“You can continue to hate, but it won’t make you safer.”
Deep below the dark waters of Loch Ness lies a secret world, a separate world in which creatures long believed to be myths or lost to extinction live safe from the predators and dangers of the human world. Plesiosaurs, kraken, caproberyx, and more swim freely here, their existence protected by their escape from the known oceans generations ago.
Young Nessandra is a paddle giant, the heir to a matriarchal throne in which her ancestors have guided and protected the citizens of the Hidden Loch from the threat posed by the drywalkers. Her grandmother, Gran Saurus, is the current leader of the Loch, and Nessandra, young, awkward, and unsure, feels unprepared for the weight of the responsibilities that someday await her. She can’t even mindspeak, which is the telepathic communication the female paddle giants use to communicate with one another. But her someday may come sooner than she thinks, as the safe haven of the Hidden Loch is threatened when Gran is killed by cryptozoologists in Loch Ness during the Rite of Arcking, a sacred moment when the leading paddle giant ventures into Loch Ness to see what is happening in the outside world. Nessandra, angry and afraid, must venture beyond the safe confines of her familiar world to find new and unexpected allies, overcome old threats, and discover her own strengths if she wants to save the Hidden Loch.
Marlaine Maddux White offers a story that is a fantastical bildungsroman, a quick-paced action adventure tale, and a profound commentary on the dangers of bigotry and the need to see beyond surface differences and join together to create a future in which all beings can not only survive, but thrive. In her journeys to unfamiliar waters of Loch Ness and Mer Madre, Nessandra discovers the truth is much larger than her previous understanding, and that good and bad can be found in all beings. While her anger at the drywalkers who caused her grandmother’s death is understandable, it is only by overcoming this anger, and the fear that underlies it, that she can build the community of creatures necessary to save the Hidden Loch and protect the larger world of all creatures. The young must lead the old here, as Nessandra must convince the Council of Elders, the ruling body of the Loch, that her vision of the future is not only possible, but imperative.
The Hidden Loch is a beautiful book, almost whimsical in how Claude St. Aubin captures these fantasy creatures and their lost world. The art complements White’s storytelling perfectly, each being, human and sea creature alike, is given personality through colors and personal details; the good and the bad are easily distinguished through color and depiction. Contrasting color palettes—light and cheery vibrant blues and bright colors in the Hidden Loch and the City of Emperia, darker and more menacing deeper blues, greens, browns, and grays in Loch Ness and Mer Madre—reinforce the idea of the separation of the innocent Edens of these secret havens compared to the waterscapes in which humans and sea creatures struggle to coexist.
Penny Farthing doesn’t rate The Hidden Loch, but it is likely appropriate for most readers of middle school age or above. The novel does include some potentially upsetting moments for younger readers, including Grandmama Saurus’s death by harpoon and attempts to capture or kill some of the Loch animals by the human creature hunters. Themes of sibling rivalry, isolationism, prejudice, and ocean conservation are explored in age-appropriate ways, but younger readers may also appreciate the twists and turns of the adventure story even if they miss these deeper layers.
The Hidden Loch is a work of many layers, a delight to read, and equally a story that demands careful reflection and profound consideration. It’s a tale that will engage young readers, and, as the best stories do, also offer readers of all ages a way of seeing and thinking about the world that may encourage those readers to reflect on their own attitudes to affect changes in how we engage with the world around us.
The Hidden Loch
by Marlaine Maddux White
Art by Claude St. Aubin
Penny Farthing, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: 10+