Eleven year-old Will Stanton goes from England to his mother's relatives in Wales to spend a month recuperating from Hepatitis. But on arrival he discovers that the real purpose of his visit is the fulfilment of an ancient prophecy about the discovery of a long-lost golden harp. Fearing the words of a prophetic poem were lost to him during the fevers of his illness, Will at first only vaguely senses the malevolent powers surrounding him, but his memory is suddenly restored through a meeting with Bran - the strange albino 'raven-boy' - and Cafall, the dog with the "silver eyes that see the wind." Joined together by a preordained fate, the three retrieve the legendary harp from the Lords of the High Magic. Thus armed, Will must complete his quest - the wakening of the Six Sleepers so that they may ride forth for the final battle between the Light and the Dark.
Although Will and the Grey King are the major protagonists, the struggle between good and evil is extended through local folklore and is reflected in the long-standing antagonism between Bran's stepfather, Owen Davies, and the half-crazed Caradog Pritchard. It is only with the disclosure of Bran's true identity that Will fully grasps the significance of that antagonism. Freshly conceived, richly sustained, the multi-dimensional narrative adroitly interweaves traditional motifs with everyday realities so that cosmic conflict is interpreted in human terms. So well-crafted that it stands as an entirety in itself, the novel, the fourth in the sequence, is nevertheless strengthened by its relationship to the preceding volumes - as the individual legends within the Arthurian cycles take on deeper significance in the context of the whole. A spellbinding tour de force.
( from Horn Book Review - 1976)
This book, the penultimate in the series, won the Newbery Medal in 1976. Of all the DR books, this perhaps is the most moving, dealing masterfully with the human emotions of loss and confusion. I had to wait for this book. After completing The Dark Is Rising, I rushed to buy the other two books in print - Over Sea, Under Stone and Greenwitch.
I ordered The Grey King from my local library and was the first borrower to check it out. I think it took me a day and a bit to read, and so I read it again. My journey into the DR books was only a year or so old but I was well and truly hooked.
There are two images which stick with me from this book. Firstly, was the confusion experienced by Bran Davies upon learning of his birthright and legacy, coupled with the pain of its revelation. This confusion and pain is presented against the backdrop of his formal and somewhat strained relationship with his father Owen Davies. Secondly, and perhaps the most moving moment of any of the books, is the scene presented of Bran's grief following Caradog Prichard's dreadful act (I can't tell you any more in case you've not read the book! Read it, I challenge you not to be moved).
I think that The Grey King explores the duality of human nature more than the other DR books and deals masterfully with emotions and relationships. It is a powerful story with a powerful setting - the mountains, lakes and farmlands of mid-Wales. I have since visited this part of Wales and I knew I had been there before, transported there each time I read the books and like all of Susan Cooper's images, carried around singing in my head.