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The Secret Country (The Secret Country #1)

3.57  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,289 Ratings  ·  90 Reviews
What happens when your fantasy world turns real...?

Each vacation for the past nine years, cousins Patrick, Ruth, Ellen, Ted, and Laura have played a game they call the “Secret”—and invented, scripted world full of witches, unicorns, a magic ring, court intrigue, and the Dragon King. In the Secret, they can imagine anything into reality, and shape destiny. Then the unbelie
Paperback, 384 pages
Published October 13th 2003 by Firebird (first published May 1st 1985)
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Mar 05, 2008 Katharine rated it it was amazing
The Secret Country begins with a very Narnia-esque scenario of five children, cousins, who are accustomed to spend their summers together. And every summer they play the same imaginative game about a fantasy country of magic and intrigue, where they are all princes and princesses. But this summer they are separated and miserable—until they find two magical swords that seem to transport them into their imaginary country made real.

The true genius here is how Pamela Dean intertwines the children’s
C.E. Murphy
Jun 24, 2013 C.E. Murphy rated it it was amazing
All right, this is technically a recent re-read, as I have read this book more times than I can count. I think the last time, though, may well have been ten or twelve years ago, when I was writing my own “children from our world are whisked away to another, which only they can save” book. Halfway through, I basically fell into a complete panic that I was not writing THE SECRET COUNTRY and that what I was doing was disasterous, so I did something I never ever do, which is went and read a book whi ...more
Jul 30, 2007 Wealhtheow rated it really liked it
Shelves: fantasy
OMG so awesome. Two siblings and their three cousins fall through a hedge into a magical realm—one they used to pretend was real. Like a non-preachy version of Narnia, but with better characterization and a more intriguing framing device. In fact, each and every character is well-rounded and interesting—I go the feeling that any one of them could carry a story of their own.
Dec 28, 2013 Grace rated it really liked it
You might wonder how I discovered this book. Well, my friends, even if you didn’t wonder, I’m going to tell you anyway. According to my somewhat possibly faulty memory, it happened something like this. I became aware of that fact that apparently on Goodreads you can review... fanfiction. As in, fanfiction—that, from what I gather, you can still find on or what have you—can be found on its own page on Goodreads. And you can then review them.

I wasn't sure how I should feel about thi
Aug 18, 2007 Nancy rated it it was amazing
The Secret Country is like Narnia for teenagers (or for people who read YA lit). For the past several years, five children have created a fantasy world called Secret. Then, one year they find our that the world they have created is real. Trapped in Secret, our heroes must play the parts that they have created for themselves in the story. Will they manage to change the plot and prevent the murder of the king?

The Secret Country is a incredibly fun and fascinating fantasy book. In fact, the only th
Oct 29, 2008 Cindy rated it did not like it
This is quite possibly the worst book I've read recently. I read 100 pages and I was so confused. Kids pretending to be others but thinking back to a script that they made and there were people who were playing on person but not someone in this part of the story. I gave up.

As the one reviewer said, it was a like a private joke that we weren't in on. As far as it being Narnia it's far from it, the whole idea would have been great but it's not anything like a Narnia. Great writer you aren't.
Julie Davis
Apr 06, 2012 Julie Davis rated it it was amazing
I discovered this trilogy in the best way - at the book store long ago when the first book had just come out. So as the story unfolded I was left on tenterhooks until each book came out. Frequent rereading has done nothing to dim my enjoyment. Here's the brief summary.
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 d
Feb 06, 2011 Donna rated it it was ok
Shelves: fantasy, young-adult
A group of children end up inside the imaginary world that they created as part of a secret game, and then they experience some of the adventures they used to play.

I liked the characters, and the setting was fun because it fit with how a bunch of kids that age would create a fantasy kingdom, complete with enchanted forests, a wizard's tower, and unicorns. Unfortunately, the rest of the book had some serious issues.

The kids were almost always confused about what was going on. They had a lot of kn
Nov 18, 2011 Kiri rated it it was amazing
I'm rereading this after many years (needed a dose of fantasy), and all I can say is that it is every bit as good as I remembered. Dean gives these kids such powerful identities, and she presents them so deftly, through word and action and the observation of the other kids, that I'm hardly aware of how I got to know them so well.

