The Secret Country is a fun fantasy about five teenagers and pre-teens who accidentally stumble into the fantasy world that they themselves created in play. Unfortunately, they are their normal selves, not their powerful alter egos, and so they are in a magical medieval kingdom without magical abilities, weapons skills, or even decent horsemanship. And the catch is that everyone expects them to know these things, since their characters do! This book is a role-player’s dream, and perhaps nightmare as well.
They get by, becoming involved in court intrigue while trying to stay out of trouble by quick thinking and by calling on their knowledge of the way the world works. But then the world starts to change, with characters and objects behaving in ways they never thought of in their game.
Pamela Dean, as always, is brilliant at characterization. Especially well drawn is the luckless, klutzy Laura, who just may be more than she seems.
The story ends just when you’d expect it to start heading for a climax. This would ordinarily annoy me, but in this case it left me intrigued and fascinated. At the time I first read The Secret Country, the two sequels were hard to find; but now that they’re back in print I plan to seek them out.
The Secret Country — (1985-1989) Publisher: For the past nine years, cousins Patrick, Ruth, Ellen, Ted, and Laura have played at “The Secret” — a game full of witches, unicorns, a magic ring and court intrigue. In The Secret, they can imagine anything into reality, and shape destiny. Then the unbelievable happens: by trick or by chance, they find themselves in the Secret Country, their made-up identities now real. They have arrived at the start of their game, with the Country on the edge of war. What was once exciting and wonderful now looms threateningly before them, and no one is sure how to stop it… or if they will ever get back home.