Top critical review
A Good Beginning
12 February 2019
There’s a lot of magic in Reshma Barshikar’s The Hidden Children, and it ends at the sweet-spot where most plot points are closed, but there are also enough left open to want to read the inevitable sequel. Protagonist Shayamukti’s journey has just begun, and there’s a lingering feeling that the scope is only going to get larger. But this first book is not without its challenges.
At some point in the second half of the story, Shui (one of Shayamukti’s many nicknames) says, “I don’t even know what anything is”. It’s a feeling that resonates with the reader more or less throughout the book. There is an inherent challenge in writing science-fiction—it more often than not requires the author to create a whole new reality. And the underlying danger of creating a universe that exists only in one book is that it’s wholly fleshed out in the author’s mind, but the reader only sees glimpses of it, which makes understanding its details difficult. The Hidden Children is not a short novel, but even by the end of it, I struggled to understand so many things.
Perhaps the best way to read this book is to makes notes that you can refer to later to keep track of all the details, but in my opinion, that’s no fun when you’re reading fiction. The problem is exacerbated because some things frequently have multiple names. One perspective is that the reader is maybe meant to be as confused as the protagonist, because even by the end of the book, Shui still doesn’t wholly understand what she’s done, or how she’s done it.
This is one aspect that makes her character relatable to the reader. The book is clearly targeted at teenagers, and the way all the characters speak to each other is reflected strongly in this. It grated on me, a little, but I’m over 30, so maybe my opinion shouldn’t count. The good thing is that none of the characters are caricatures or stereotypes. As the story progresses, Shui’s friends (and non-friends) develop multiple layers. Once in a rare while do they say or do something unexpected or downright confusing, but that doesn’t detract from the story.
While on topic, the story itself is quite gripping, and doesn’t feel rushed. Reshma spends considerable time in building up the characters, before slowly exposing the world of magic to us. Shui discovers she has powers thanks to her friend, Anya, and thus begins her journey to learn more about her powers and what she can do, all the while trying to help Anya find a lost grimoire that contains a lot of power. Along the way, things happen, and the story is brave in the way characters develop and impact the world, and are in turn, impacted by it.
Reshma’s passion for the world she’s created, and the story she wants to tell, are evident in the writing. It pours into some passages a little more evidently than others, but the writing is consistent and fairly strong. Overall, I enjoyed reading it, but my advice to you would be to not forget there’s a glossary, and if you’re not lazy, maybe keep notes of some of the terms.