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Book Review: Dangerous Secrets by Mari Mancusi

If you are a fan of the Frozen universe, a new prequel by Mari Mancusi has arrived! Here is my review of Dangerous Secrets, inspired by the story of Iduna and Agnarr.

dangerous secrets review

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About Dangerous Secrets

Sixteen-year-old Iduna harbors a dark secret. On the surface, she is an Arendellian village girl, an aspiring inventor, and the best friend of Prince Agnarr, but she is also secretly Northuldra.

Ever since the day the forest fell, Arendellians have despised and distrusted Northuldra with a vengeance. No matter that the Northuldra-along with some of Arendelle’s own-have been trapped in the Enchanted Forest behind an impenetrable wall of mist since the day of the battle.

Iduna doesn’t know why the mist refuses to part, or why it descended to begin with. The only clear thing is that she must keep her identity from everyone, even Agnarr. Her life depends on it. Fortunately for her, Agnarr doesn’t know that Iduna is the Northuldra girl he saw seemingly flying on a gust of wind all those years ago, the day of the celebration turned disaster. The day Agnarr lost his father, the king. The day Agnarr himself almost died.

What Agnarr does know is that Iduna is a true ally in the face of his royal responsibilities and the expectations of an overbearing council and a well-meaning regent who will rule in Agnarr’s place until he turns twenty-one and assumes the Arendellian throne. As Iduna and Agnarr grow ever closer, however, friendship is no longer enough. If only falling for each other didn’t mean risking their futures: Iduna’s as a hidden-in-plain-sight citizen of Arendelle, and Agnarr’s as imminent king.

But for a chance at true love, the risk might be worth taking

Dangerous Secrets Review

Dangerous Secrets is a Frozen prequel that takes place before the first Frozen film. The book follows the romantic yet ultimately tragic story of Iduna and Agnarr, Elsa and Anna’s parents. Following the events of the war between the Arendellians and Northuldra, Iduna recused Agnarr and finds herself swept off to live in Arendelle under the guise of an orphan.

Dangerous Secrets expands on the Frozen lore by showing just how Iduna was able to hide her origins from all of Arendelle including Agnarr. It follows their love story from children to teenagers adding in some drama like a subplot of Agnarr’s proposed arranged marriage. It also answers the question of why they went on their tragic boat trip and their last moments on the boat. Ultimately Dangerous Secrets is a lovely and romantic prequel that would be an amazing movie if Disney ever chose to adapt it.

One note: Readers really should watch both Frozen I and Frozen II before reading this.  There are so many nods to these movies however, the history between Arendelle and Northuldra is really explored in Frozen II.  Dangerous Secrets picks up directly after the events of the fog enclosing the Enchanted Forest.

About The Author Mari Mancusi

Mari Mancusi is a former Emmy award-winning TV news producer, as well as an award winning YA author. She has published more than two dozen sci-fi/fantasy novels for kids, teens, and adults including The Camelot Code, Scorched, and the up coming Dragon Ops (Disney Hyperion May2020). Her series have been chosen as featured selections in the Scholastic Book Fairs and clubs and have been selected by the American LibraryAssociation as “Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers” and “Popular Paperbacks.” In addition to writing, Mari is an avid cosplayer, traveller, and gamer. She lives in Austin, Texas with her husband and their young daughter. She can be found online at www.marimancusi.com.

INTERVIEW WITH MARI MANCUSI

Hi Ms. Mancusi, thank you for taking the time to answer some questions!  First, you broke my heart, but we will get to that in a bit.  Can you tell me how this particular Frozen project came about?

Sorry about the broken heart. I get that a lot these days! Iduna and Agnarr’s backstory is beautiful, but certainly tragic. When writing, I fell in love with the characters and it still hurts a little to think of their not so happily ever after. 

As for how it all came about, I had already been writing original material for Disney Hyperion, two middle grade series called “The Camelot Code” and “Dragon Ops” when my editor approached me and asked if I might have time to take on a tie-in project—a book set in the Frozen ‘verse. At the time, I was swamped with deadlines and it was right before the holidays, too. But how could I pass up something like this? I’ve been a Disney nerd my whole life and to have the chance to write something that tied-in with their number one animated franchise? It was basically a Disney dream come true! I think they picked me because my editor knew how much I loved Frozen and had seen pictures of the cosplays my bestie and I had done over the years of Frozen mash-ups.

Dangerous Secrets fits neatly into the Frozen world and one thing that jumped out to me was Iduna and Agnarr’s conversations.  There are little subtle moments and exchanges, especially when they tell each other to “scooch in” that tie into how they interact with Elsa and Anna in Frozen II. What was your research process like to capture these moments?

My number one goal from the beginning of the project was to write a true Frozen story—not just a story set in the world of Frozen, if that makes any sense. I wanted to give fans a chance to reexperience those strong emotions they felt while watching the films when reading the words on the page. To make sure that happened, I wove in countless touchstones to the films and books—some very obvious, some much more subtle.

But it wasn’t just about the Easter eggs. I also tried to think a lot about family and how family traits are passed down from parent to child, whether biologically or through sayings, traditions, etc. Not all of them positive—Frozen is, at its heart, a story of cross-generational trauma and there are a lot of mental health issues at play. For example, in case of “conceal don’t feel.” Not exactly the best parenting advice in hindsight, but if you look at how Agnarr came to believe in it—through his own traumatic childhood, it’s easier to understand why he would pass it on to his daughter. Hopefully it will end with Elsa and Anna though!

As for how I researched, I basically devoured all Frozen materials as I wrote the book. Watching the films and shorts numerous times, reading the other Frozen novels, and going on Frozen fan sites, Reddit, etc. and paying attention to what really mattered to Frozen fans. I truly believe to write a compelling fandom book, you have to either be part of the fandom or at least have great respect for it. Luckily, as a fan of Frozen myself, this was the easiest part!  

Anyone who knows Frozen canon, knows that Agnarr and Iduna’s trip to find the source of Elsa’s magic ends tragically.  Even though I KNEW it was coming it was still devastating.  Was it tough to write this ending?   

SO. TOUGH. And I doomed myself before even starting the project, suggesting to my editor that we book-end the story with the tragic ending at sea. I was like, “Too dark?” And she was like, “Yes, and I love it!” And so it was born. Originally, they were going to end with Elsa’s birth or something. But that wouldn’t have given us their whole story. Painful as it is, readers have to experience what Elsa and Anna felt while losing their parents—to truly know the trauma they went through and how it shaped them in their adult lives. Seriously, there’s not one member of that family who couldn’t benefit from a little therapy!

But while it was important for me to not shy away from the tragedy on the page, that didn’t make it any easier to write! I still cry when trying to read the last page aloud. 

What’s next for Mari Mancusi?  Any upcoming projects you can share?

Only Ahtohallan knows! Ha ha, just kidding. I recently had a short story set in the Frozen world published on Nerdist.com called “A Perfect Night” which takes place during Iduna and Agnarr’s anniversary when Anna is four and Elsa is seven. It was so much fun to go back and write about a simple, sweet moment in their lives where they were still happy – just before tragedy struck and upended everything. 

I also have the second book in my Dragon Ops middle grade series coming out in June called “Dragons versus Robots.” Kind of a “trapped in a video game” series filled with action, adventure, and geeky fun. So very different than Dangerous Secrets, but perfect for that 8–12-year-old gamer in your life. If anyone wants to check out the first book in the series, it’s currently available through the Scholastic Book Clubs as well as Amazon, etc.

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