One of the the titles in the Quick Reads literacy scheme. Rees has been running away his whole life. But when a legend from his childhood turns out to be fact rather than fiction, he is drawn deeper into a hidden world that reveals a troubling truth
not just about his present, but also his past. The choice is clear: keep running, or stay and fight.
Ifan Morgan Jones is a journalist, editor and lecturer whose first novel, Igam Ogam, won the Daniel Owen Memorial Prize at the National Eisteddfod. This was followed by Dodeni and Babel, both fantasies drawing on Welsh history and myth. Hidden Depths is also rooted in Welsh folk tales but written in English for the Quick Reads series. It is action-packed and lives up to both its billing as a quick read and its title as a story with hidden depths, indeed many layers, so that neither the reader nor the narrator is ever sure of what is real.
We first meet the narrator, a boy called Rees, in a brief prologue when he is about ten and has run away from his foster parents. An encounter with a stranger on the shores of Cardigan Bay introduces him to the legend of the drowned territory - Cantref Gwaelod - and to the idea of an alien craft that both flies and dives. We also learn that Rees is an orphan with a guilty secret.
The main narrative rejoins Rees twelve years later. He is about to leave a shelter for the homeless and to leave Megan, a girl who loves him. Rees is afraid of being loved or relied on and his instinct is to run away. His next encounter takes us into the realm of the supernatural - or of mental disturbance; Rees is not sure which. His confrontation with his past fears, both of those who had hurt him and those he had hurt, is a disturbing and powerfully written sequence.
Rees's next encounter takes us into a more 'Dr Who-style' story but is invoking not only the Ceredigion legend of the drowned lands but also the less well-known one of Plant Rhys Ddwfn (The children of Rhys the Deep). Here the same area was a magically hidden land where the Rhysians had created a Utopia and had ingenious skills. They traded with the mainland people, but only one trusted man ever saw the hidden land and remembered. Any others instantly forgot. Ifan Morgan Jones moves this into the world of aliens and spaceships (and in one case an Alien-type organic spaceship). The strangeness of Rees's experiences continues to leave us unsure who is friend and who is foe, as well as who actually exists.
The author handles well the balance between a fast-moving fantasy adventure and an exploration of the mind of a young man whose real experiences have led him to mistrust himself and any connection he has with other people. It is not so much courage that he has to learn as to believe that he can do anything brave or significant. The realisation of the secret world is quickly established and generally well-conceived, while Rees's earlier life as a homeless young man is convincing and his relationship with Megan briefly but deftly established.
In Hidden Depthsn Ifan Morgan Jones translates and transforms Welsh folk tales into the tropes of modern fantasy while telling a story which will resonate with many young readers.
Caroline Clark @ www.gwales.com