Friday, November 28, 2014

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness and North! Or Be Eaten by Andrew Peterson

With Christmas coming up, I thought now was an appropriate time to introduce my readers to a couple of very fine fantasy series which I have recently discovered. First up is Andrew Peterson's Wingfeather Saga.

I'd heard of Andrew Peterson in a couple of places--speaking alongside ND Wilson at the 2014 Wordsmithy conference, for example--but it's only quite recently that I've nailed down exactly what it is that he does. Long story short, he does a lot of different things, but he's an amazing singer-songwriter, and on top of that he's written a four-book fantasy series for young people, The Wingfeather Saga, the final book of which was published earlier this year.

Having listened to a bit of Peterson's music and been extremely impressed with his poetic and evocative lyrics, I was keen to see how that talent would translate to a series of adventure novels for children.

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness (Book 1 of the Wingfeather Saga)
If the title wasn't enough, right away, from the subtitle, we know we're in for a whimsical ride: Adventure. Peril. Lost Jewels. And the Fearsome Toothy Cows of Skree. This is quickly capped by the opening lines of the Introduction, where we learn that the first-created man of this fantasy world was named Dwayne, and his wife, Gladys. And that this world is threatened by "a nameless evil, an evil named Gnag the Nameless." And then, just when you were wiping the tears of laughter away, Chapter 1 begins with this epically creepy rhyme:
Lo, beyond the River Blapp
The Carriage comes, the Carriage Black
By shadowed steed with shadowed tack
And shadowed driver driving

Child, pray the Maker let you sleep
When comes the Carriage down your street
Lest all your dreams be dreams of teeth
And Carriages arriving...
 The story follows twelve-year-old Janner Igiby, his little brother Tink and his little sister Leeli, their dog Nugget and their family and townsfolk. Janner dreams of adventure in far places, and chafes at the present need to act as a caretaker for his little brother and sister in the township of Glipwood on the dark eaves of Glipwood Forest, which is roamed by many terrifying creatures, from cave blats and quill diggles to horned hounds and toothy cows (Woe!). Not that Glipwood town is much safer, patrolled as it is by the Fangs of Dang, vile green lizardy henchmen of Gnag the Nameless. Sure enough, when Janner and Tink find two Fangs about to attack little Leeli, the fight that ensues puts the whole Igiby family in deadly danger. And if that isn't enough, the Fangs are sniffing about: word has it that the famous Lost Jewels of Anniera are hidden in the vicinity of Glipwood itself...

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness was an enjoyable read, though after its stellar opening, I found the story itself a little lacklustre. Peterson's writing is zany, silly, and delightfully footnoted: if I had to guess, I'd say that this story definitely began as bedtime stories for small Petersons, possibly with Peterson pater acting out scenes in silly voices. All the same, the story didn't seem to be going anywhere fast. I found the action scenes a little boring, like any standard children's animated flick--not much going on but chaos. And I didn't appreciate the occasional gross-out humour--nothing really bad, but not the kind of thing young children really need encouragement to laugh at.

Still, I thoroughly enjoyed the occasional sly digs at statism, like the "free Skreeans" living under the occupation of Dang--free "as long as they were in their homes by midnight. And as long as they bore no weapons, and they didn't complain when their fellow Skreeans were occasionally taken away across the sea, never to be seen again." Or the forms needed to access anything sharper than a spoon--as a footnote says: 
In order for Podo to hoe the garden, he had to fill out the Permission to Hoe Garden Form, then the Permission to Use Hoe Form to borrow the hoe. If the tool wasn’t returned by sundown, the penalty was much too severe to be mentioned in this happy part of the story.
There are also softer touches, like when Janner's grandfather tells him at one point, "Part of being a man is putting others' needs before your own." From Peterson's lyrics, I knew he was a master at putting deep concepts into striking imagery. But while there are moments in this story when this happens, I didn't feel that this book was a jawdropping example of Peterson's art.

North! Or Be Eaten (Book 2 of the Wingfeather Saga)
(Wild Escapes, A Desperate Journey, and the Ghastly Fangs of Dang)
In Book 2, we find the Igiby family on the run from the forces of Gnag the Nameless, who know they have the legendary Lost Jewels of Anniera. As the family makes its perilous way across Skree, from the toothy-cow-haunted Glipwood Forest to the Fang-ridden city of Dugtown and beyond to the perilous, bomnubble (Woe!) and snickbuzzard-teeming Ice Prairies, they face more danger than ever from Fangs, outlaws, the Fork! Factory!, and worst of all, themselves.

Something happened in this book. It steadily changed gears, so that around the halfway point I was really getting interested, and by the end I was just about ready to give a standing ovation. North! Or Be Eaten was an absolutely splendid book. This time the humour is just as silly, but less dubious. And it set off a truly engrossing story of peril, perseverance, and a horrible betrayal. In this book, Janner Igiby (to say nothing of other characters) is forced through one terrible decision after another (Suzanne Collins, take note!). Save himself, or sacrifice himself? Rescue the girl, or leave her behind? Accept promotion to Maintenance Manager and all the slavery and cruelty that involves, or fight for his freedom, and be crushed?

And through it all, the glimmer of Truth. The elder serving the younger. Three days and three nights in the grave. And, "Don't just follow your heart. Your heart will betray you."

And, of course, the Florid Sword, a Zorro look-alike, who made me laugh my head off:
“Aha!” said the Florid Sword. “‘Tis I, ‘tis I! And no sooner would I sprout fur and fangs than to allow thy flea-bitten hides to harm these, the Jewels of the Shining Isle! Now is the time of our mighty triumph! Now is the fruition of our many dazzling hopes in the yellowy sunlight of this bright and snowy day in the Ice Prairies of prairiness! Avast!”

When he finished speaking, there was no sound in all the Ice Prairies but the whistle of the wind. Thousands of Grey Fangs, a handful of Kimeran warriors, and the Igibys were busy sorting out in their minds what in the world the Florid Sword had just said.
Culminating in an epic battle and a series of confrontations each more breathless than the last, North! Or Be Eaten is well worth the price of admission--an epic, heart-wrenching tale of sin and redemption, love and self-sacrifice.

Hopefully it won't be too much longer before I get the chance to read the final two books in this series, The Monster in the Hollows and The Warden and the Wolf King. Until then, I thoroughly commend this series to all fans of CS Lewis, ND Wilson, and the like, whether young or old.

Find On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness on Amazon, The Book Depository, or The Ultimate Ebook Library.

Find North! Or Be Eaten on Amazon or The Book Depository.


Lady Bibliophile said...

I was so thrilled that you reviewed these! And that you liked Andrew's music. :D Have you heard anything of his latest album yet, "After All These Years"? It's on Spotify, and I bought it when it came out. Absolutely fantastic, especially the title song.


Suzannah said...

No, I haven't heard that one. I'll have to look it up on Spotify when our internet improves. (If I had any money, I'd be throwing it at him...)

Glad you enjoyed the review!


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