Details: (c) Pamela Dyer-Bennet 1986; Pub Firebird (Penguin Group USA) 2003; ISBN 0-14-250143-3
Verdict: The Hidden Land is absolutely thrilling despite being annoyingly incomplete.
Reasons for reading it: It's the sequel to The Secret Country which I enjoyed enough to want to know what happened next, although I was annoyed with it for being set up to force me to read the sequel.
How it came into my hands: rysmiel gave it to me, for which I am extremely grateful. I do feel a bit guilty for complaining about the lack of a proper ending to The Secret Country, which was also a present from rysmiel, because I intended to criticize the book, rather than disparage a present.
The Hidden Land is really, really exciting; I was absolutely breathless reading it. I don't remember things Five children and It or The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe being this dramatic, though admittedly it's getting on for two decades since I read them.
I think it's partly that, unlike almost anything else of this sort of children's fantasy genre, The Hidden Land really had me believing that things might not work out ok for the party. They simply do not have that main character immunity which one accepts as an artistic convention in most settings this far from realist. And the situations they get into are really impressively dire, and when things go partially right it's for plausible reasons which feel like real consequences of good decisions.
The Hidden Land I found a lot more solid than The Secret Country. I was most impressed by how realistic and believable the children are, both as children and as characters, and the adult characters are also much more real than they were in the earlier book. And I loved the depth and complexity of the setting, as well as the story working tremendously well as a story. There are lots of lovely details such as a hint of the Hidden Land denizens using Middle English for formal ceremonies. And the narrative engages with the reader on a meta level without throwing you out of the story, which is really cleverly done.
There's just no way The Hidden Land is a standalone though. There's a bit of recapping but it would basically make little sense to someone who hadn't read The Secret Country; indeed, I felt I was a bit lost because I'd forgotten some of the detail of the earlier book which was probably necessary for understanding the story fully. And the ending is less absolutely infuriating than that of The Secret Country. The book ends with at least some things resolved and after a sensible climax, but it's begging a sequel in the most blatant way imaginable.
Despite this quibble I shall be recommending the series to any reading children I come across, and to any grown-ups who aren't snobby about good books they were born too soon to be exposed to.