And oh, the language. Oh Pamela, how I wish you were more prolific, for I would devour anything that came from your pen (or computer).
Jun 05, 2008 Anne rated it it was amazing
I tried to read this book a year or so ago but couldn't get into it. Then I picked it up this year and loved it! It's really good, and totally worth it!
Jun 01, 2010 Holly rated it did not like it
I got 1/2 way through and gave up. I just couldn't get into this book.
Shawn Thrasher
Feb 25, 2016 Shawn Thrasher rated it it was amazing
Children discovering a fantasy world in the wardrobe or down the rabbit hole is, well, as old as Alice. Pamela Dean does take this trope and turn it on its head (like some of Neil Gaiman's work) but rather makes it into something more adult. Her Secret Country trilogy, taken as a whole, veers into literary fiction-land without ever properly leaving fantasy; it's like a magical blurring of the lines betweent the worlds. Unlike Lewis or Carroll (but like the more modern Gaiman), Dean's dense prose ...more
Each summer, five cousins have created the Secret--a fantasy world whose story and magic they've built in bits and pieces over the years. But one year, they find themselves in the Secret Country itself, a real place whose magic and politics are much more complex from within. Dean pens some beautiful lines and the Secret's unicorns are superb, but the world and magic of the Secret Country aren't particularly unique; what's compelling, instead, is the nature of its creation. The children may have ...more
Nov 17, 2012 Kate rated it liked it
I read the Secret Country trilogy because I liked Tam Lin so very much.

The Secret Country trilogy was good, but not nearly as satisfying. Like Tam Lin, it takes a very long time to set up, and does so in a wandering way, but this time I didn't think that they pay-off was really worth it. I didn't feel like I really understood the characters' motivations for doing everything.

In the book, Ted, Laura, Ruth, Patrick and Ellen find the Secret Country that they have been playing with and imagining fo
Kat!e Larson
I'm honestly not sure whether I loved or hated this book... there were things I really adored -- the world, Randolph (seriously, though,) the similes (that's a weird thing to love, but they were seriously fab.) And then there were things I really didn't like -- how much the main characters fought, the fact that half the time I had no idea what was going on, and, most of all, the fact that the main characters did not seem to be excited about falling into a magical world that they themselves had c ...more
Feb 25, 2015 Kay rated it did not like it
Shelves: dislike
Okay, really I had high hopes with this book.

When I saw it at Half Price Books, I read a few pages. I really liked the cover. The colors are pleasing to my eye and reminded me of other books I've enjoyed a lot. I don't buy books often, but when I do I know I'll be re-reading them often.

To start off the first sentence was very high fantasy. It was like this, this is what your looking for.

The written style isn't good at all. We don't go into the minds, or thoughts of the very annoying characters
This top-notch children's fantasy, like a more family-friendly The Chronicles of Amber (or C.S. Lewis without the patronizing tone and religious indoctrination). One of my favorite aspects of the novel is that the setting is so "typical high fantasy" - castle, wizards, unicorns, etc. Because this makes it clear that the focus of the book isn't "look at all these wacky creatures I can come up with!," it's actually focusing on the psychology of these kids which is much more interesting. Definitely ...more
Feb 28, 2014 Sienna rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle, 2014
I rather arbitrarily selected this work from Abebooks's recent list of otherworldly reads. The thing is, after three excellent books in a row, I'm struggling to engage with anything that doesn't strike me so immediately and fully. It's not Pamela Dean's fault that her rather middle-of-the-road writing fell into this trap. At least she reminded me of John Renbourn's exquisite take on John Donne. And, for what it's worth, I would kind of love to analyze The Secret Country and other YA books in whi ...more
I'm sorry. I think I'm the only person on earth who didn't like this book, but I hated it. I only finished it, because I was reading it for a book challenge. Otherwise I would have given up way before I ever finished it.

I wasn't attached to any of the characters. It felt like a Narnia with kids who just bickered and sniped the entire time and never agreed on anything. Patrick was Edmund, but without the outright betrayal. Laura was obviously Lucy. Ted was noticeably Peter. Ruth and Ellen were th
Alicia Mitsch
Jan 26, 2015 Alicia Mitsch rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, childrens
I tried, I really did. Five days, 140 pages, and I have to put it down. The premise is a good one, like what would happen if you found out your tabletop or LARP game was real in some sort of parallel dimension. These five children find out that the world they'd been making up for themselves really exists. However, after 140 pages, there was a whole lot of redundant or hard-to-follow conversations and precious little action. This story had more telling than showing, and I finally just had to give ...more
Aug 14, 2014 ribbonknight rated it really liked it
I loved this. As with The Dubious Hills, I love the way Dean includes details not often mentioned in fantasy novels - breezes, insects, too many stairs, etc.

The premise is that a group of cousins play-act a Shakespearean fantasy with magic & murder & etc. During the summer they're separated, their pretend world - "the game" - becomes real. (Maybe.)

