#WritersReviews: Every Hidden Thing

Every Hidden Thing

written by Kenneth Oppel

cover by Helen Mirren

published by David Fickling Books 2018

358 pages in paperback

dinosaurs, adventure, rivalry and love

Outline from US Publishers website

The hunt for a dinosaur skeleton buried in the Badlands, bitter rivalries, and a forbidden romance come together in this “fantastic” (The New York Times Book Review) novel that’s Romeo and Juliet meets Indiana Jones.

Somewhere in the Badlands, embedded deep in centuries-buried rock and sand, lies the skeleton of a massive dinosaur, larger than anything the late nineteenth century world has ever seen. Some legends call it the Black Beauty, with its bones as black as ebony, but to seventeen-year-old Samuel Bolt it’s the “rex,” the king dinosaur that could put him and his struggling, temperamental archaeologist father in the history books (and conveniently make his father forget he’s been kicked out of school), if they can just quarry it out.

But Samuel and his father aren’t the only ones after the rex. For Rachel Cartland this find could be her ticket to a different life, one where her loves of science and adventure aren’t just relegated to books and sitting rooms. Because if she can’t prove herself on this expedition with her professor father, the only adventures she may have to look forward to are marriage or spinsterhood.

As their paths cross and the rivalry between their fathers becomes more intense, Samuel and Rachel are pushed closer together. And with both eyeing the same prize, their budding romance seems destined to fail. But as danger looms on the other side of the hills, causing everyone’s secrets to come to light, Samuel and Rachel are forced to make a decision. Can they join forces to find their quarry—and with it a new life together—or will old enmities and prejudices keep them from both the rex and each other?

Fossil Skull NPS Photo/Big Bend National Park Texas

A reader’s perspective

I love it. It really does have a great dollop of Indiana Jones, and a smidge of Romeo and Juliet – which combine to make something quite different. A Western paleontological romance? YA historical?

Whatever genre you might classify Every Hidden Thing as, it certainly has plenty of action and adventure. Watch out for double-crossing, fistfights, and family intrigue, not to mention a black-boned T. Rex. In my head, it has a Ennio Morricone theme tune and would make exactly the sort of film to watch with a burrito in one hand and a cold beer in the other.

That may sound dismissive – but I want to emphasise how enjoyable it is. Two engaging young people with credible reasons for both their rivalry and affection, and lots of skullduggery (see what I did there?) – how can anyone like me with a soft spot for an ankylosaurus resist?

Yet there’s more to it than that. I can’t give spoilers, but it’s not an old-fashioned Boy’s Own adventure. Better, in fact – the storylines treat young readers, women and First Nations people with respect. 358 pages might look long but I whizzed through it – a testament to fluid writing.

Recommended for anyone 12+ who loves dinosaurs, historical adventure and a touch of romance. Not really suited to much younger readers because of the love story, and definitely not for boring old fogies.

Get a taste here from the Canadian publishers:

A Writer and Editor’s View

Interestingly, for me the most striking element is one of the smallest in terms of word count – a crucial subplot involving a Native American. Not only does it bring dignity to what could be an embarrassing trope in less skilled hands, but an alternative perspective to the Bone Wars. I rarely read standard US/Eurocentric historical fiction, so this point of view lifts the whole novel.

From a technical position, this thread also gives an extra dimension to the two point-of-view characters’ stories. Having two first person narrators is good stuff in its own right, but giving the reader a break from being inside either adolescent head is inspired.  Both Sam and Rachel are well-drawn characters (I have a particular fondness for Rachel, but that’s not the point) and the flick-flack back and forth of their relationship is a pleasure to observe. Yet as a reader, you want to scream at them sometimes!

Different typefaces for Sam and Rachel make it easier to find your place after a break – but the voices are quite distinct. Helen Mirren (I doubt it’s *that* one) has done a striking job with the lettering on the title: you can easily imagine it on a Wanted poster,  and the orange cover gives a strong impression of the heat in the Badlands.

Finally it has a satisfying but not trite ending – and the potential for more adventures. I rather hope there are more outings for Bolt & Cartland, dinosaur hunters.

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