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The Hidden Land by Pamela Dean

The Hidden Land (1986)

by Pamela Dean

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This is book two in a one-story-in-three-books fantasy trilogy from the 80s, in which five children from our world find themselves in a fantasy realm they believe they made up as part of a game.

My feelings about this one are pretty much the same as they were about the first volume: I think the premise is great. Not so much the "people from our world find their way into a magical realm" thing, which is pretty standard, but the way it deals with just what it would be like to find yourself in a place you made up, as the children are surprised at details they never imagined, wonder why on earth they ever thought some of the ones they did imagine were a good idea, and try to figure out how much they can affect the pre-determined course of the narrative. The plot, which in this one involves a regicide and a war, isn't bad, either. But, frustratingly, thus far Dean hasn't really done much of anything really substantial or satisfying with either the premise or the plot.

I also find the writing frustrating. In her depictions of the Hidden Land, its characters, its history, its unfolding plot, and pretty much everything else about it, Dean seems to be going for "subtle" and mostly hitting "murky" instead. It's hard to get a good feel for any of it. The things that are supposed to be mysterious and confusing because we're seeing them from the kids' POV and they don't know everything are mysterious and confusing, but the things the kids know about perfectly well often aren't that much clearer. And the pseudo-Shakespearean (or, worse, often actually Shakespearean) dialog just annoys me. I'm not sure which irritates me more, the artificial look-how-clever-and-literary-I-am! feel of it, or the suspension-of-disbelief-breaking way that the kids slip in and out of the local speech patterns far too easily and without anyone ever noticing.

Part of me is kind of wishing I'd stopped after book one, because, while this story does have its good qualities, I'm not really enjoying it as a reading experience the way I'd like. But since I already have the final volume, since the last two chapters of this one are, promisingly, the most interesting in the book, and since I can be something of an obsessive completist, I am planning on finishing the series. But maybe not right away. ( )
  bragan | Oct 7, 2014 |
The plot is tighter in this book and moves along at a better pace (well, a pace I liked better, anyway). We "know" the world now, so Dean can focus on the intrigue. In a way, there aren't that many surprises, since the children have been playing this story out for years before the start of the series, and they've been discussing what comes next all along. Still, watching them try to change parts of the plot and try to figure out the new bits is intriguing. I just wish this world felt more three-dimensional...or is that deliberate, reinforcing the fact that in many ways it was just a children's game? ( )
  Silvernfire | Aug 8, 2012 |
As always, Dean's books are beautifully dense, packed with allusions and quotations. Her characters are smart, careful, kind, and in way over their heads as the world they thought they'd imagined collapses into a Shakespearean tragedy around them. Highly recommended. ( )
  calmclam | Nov 28, 2011 |
Ted, Ruth, Patrick, Ellen, and Laura are still stuck in the Secret Country, the world of their imagining that has become all too real. War is brewing, war against the Dragon King, and tensions are running high. For the king and his counselors, it means preparing for battle. For the five children, it means trying to avoid playing out the worst of the Secret Country’s fates.

The Hidden Land picks up pretty much immediately after The Secret Country and a lot of what I said about its predecessor continues to be the same. It’s a intelligent, twisty young adult series. Characters are genuinely complex and multi-faceted. Hundreds of pages later, they can still surprise you. They are also smart and literate. Dean throws around T.S Eliot and Shakespeare as easy as breathing. Her language is evocative and enigmatic, which suits the feel of her story.

The mysteries in this book aren’t straightforward. You have to work for it. Dean doesn’t so much flesh out the Secret Country for you as much as she builds it in frames and sketches, leaving you to fill in the blanks. For the most part, it works. Sometimes I did get frustrated with the ambiguity and how, by the end of the book, I didn’t know that much more than the beginning. I also thought that the bit with the Land of the Dead was hyped up in the synopsis but ultimately too short.

But at the end of the day, The Hidden Land remains a mature, rewarding fantasy with beautiful language and complex characters. ( )
1 vote veevoxvoom | Oct 25, 2008 |
Fighting to avert the problems they relished inventing in their game from manifesting in the Hidden Land the five cousins with varying success impersonate the five royal children whose identity they have taken over upon arrival in this world. Unableto do so they end up escaping back to their own world. ( )
  amberwitch | Feb 24, 2007 |
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Summer swept on, faster, as it always did, than you expected.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0142501433, Paperback)

The five cousins are still trapped in the Secret Country, and must play their parts. When the King is poisoned, Ted-Prince Edward-must take the throne, even though he has no idea how to rule a country, battle magic, or inspire followers.  Soon enough he will have to do all three because the Country is on the verge of war with the treacherous Dragon King.  

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:41:31 -0400)

The participants in a fantasy role-playing game discover that the "imaginary" land they created during their game is all too real and that they have become trapped in the mysterious, magical world.

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