"I cannot sleep unless I am surrounded by books."


Friday, March 23, 2007

Fred Patten Reviews The Secret Country

The Eidolon Chronicles. Book 1, The Secret Country
Author: Jane Johnson
Artist: Adam Stower
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
ISBN 10: 1-4169-0712-2
ISBN 13: 978-1-4169-0712-1

12-year-old Ben Arnold is about to buy Mongolian Fighting Fish at Mr. Dodds’ Pet Emporium in the British city of Bixbury, when a talking cat persuades Ben to buy him instead. Ben, a shy preteen loner, suddenly finds himself thrust into a miasma of unseen magic all around him, which is leaking into our world from the dimension of Eidolon, the “Secret Country” of dragons, unicorns, goblins, centaurs, and all the creatures of faerie that exists alongside ours. The villainous Mr. Dobbs, actually the dog-headed Dodman (Dead Man) from Eidolon, has been kidnapping intelligent animals from Eidolon and selling them as exotic pets in our world, both to make money (with the help of Ben’s greedy Uncle Aleister) and to weaken Eidolon so he can seize its throne. Iggy (Ignatius Sorvo Coromandel), the talking cat who has come to our world to get help, persuades Ben that he is the only one who can rescue Eidolon, and not incidentally save the life of his dying mother.

In today’s world of Harry Potter mania, this British import (the first in a trilogy) is a Harry Potter-lite. Still, 9-to-12’s will enjoy its breezy, humorous adventure. What kid can’t identify with a young hero who finds that he can talk to all animals, gets to ride on dragonback, thwarts some comically nasty adult villains, and discovers that he is really a lost prince of a magic world? American readers will also be introduced to selkies, the Horned Man, and other colorful characters of British and Celtic mythology that are relatively unknown in this country. The Secret Country ends on a cliffhanger, as the Dodman escapes and threatens to reappear and kill Ben’s mother after he has finished conquering Eidolon. The next novel, The Shadow World, will be published in August.

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