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The Hidden Land by Pamela Dean

The Hidden Land (1986)

by Pamela Dean

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The second book in the series picks up a few months after the first one concluded, but before any other major events occur in the world of The Secret Country. The five cousins - Ted, Laura, Ruth, Patrick, and Ellen - are still living in the kingdom under the guise of princes and princesses, but at least without the worry of how much time is passing without them in the real world. They are also still arguing over the nature of this world they are in: real or illusion? While Patrick maintains it is some kind of mass mental projection, the others are starting to come around to Ted's perspective, that the place and people are, indeed, real, and existed before their game.

While the first book introduced all the characters and set up the intriguing premise, this one dives into the action, describing several of the serious events that were the highlight of the children's game, and ones they had hoped to avoid in such a setting. Despite their best efforts, the king is still poisoned and Ted crowned as new king. In their game, Randolph was the secret murderer, but since everything in the Hidden Land (the actual name of the place as given by its genuine inhabitants) is a little off and a little on, they can't be completely sure that Randolph is the killer. While they try to solve this mystery, Ted reluctantly accepts the crown, and begins readying the kingdom for war. The battle is another big event that the five children rehearsed continuously. In their version, Prince Edward dies. They begin preparations to thwart this event, and other preparations in case it still happens.

A large part of the charm and originality in this story is the richly realized world that the children thought was just a game, and the lingering mystery of how it can possibly be that they are actually there. The dissonance between their memory of how the game was played and the realities they encounter is fascinating, and underscores the tension that continues to mount in the series. As in the first book, the characters are complex and flawed, and I sympathized with their struggles and questions. I actually enjoyed this entry in the trilogy even more than the first one, as serious events slam upon the children (and reader) in rapid succession, and the different narrative threads of the plot are quickly drawn together. At the end of the book we even learn the answer to the question that has been harassing the children - is it all real or just illusion? - and the solution is satisfying while still leaving several mysteries to be explored in the final book. This trilogy is quality fantasy, and seems to me to be under appreciated, albeit with a loyal fan base. Traditional fantasy and fantasy gaming merge wonderfully in this novel. I am eager to read the conclusion. ( )
  nmhale | Jul 8, 2015 |
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 |
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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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:41 -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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