I'm excited to read the rest of the trilogy, and also glad that this seems to be a series that will lend itself well to rereading. Not only ar
I am weak to Pamela Dean. If she produced more books more quickly I'd be the happiest camper in the world. (But I'm pretty sure the style & the quality & the pace are linked.)

Also I realised halfway thru rereading this that I would have been about the same age as Laura - 11ish - when this was published. Which was mildly weird, given that I would have been about the same age as Janet in Tam Lin, at least at the beginning, when *that* was published.

This has nothing to do with the Secret
Apr 02, 2016 Kat rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Lovers of fantasy fiction
Shelves: favorites, magicians
So, this is a series that I have loved since I was a kid, and the best thing about it isn't that it features a group of kids from our world who get dragged into a fantastic kingdom of magic and sorcery and intrigue (and unicorns!), or that the fate of said kingdom rests on the cleverness and ingenuity of said kids, or even that the inhabitants of the Hidden Land (as it is called) all talk like Shakespeare. Nope, the best thing is that it's a book one can read and enjoy as a unicorns-and-magic ob ...more
Dec 24, 2015 Maki rated it really liked it
This book pleasantly surprised me.

Most of this book reads like you're watching children playing a game.

Yes. I know that that's exactly what this book is. But hear me out.

There are several parts of the story that get bogged down because the characters know the how the game works, and they know what's happening, but they never stop to explain what's going on to the audience. For instance, there's no explanation given for the whole Nightmare Grass scene until after the event, where the characters j
Jan 30, 2010 Delaina rated it really liked it
The Secret Country and The Hidden Land, the first two books in this trilogy, were originally written as one installment (as the author's note explains). I'm not sure who separated them, but they ought to be tightened up and put back together again. Dean's writing is deep and rich, but oddly elliptical. She includes numerous literary and historical asides and quotes (the children devour Shakespeare, which influences their language and play-acting). However intriguing the plot and alive the charac ...more
I used to think I was quite a prolific reader as a child, but now, looking back, I realize that I spent a great deal of time rereading books. Even with the wealth of my local library at my fingertips, I would often check out the same books over and over again. I think this may have had to do with the fact that my family could not afford to buy me all the books I wanted, so I had no way of revisiting my favorites. The point of this is, I do think I missed out on a quite a few treasures in favor o ...more
Elizabeth K.
Aug 02, 2009 Elizabeth K. rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2008-new-reads
Every October I reread Pamela Dean's Tam Lin because it's such a good Halloween book. But this year, I couldn't find my copy of Tam Lin, I'm sure I have it somewhere, but it hasn't resurfaced since we moved last spring. I'm sure it will eventually. Fortuitously, I was able to read The Secret Country instead. It's the first book in a trilogy about five cousins who play an on-going pretend game about a fantasy kingdom, and it becomes real and the kids are shocked and surprised and there they are. ...more
May 16, 2012 Elizabeth rated it liked it
Shelves: fantasy
Having immensely enjoyed one of Dean's other works, Tam Lin, I was looking forward to reading this, and I was disappointed that I didn't find it all that interesting. I kept waiting for the story to get going, even as I could see that I was past the halfway point of the book and that this was probably about as gripping as it was ever going to get. The children already know who the people in the Secret Country are and what's "supposed" to happen because they've been acting it out as a play for ye ...more
Marishka Valentine
When I first read this book a few years ago, I had to put it aside almost immediately because it seemed hard to read. I picked it up again, however, a few months later and tried again, to see if it really was me, or if it was the book. Sadly, it was the book. Confusing and poorly written at times, The Secret Country is an awesome story and great plot, but in serious need of help. As I said, when I first read it, I was so thoroughly confused and put off by the writing style that I just had to put ...more
Jul 27, 2015 Orchid rated it it was amazing
Shelves: own
Review taken from my blog, The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia

The Secret Country and I have a few years worth of history. The first time I read it, about five years ago, I just fell in love with the world and couldn't sleep after finishing the first book, so I begged (yep, I was that desperate) my mom to get my the next two books so I could know how it would end.

I really like how the book starts out with the main characters, Ted, Laura, and their cousins Patrick, Ruth and Ellen, playing what they
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What's The Name o...: Fantasy/Science Fiction YA book [s] 8 49 Oct 10, 2011 12:48PM  
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Other Books in the Series

The Secret Country (3 books)
  • The Hidden Land (The Secret Country, #2)
  • The Whim of the Dragon (The Secret Country, #3)

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