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Retro Friday Review: Seaward by Susan Cooper

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted here at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.
When I was in sixth grade I had a teacher who was a real fantasy reader. And the man could do the most excellent voices for every character. We sat enthralled at his feet as he read aloud to the entire class each day. No mean feat to keep a mess of eleven and twelve year olds' attention like that day after day. He's a huge part of the reason I love the genre and he is responsible for introducing me to so many of my all-time favorites, including (and perhaps most memorably) the incomparable Lloyd Alexander and Susan Cooper.  Not long after we, as a class, inhaled Cooper's The Dark is Rising sequence, I struck out on my own looking for anything else I could find by the woman. A kind school librarian handed me a copy of Seaward. It was instant love, you guys. I've re-read my copy so many times over the years and I guess I thought all other Dark is Rising fans must have sought it out as well and I found myself frequently surprised at how rarely that was the case. I was dismayed to discover it is actually out of print now. What a shame because Seaward is that all-too-common breed of book--an absolute gem forever overshadowed by its famous big sib.

Westerly knows he has very little time. Traveling alone and on foot through a strange land, he's constantly looking over his shoulder, only able to rest for moments at a time as he flees an unnamed danger that is never far behind. Filled with visions of the violence done to his family before he was ripped away, West only knows he must be on his guard and he must head toward the sea. Cally knows something is wrong when her father falls suddenly ill and is taken away to the seaside in a last-ditch attempt to regain his health. When her mother follows shortly after, Cally is left alone in their empty house until one day she hears a voice singing snatches of a song her mother used to sing and finds a mirror into another time and place. Coming from different directions but both headed to the sea, West and Cally meet up and form a cautious friendship built on the one quality they have in common--they're the things that don't belong. As they attempt to learn why they are in this strange land and how they will survive, they encounter primal, mighty, and terrifying forces who control the land and who will do anything within their power to turn these two young people to their own purposes.

In some ways Seaward resembles the Dark is Rising sequence, with the feeling of an almost alien world existing side by side with our own. A world almost drenched in magic and characters who come to form the unshakable conviction that the tiniest of actions can have massive and far-reaching consequences, stretching across both time and space. Certain prophecies come into play as well.
A man with eyes like an owl, a girl with selkie hands, a creature in a high place.
But Seaward is a much shorter, much sweeter story, filled with the themes of love and loss, what happens once one has lost everything, and how or whether it is possible to go on in the face of the vastness of the universe and the seemingly inconsequential place one person occupies in it. What I love about this book, and what is one of my strongest memories from reading it for the first time, is that the reader is dropped into the midst of the action without so much as an apology. It makes it feel real and large and whole and it doesn't detract from the movement of the story because the two main characters are filled with questions themselves. Finding out piece by piece along with them only helps to highlight the mounting tension. And by the end of this sucker that tension level is high. West and Cally are quite different but both extremely likable and interesting people. If West is a bit more suspicious of everything, his past (as Cally comes to find out) didn't really give him a choice in the matter. Cally is strong and has a good heart, as West comes to find out as he spends more time in her company. The end is almost achingly bittersweet and every time I read it, as it draws closer, I find myself turning the pages slower to prolong what time is left. These two have been my friends for a long time now. I find myself thinking about them when I'm not with them and I know, despite the ending, we will always be finding each other again throughout the years to come. Recommended for fans of Lloyd Alexander, Madeleine L'Engle, and Guy Gavriel Kay.

Linkage
Libri Touches Review
The Wordpile Review

Retro Friday Roundup
Twisted Quill reviews The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

Comments

  1. Thanks for the post. I've read Cooper's Dark is Rising series but not any of these. Looks like my TBR pile just got taller!

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  2. Thanks for posting a link Angie! I did link back, but you can't really tell. :/

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  3. Susie, yeah, I think you'd like it a lot. Very sweet story.

    Sami, my pleasure. Thanks for posting! :)

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  4. These look excellent! I love your retro Fridays. I'm a Cooper fan and I love Lloyd Alexander too, so they sound perfect.

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  5. I can count on your retro Fridays to add to my ever growing wishlist. I love these posts!

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  6. I adore THE DARK IS RISING but I've never read anything else by her. I shall have to check these out - thanks :)

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  7. Melissa, I'm so glad. I think this one's probably right up your alley then.

    Ladybug, thank you so much! I'm delighted to hear that.

    Alexa, you bet. I can't wait to hear what you think of this one!

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  8. Very nice, much longer and more detailed than I'd made time for - maybe I should have, the book deserves it really (I have such a tendency to take too long, I must have overcompensated). Either way, very honored and pleased to be linked to here - and what do you mean it's out of print!?! I didn't know this thing's obscurity was that bad...no wonder I've never found a chance to snatch a nice hardcover edition. I'll have to hunt it up at someplace like Alibris I guess. Wish me luck.

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