I read The Secret Country by Jane Johnson years ago–at least, I have to believe my book list when it tells me I did! It was a book that I really couldn’t remember anything about (which is rare), except just one scene. I decided to pick it up again, so that I could decide whether to read the rest of the books in the Eidolon Chronicles, as part of my goal to finish partially-read series.
Even though this obviously didn’t make much impression the first time I enjoyed reading it this time through. It’s a fun kids book of a particular type–ordinary young boy confronted with magic and called upon to save a magical world. In this case, the boy is Ben, who buys a cat at the pet store when the cat starts talking to him, demanding to be taken home. The cat, Iggy, explains that he’s from Eidolon, also called the Secret Country, which is being threatened by an evil would-be king. Part of the problem is that their queen is missing…and guess who turns out to be the prophesied prince.
I think talking cats always win the day. I’m a cat person, and I’m writing a novel with a talking cat, so I’m biased–but snarky, funny cats who say out loud everything we know cats are thinking all the time…always going to be great. I also thought Iggy had a surprising amount of depth, as a “great explorer” who knows he isn’t really very good at his profession.
Ben is a likable if somewhat generic hero, and he’s surrounded by interesting magical creatures (besides Iggy, there’s a selkie and a dragon). Together they have to battle some truly nasty villains, and I like the way people in our world turn out to be villains in Eidolon–and they turn into horrible and creepy monsters when they change worlds. I’m also hoping that later books in the series will have more on Ben’s sister, who so far had a very small part but has potential.
One side-note on a random point–I can’t decide whether or not to enjoy the Neil Gaiman reference when Ben is reading the Sandman comics. I mean…yay, Neil Gaiman reference! But at the same time, Ben is WAY too young to be reading Sandman (as is the target age group of this book). That series was too twisted for me, and Ben is a kid. If you’re going to reference Neil Gaiman, make it an age-appropriate book.
On the whole, a light but enjoyable read. I am left with a question, though–the scene I thought I remembered wasn’t actually here! I don’t think I read later books in the series…so I’m left with a mystery memory. Does anyone remember a scene like this? There’s a big fantasy battle, and in the middle of it a boy throws his lucky stone at the villain to protect a girl (a sister or a friend, I don’t remember), and the stone turns out to be some long-lost magical item of power. Ring a bell with anyone?
Meanwhile, I do plan to finish out this series–maybe the scene will still pop up in a later installment after all!
Author’s Site: http://www.janejohnson.eu/