The Hidden Ones by Russell Cullison

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I was supposed to have read and reviewed this a while ago, but I kept putting it off because it was 763 pages, and honestly that’s really intimidating and takes a lot of time to read. I finished up a few other books so I could focus just on this because I assumed it would be an epic tale. This is also an SPFBO submission in the Alliterates grouping.

I was surprised by how close-quarters small scale it was through much of it. Most of this story takes place in one small village off in the middle of nowhere, a place where everyone knows everyone else. Two kids, a twin brother, and sister are out later than they should be, watching the sunset on the cliffside overlooking the ocean. They see a few green lights appear on the horizon and get bigger and bigger. Realizing that the lights are headed their way, they stand transfixed watching as they come closer and closer, and eventually land on the beach. Sera is a Sympath, meaning she can sense other peoples emotions and push her own feelings onto others. It’s a restricted ability and something she has to keep secret. What bothers her is that she can’t sense what’s behind these lights, it’s clear there’s a sentience to them, but they have no detectable life force.

The kids run for it, and it was a wise decision because several people end up dead or missing as the spirits run their course through the village. No one knows what they are, why they came, or what to do next. The spirits have surrounded the city and won’t let anyone leave or perform any kind of magic. They react badly to those who use any kind of ability in their presence and the spirits can cause the villagers intense pain as well as implant horrific visions and images in people’s minds. Both of the siblings had intense waking nightmares about Deep Wolves or Forest Hags etc.

Since no one in the village knows what these creatures are, they’re just referred to as “spirits”. They’re incredibly strong and almost impossible to fight, the only option is to request help from Enforcers in the city, those trained to deal with magic-wielding criminals. The village’s Sender, Patryck, attempts to contact other Senders in the city and request aid, except the spirits decided to attack almost as soon as he started using his ability, he gets badly hurt and falls unconscious. The villagers don’t know if help is coming or not.

Help is coming, but not for the reasons the villagers may think. After linking with Patryck all of the Senders in the city suddenly fall unconscious and are non-responsive. The only clue they have to go on is that it happened shortly after their communication with Patryck, so they send enforcers out to go seek him out – not knowing the situation they were sending the Enforcers into.

Jaer and 4 squads of Enforcers head out from the city towards the last known location of Patryck, but are attacked along the way and only two Enforcers survive and make it to the village. As Enforcers, it’s their job to hunt down Sympaths since they’re viewed as criminals and threats to society – this could mean big trouble for Sera and Gault if they find out what Sera has been hiding all these years.

Winter is moving in, and as people start to get sick in the village, each time someone is about to die the spirits surround the person, perform some kind of ritual and then quickly leave. Things in the village are getting dire as the supplies dwindle, there’s not enough food, water, and medicine to go around and without being able to leave the village they’re running out of options.

Gault accidentally finds out that he can do something called “Masking” making his presence undetectable to the spirits. There’s a chance that if he practices hard enough he will be able to finally break out of the village and bring back help and supplies. It takes a lot of practice and determination, but eventually, Gault is able to get past the spirits and enter a neighboring village. What he finds is that half the villagers are dead, the farmers are dead, the crops have been rotting, and there isn’t much hope. On his way back to report his findings, he stumbles across another Masker, and she tells him that the whole world is like this and that in the end, it may just be The Hidden Ones (Maskers) who survive this onslaught.

The pacing in this was slower for me, especially in the beginning, part of that is due to world building and character development build up – but there’s also a bit of repetition at the beginning that could have been edited down. There’s also the fact that new POV’s were being introduced later on in the book, Jaer and crew didn’t show up until 150+ pages into it, and their chapters were set in a different location with different side characters so it was almost like starting over again. The writing itself was good though, the prose flowed nicely and I saw very few grammar or spelling errors.

I liked the characters and they definitely were given depth, there was a lot of time placed on character development over fast-paced plot points. I’m not sure what it was, but I never really warmed up to Jaer, I think my favorite character was probably Gault, he showed a lot of bravery and loyalty to his friends and family.

Overall this was a good book if a little long, it’ll appeal to people who like slow burn books with the world and characters revealing themselves over time.

Audience:

  • spooky atmosphere
  • mysterious tone
  • multi pov
  • sibling pov
  • mysterious magic with guidelines
  • longer stories

Ratings:

  • Plot: 11/15
  • Characters: 12.5/15
  • World Building: 12/15
  • Writing: 11.5/15
  • Pacing: 9/15
  • Originality: 11/15
  • Personal Enjoyment: 7.5/10

Final Score: 74.5/100 = 3.72/5 on GR – recommended

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