Alison Baird,
The Hidden World
(Penguin, 1999)

Fourteen-year-old Maeve O'Connor is understandably depressed. The lead role in the play goes to girl much prettier than she. She doesn't get along with her peers. Her parents are having severe marital problems. When her father proposes to send her to visit her aunt and uncle in Newfoundland, the chance for an escape is reluctantly welcomed.

Maeve is thrilled to find her grandmother's diary, which seems to be a notebook of ideas for the novel she wrote long ago. It gives startling details of another realm named Annwn, where fairies and humans vie for power and magic is very real. Then, with the aid of a Celtic brooch, Maeve finds herself shifting back and forth between Newfoundland and an ancient land and discovers why her grandmother's descriptions were so vivid: Annwn actually exists! As she learns to love this parallel earth, she finds herself suddenly caught up in a magical invasion of the worst kind. She must fight for her beloved Annwn or risk losing it forever!

Baird paints vivid pictures of the land for both Newfoundland and Annwn, and this is the novel's strongest point. It is easy to lose yourself in the novel, which is befitting because, in essence, Maeve herself is transported into her grandmother's novel. The characters are very well-done in some cases, but there is a lack of depth to others, such as Maeve's developing love-interest, Thomas. In the world of Annwn, Baird weaves both Celtic and Welsh legends together with modern ideologies quite effectively. Annwn's history is very deep, and it sometime becomes somewhat overwhelming. However, the plot itself is not hard to understand, and beyond the occasional Gaelic word or two, the writing is simple and elegant. The themes in this novel are ones that are common to most adolescent literature, such as self-discovery (as Maeve finds an important role in saving Annwn and its people) and dealing with life-altering changes like parental divorce.

The Hidden World is an engaging novel with few faults. Young readers of fantasy who enjoy losing themselves in an alternate universe of mystery and magic will find it easy to do so with Maeve in Annwn.

- Rambles
written by Patrick Derksen
published 1 February 2003

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