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Review © 2002 T. M. Wagner.
Book cover art by David Wiesner.



Given the wonder that is The Dark Is Rising, it would seem that a three-star summation for its sequel Greenwitch would amount to a disappointment of the highest order. But it shouldn't really be interpreted that way. Greenwitch is quite a good adventure, and one that continues the series in satisfactory style. But it's true that it doesn't quite replicate the sheer literary magic that Susan Cooper so effortlessly achieved before, getting the job done in a manner almost prosaic. Part of this is due, I suppose, to the high bar Cooper set in her earlier books; from any lesser writer, Greenwitch might be a minor masterpiece. And part, I suppose, has to do with Greenwitch's startling brevity. It's barely over 130 pages in paperback, short even for a kid's book, and this makes the novel feel, well, more like a novella. It certainly lacks the layered depths of both The Dark Is Rising and Over Sea, Under Stone, even if it does succeed in capturing its predecessors' sense of wonder when it absolutely has to.

Greenwitch brings together Dark's young hero, Will Stanton, with the Drew siblings, Simon, Jane, and Barney, from Over Sea. The story opens with the theft from the British Museum of the Grail the Drews recovered at the climax of Over Sea. Merriman Lyon knows, as do the kids, that this is the work of the agents of the Dark. Merriman returns with the Drews to the coastal village of Trewissick to search for clues, bringing along Will. The initial meeting between Will and the Drews is handled disappointingly; Will doesn't reveal to the Drews that he is one of the immortal Old Ones, and the Drews react to Will initially with some coldness, resenting the intrusion of another boy into an adventure they feel is theirs. The Drews' reaction is believable, but what's disappointing is that Will, whose real-boy characteristics Cooper took pains to maintain convincingly in Dark despite his growing magical abilities, here seems little more than a superhuman sidekick to Merriman. His presence isn't as strong in the story as it ought to be, and it's a letdown that Cooper sketched over this fabulous opportunity for developing and augmenting Will's character.

In Trewissick, Barney Drew, the youngest boy, runs afoul of a wandering gypsy painter who is in league with the Dark. The painter, as it happens, has the grail, but he really wants something else, something that is in the possession of the Greenwitch. The Greenwitch is an effigy of sticks traditionally sacrificed to the sea by the women of Trewissick, but of course, in Cooper's world, there's real magic in everything, and a bundle of sticks shaped like a witch is no mere bundle of sticks. The Greenwitch indeed has possession of something she refers to only as her "secret." But will the undersea goddess Tethys allow our heroes access to the Greenwitch, or will she inadvertently aid the Dark by refusing to interfere at all?

There are, as in the first two novels, some dazzling setpieces in Greenwitch. Again, the story deals with the need to recover some priceless, lost artifact in order to combat the Dark. The scene where Will and Merriman journey deep under the icy waves to implore the aid of Tethys is appropriately chilling (hell, it's almost Lovecraftian), and a later scene in which the evil painter attempts to control the real Greenwitch through a canvas on which he has painted his evil incantations recalls some of the breathtaking storm sequences from The Dark Is Rising. And though it's a shame that Cooper didn't see fit to flesh out this book as richly as she did the previous two, it's still delightful to experience her enchanted storytelling even in such a small dose. With two more books to go, the position of this series among young-adult must-read lists is assured.