Pamela Dean:The Secret Country

Children transported to a fantasy realm. That's not a new theme, dating at least back to C.S. Lewis, and perhaps to Lewis Carroll. In The Secret Country, the realm is the one that they have played for several years, between two sets of cousins.

The problem is, everything isn't quite as they imagined it. Or, rather, not as any one of them imagined it--more of a consensus, so that what one of them may find familiar, the other will find utterly wrong. And even with that allowed for, there are still things they never came up with themselves.

The plot, however, they find all too familiar. The King, too skeptical about the existence and efficacy of magic, refuses to listen to his advisors that advocate its use against a foreseeable attack by the Dragon King. In the game they played every summer, the King was killed by one of his advisors, and then the advisor was sentenced to death by the King's son.

That was fine for a game...but now they have to live it. So they try to change things, as much as possible, only to find themselves countered by a mysterious force...

The book starts a little slowly--first they have to find the Secret Country (quite by accident), and then they have to go through a rigmarole of making sure that they're not missed in the real world while they spend weeks in the Secret Country. And even then, it's a while before things really build up.

It doesn't help that the children, between(as far as I could tell)ten and fifteen years old, act faithful to their ages. Which is to say, the most common phrase spoken is "Shut up." Add to that the almost-obligatory member who doesn't believe any of this is real, and things can get very annoying.

But by the end of the book, things are getting much more interesting, and the children are starting to figure out a bit better how much they can control of the Land...

Highly interesting. I'm looking forward to reading the next book.

%A Dean, Pamela
%T The Secret Country
%I Ace
%C New York
%D May 1985
%G ISBN 0-441-75740-5
%P 293 pp.
%S Secret Country
%V Book 1
%O Paperback, US$2.95, Can$3.75

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