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Portable Magic

Reading, for me, is entertainment and an escape from the real world. But it can also inform and stretch the boundaries of the life I live.

Currently reading

The Cypress House
Michael Koryta
The Outsider
Stephen King
Progress: 34 %
I am No One You Know
Joyce Carol Oates
The Return of the King
J.R.R. Tolkien, Rob Inglis
Progress: 13 %

The Grey King ★★★☆☆

The Grey King - Susan Cooper

"The boys stood frozen, gazing at him in horror; he was not for that moment a human being, but a frenzied creature possessed by rage, turned into an animal. All that could be seen in him was the urge to hurt, and it was, as it always will be, the most dreadful sight in the world."


My parents sent me to visit for a week with my grandparents, every summer, when I was a girl. I think they wanted to give us the opportunity to get to know one another, but my grandfather was mostly absent and my stepgrandmother treated me very politely as a stranger who was a guest in her home. I spent most of my time alone, reading and rereading my dad's old juvenile books, wandering around the house, and playing pretend in their marvelous back yard. One summer, she bought me this book, possibly in hopes that it would keep me busy and out of her hair for the week. She probably selected this one because it had a picture of a dog and the Newberry medal on the cover. It was certainly a challenge; it was my first exposure to contemporary high fantasy, the Welsh language, and it was the 4th of a 5 book series. It was fascinating and maddening - the story made little sense without the context of the previous 3 books - and that sense of frustration has stayed with me all these years. Now the mystery is solved, but it's a little anticlimactic to experience the full story as an adult, reading books meant for children. 


The Grey King is the best of the series so far. The prose is evocative, within the limitations of the simple language used for a child's story. The overarching theme of this book is reflected in the quote above - the gods can be terrible in using humans as pawns in their wars, but humans still have free will, and sometimes use it in ways even more terrible than the gods. I was surprised that the concept of rape is alluded to in this children's book, but it is referred to so obliquely that, in my first reading, my childish mind didn't realize what was actually being referred to, only that a man had hurt a woman by trying to possess her against her will. But like the rest of the series, the story suffers from poorly developed world-building that allows the protagonists to access and use their powers and knowledge by just suddenly remembering or acting on instinct. 


The first three books: 

Over Sea, Under Stone (not reviewed)

The Dark is Rising