Thursday, February 14, 2013

Book Review: The Hidden Ones, by Nancy Madore

            What does a cuddly cartoon character created by Dr. Seuss have in common with demi-demons from the dawn of human development? Much like the recent movie adaptation of The Lorax, The Hidden Ones, by Nancy Madore, finds its real emotional heart in flashbacks.
Beautiful cover art, too.

            The Hidden Ones tells the story of three different women, linked by time, space, and ancient magic: Nadia, a wealthy young philanthropist, Helene, her grandmother in Saudi Arabia, and Lilith, an ancient djinn who yearns to return to life in the modern world. Nadia never believed her grandmother’s stories about the djinn until she’s kidnapped by a group of men who seem to thinks she’s possessed by one. They claim her charity is involved in funding a planned terrorist attack. Fearing for her life, she offers to tell the men her grandmother’s old stories, in hopes that they won’t kill her if she has information they need. What unfolds is a nested tale of magic, deceit, and adventure spanning thousands of years.

            Helene Trevelyan, Nadia’s grandmother, traveled to Saudi Arabia in 1948 with a pack of archaeologists searching for a Sumerian version of The Book of the Dead. This English teenager loves knowledge and history, and Middle Eastern culture seems very foreign to her. Nevertheless, she, her father, and his friends, press on with their goal—to find the book, translate the incantations, and see if they can summon an ancient Sumerian spirit.

            What they get is Lilith. The daughter of an angel and a human woman, Lilith uses her wits, strength, and beauty to make her way in the male-dominated world of ancient Mesopotamia. The land where she lives is dominated by other giants like her— worshiped by man, feared by the angels—and she’ll do anything to keep it that way, from slaughtering children to stealing a human body to use as her host. Devoted to her sister, lover, and nephew, she nevertheless oozes arrogance, spite, and hypocrisy. For a femme fatale, her weaknesses are quite human. She’d probably hate to read this, but she’s probably the most human character in the story.

            As Helene soon learns, summoning djinn can have devastating consequences. And in the present day, Nadia and her kidnappers soon find themselves working on the same side as they struggle to prevent a terrorist attack that could claim millions of lives. Compared to Helene’s silent dignity and Lilith’s fierce strength, Nadia’s character felt a bit weak to me—more of a passive narrator than an actual participant in the action. In fact, most of the present day action takes place off-screen. We’re only told about the terrorist plot—we don’t get to see any of the terrorists in action. The threat they pose never seems real, only like a device to get Nadia into the kidnappers’ hands so she can relate her tales.

            Highs: Strong characterization. Helene and Lilith really stood out for me as complex, well-developed characters with a lot of heart. Tension. The story really grabs you from the start and sucks you into the mystery of the djinn. Pacing. The story is revealed to us in parts, and each bit leaves us wanting more. Editing. The prose is polished and clean, with no typos I could spot.

            Lows: Cultural insensitivity. One of the kidnappers is an Indian man who tosses around words like ‘veddy’. As someone who lives with an Indian woman, I can verify that most Indian people don’t talk like that. Philosophizing. Chapter Thirty-Four is a philosophical rant about why scientists can’t prove their ideas about Earth’s history any more than religious adherents can. Personally, as a Christian and a scientist in training, I have to disagree—but from a literary standpoint, it’s just not good form to spend pages and pages using one-sided arguments to support your personal beliefs unless you’re writing Atlas Shrugged.

            The Hidden Ones is a polished, original story with a lot of heart. Madore’s energy and enthusiasm for the story really shines through. For a fantasy novel, four and a half stars. For a novel, four. 

You can purchase The Hidden Ones here.

1 comment:

  1. Your wonderful review made me want to read the book. It was great, just like you describe it. I will follow your reviews in the future. Thanks.