Book Review: “The Hidden Land” by Pamela Dean

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The Hidden Land
by Pamela Dean

This sequel to The Secret Country started life as the last third of that book. Like other second books of three, its splitting-off proved fortunate for the series and for us readers. It’s also a good thing that it’s only the middle of the trilogy, or else its ending would cause actual pain. The middle part of a trilogy should move the story forward and leave you longing for more; this book does both of these things in grand style.

When we last saw siblings Ted and Laura and their cousins Ruth, Patrick, and Ellen, they had discovered the real world behind the fantasy-land they had created together over a series of summers. No longer mere make-believe, it had real people, real places, and some unbelievably real things: castles, unicorns, wizards, and kings.

Caught up in the roles of royal princes and princesses, the children could scarcely keep up with the demands of pretending to be what they were not. They stumbled from crisis to crisis, arguing about whether it was real, fretting about why certain things were different from what they had imagined, and wondering how to change the story so that the king might not have to be poisoned, and so Ted might not have to die in battle and return from the dead, only to face his best friend in a mortal duel.

All of those dreaded events still lay ahead at the end of The Secret Country, but they rush upon the cousins now – complete with inexplicable variations from the story they had planned. Mysteries multiply. Who is Claudia and whence comes her awful power? Why is Laura having visions, and what do they mean? What will happen when Laura plays the flute of Cedric and finds the unicorn in winter? What happened to the real princes and princesses, and how can they be restored to where they belong?

As it grows in danger and urgency, what began as a game feels less and less like fun to the Carroll children – and ever more enjoyable for us. Pamela Dean claims that, in writing this book, she found herself caught up in her characters’ dilemma regarding “the responsibility of the imagination.” Intriguing as that sounds, it is their increasing desperation that will envelop you. And when this book comes to its stunning conclusion, you will be caught up in a web of unresolved plot threads leading irresistibly to Book 3, The Whim of the Dragon.