Pamela Dean's The Secret Country is the first book in her Secret Country Trilogy. Laura, Ted, and their three cousins Ellen, Ruth, and Patrick have been playing their make believe game, The Secret, every summer. But this year, the cousins have moved to Australia, so Ted and Laura are sent to stay with some of their other cousins. These other cousins are nice enough, but it isn't the same! They want to be playing the Secret.
But then the two of them find a sword under a hedge. Hanging onto it transports them into a magical world where their three cousins are already waiting. It seems that the Secret exists. They have been transported to the beginning of their game. And the five of them are expected to play their parts.
But how can they? Ted, playing crown prince Edward, is no sword-fighter. Princess Laura is supposed to be the most graceful person in the world (when in reality Laura is a klutz) and love horses (which Laura is terrified of). What's more, they don't know the people they are supposed to. How will they make it through the feasts and councils without being discovered?
Honestly, that's an excellent question. I'm not entirely sure how they made it through book one without much more than weird looks being thrown their way from time to time.
The Secret Country is the first novel I've read in over a month. I was feeling rather starved for story, which is quite possibly why I made it through reading it. I honestly had a bit of a hard time with the beginning of it, because it's a bit confusing at times. I had a harder time of it though once the story really got going; Laura is the main character, and she's really boring. You can expect her to fall every time she moves, or to drop the things she holds. And she has no courage at all, which translates into her just wanting to go home or hide whenever anything is happening. I do suspect this was on purpose, and that Laura will grow over the course of the trilogy. But much like in Mockingjay, when Katniss is confused and not caring, it makes for boring reading.
Another thing that I admit bothered me at first was how the solutions to things seemed to be something the children would think of with no real foreshadowing, like Shan's Ring. When Shan's Ring was first mentioned, it felt rather like a deus ex machina sort of thing. But the more I thought about it, Dean's introduction to the ring seemed fitting because this is a world that children made up; why wouldn't they be able to make up the solution as they go, too. So in the end I have to commend Dean; the world of The Secret Country really does feel like a children's make believe game.
I am torn on whether or not I'd be interested in reading the other books in this trilogy. All the way through I was thinking the answer to that question would be a resounding "no," but right at the end I admit I got a bit more intrigued. It felt rather like this was when the story really started. So I guess we'll see if it was intriguing enough or not.