  • Nicole
    April 17, 2015 at 4:37 pm

    So, I loved The Dark is Rising, but I read it when I was like 9? So I might not like it as much now. I remember that Bran was my favourite character, and I didn’t mind Will in his stand-alone books or books with Bran, but books with Jane/Barney etc. made Will seem boring. And I vaguely remember Will seeming whiny…?

    I am commenting mostly to say YES!! Read Terry Pratchett’s Guards series! Except then I saw someone recommend Patricia C. Wrede and the Enchanted Forest. Oh my god- Dealing With Dragons and the whole enchanted forest was AMAZING! I still was only 10ish when I read them, but I remember them being full of women and wit. Terry Pratchett is much more adult. I don’t know if you’re going for YA specifically or not. And I can’t make a recommendation either way. Do both?

  • Eleanor Green
    December 21, 2017 at 2:40 pm

    It’s interesting that no comment yet has disagreed much with the reviewer. I do. A lot of the book is about defeating evil through the discovery of inner strength, and the importance of ordinary people and their choices and actions. The characters are protected because of their mindset; danger is very real if they don’t have that mindset. The ending is disturbing, but consistent with the Light’s thematic selfishness. I like to think that they remember their actions and their importance, but not the context. Or that they do remember in a way, but just never think of it, like in Stephen King’s It.

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