Over the holidays, I re-read Susan Cooper’s Over Sea, Under Stone, the first book in The Dark Is Rising series. Widely held to be the weakest of the books, I enjoyed it more than I remembered, though I doubt I’d re-read it if it were a standalone.
Sarah Monette has a number of perceptive spoilery comments about this book, one of which is that this is a sunny book compared to the others. If so, then I might want to wait for spring to read the rest, because I found a couple of sequences in this book surprisingly tense.
Relatedly, this book does introduce what I recall as a regrettable tendency in the series, the use of plot tokens. The Drew children and the reader are forced to take the importance of this book’s quest object, the grail, at another character’s word; by itself it doesn’t seem particularly vital (it’s not, for those unfamiliar with the books, the Holy Grail, but a later creation).
As I re-read the series, I’ll be interested to see whether I feel this book was necessary. The Drews don’t appear at all in the second book, and I don’t remember the third well enough to say what uses it puts the characterization and backstory established here (Speaking of characterization: boy, Simon got on my nerves. And Jane comes off as a sop (or, as Monette more accurately and charitably puts it, as “the collective child’s conscience”).) I believe it’s sufficiently different enough from the rest of the series that it makes sense to skip it at first, but whether I would recommend that non-completists come back to it is another matter.