Here at Better Reading Kids, we know that when children come across one book they love reading, they’ll often seek out others by the same author or in the same series, and if you’re a parent or a librarian, that makes choosing a book for a young reader a little simpler. So when we find a great series, we get excited to recommend it to kids we know.
We’ve always been fans of Australian author Lian Tanner‘s books for older readers, and with brand new covers released for her fantasy-adventure series The Hidden, we were keen to dive back into the adventures of Petrel and her friends. The Hidden trilogy presents some big ideas in an understandable way, and has an action-packed plot that will keep kids going, along with relatable characters readers will root for.
In #1 Icebreaker, we get a taste of the world of West Norn that Tanner has carefully created. Petrel has spent her whole life on a ship, the Oyster, which is split into very particular factions: the engineers, the officers, and the cooks. Petrel doesn’t fit into any of them. Known as ‘Nothing Girl,’ she roams the decks freely, speaking to no-one but her only friends Mister Smoke and Missus Slink, who also go ignored by the rest of the ship’s occupants – because they’re rats. With no other family or friends to speak of, Petrel knows her place, even if she’s not particularly happy about it. Everything changes when her eagle eye spots a boy, lying in the ice. As she slyly coordinates his rescue, Petrel has no idea the events she has helped put in motion.
The mysterious, nameless boy has a mission that will take him into the heart of the ship, and bring secrets about the Oyster to light. Just who is their mythical, unseen captain, and what is the ship’s true purpose? The line between friend and foe becomes blurred, and Petrel realises they’re up against a very powerful enemy.
For the second book Tanner takes her characters and weaves in new plotlines, and in #2 Sunker’s Deep we go under the sea. Sharkey is well respected by all his crewmates on the Rampart, especially for his ability to communicate with their revered ancestors Lin Lin and Admiral Cray. Yet Sharkey isn’t quite as brave or as wise as he pretends, and all the skills he has are about to be put to the test. While Sharkey and his young team are searching the waters for the remains of a sunken submersible, the Rampart is captured and sunk by their enemies, known as the Hungry Ghosts. The only survivor is one of them, a young Ghost girl named Rain, who comes with some unexpected secrets…
Meanwhile Petrel and members of the Oyster gang are facing problems of their own. They’re in search of the prophesied Song and Singer who they’ll need for their quest to topple the Devouts once and for all, but are clueless as to where to find either of them. When the team gets separated everything is pushed to boiling point, and meanwhile the Devouts are still out there, bidding their time, with the calculating villain looming larger than ever.
The trilogy has been very well planned, with an overarching story that goes across the three books, and in #3, Fetcher’s Song, it all comes together. The Ice Breakers and the Sunkers are now a proper team, united against the Devouts. We also meet Gwin and the Fetchers, performers who travel throughout the land bringing music and dance. Since the death of their mother, Gwin and twin brother Nat have been struggling – their mama’s joyful voice had brought the family together, and they feel lost without her. When their papa gets taken prisoner by the Devouts, that’s the last straw for Gwin, but it seems she has a very important role still to play. Petrel and the others are preparing for the big fight, but are down one very crucial ally, and feel no closer to cracking the code of the Song.
For much of the later two books, stories are told in parallel, although our heroes share a common enemy. The different sets of characters all come together by the dramatic finale, and Tanner is very clever in keeping the reader’s interest evenly split throughout.
Although there are plenty of characters in ‘The Hidden’ series, at its core is Petrel. She reminds us of a young Katniss Everdeen: plucky, loyal, kind and brave. Although the story twists and turns, Petrel’s loyal nature stays true, and her friendship with Fin remains at the heart of the trilogy.
We also liked how these books don’t shy away from considering some important issues. Right at the beginning of Icebreaker, Professor Coe notes that ‘a battle is being fought across the world, between knowledge and ignorance,” as citizens across West Norn are split by their beliefs. With inventions of new technology, their world is changing, and the repercussions are big. Tanner also looks at themes like loyalty, resilience, and family – not just the relatives you have through blood, but the family you can create.
These books were originally released a few years back, but we’re loving their new facelift, and were fascinated to learn more about the design process: from which new direction to choose, to finding the right artist and settling on a final design. You can read more in the four part blog-series!
The ‘Hidden’ series is a smart, imaginative and thoughtful read for fantasy lovers aged 9 and up, and if your child did enjoy these books, never fear! They can try Tanner’s other series, The Keepers.