My husband is a video man. Put him in front of a TV or theater screen, and you’ve lost him. Something about those glowing photons short-circuits the wires between his optic nerve and his brain, and he is physically unable to remove his eyeballs from the screen. The content doesn’t matter — even a commercial can do it. If you want to ask him what he wants for supper, you must be both strategic and swift, catching him in the millisecond between the Aflac duck and the Geico gecko.
For this reason, you’ll understand my astonishment when last weekend I saw him do something just shy of miraculous. We had just tucked the kids into bed, brewed some decaf, and settled onto the couch for our weekly movie night. As the FBI warning faded into the first frames of the previews, I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. He was reaching for something. And then I saw his chin tilt downward; he was no longer looking at the television.
Well this was unprecedented, so I turned my head to look at him straight-on. Somehow, against all probability, he had wrenched his eyeballs off the visually hypnotizing display on our TV and deposited them on the printed page of a book. He was reading.
What literary work could exercise such power over my A/V addict husband? You’re going to want to write this down: it was North! Or Be Eaten, Book 2 of Andrew Peterson’s The Wingfeather Saga. And little does my husband know, it gets even harder to put it down in Book 3.
I picked up the first book of the Saga, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, a few years ago simply because of my admiration for its author. I knew Andrew Peterson as a powerful lyricist in the realm of songwriting, so when he released his first book, I had high expectations. And I haven’t been able to stop reading since.
The Wingfeather Saga is fantasy/fiction written for a youth/young adult audience. Having read Book 3 most recently, that’s the one I’ll tell you the most about. Here are my thoughts about the Saga:
On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness introduces you to the world of Aerwiar, with its fantastical creatures and fascinating inhabitants. You’re quickly caught up into the story of the Igiby children, who lead inconspicuous lives shrouded by their mysterious family history and their fear of the evil powers of Dang. For reasons they do not understand, they find themselves hunted by Fangs and protected by a madman. As they fight for their lives, they learn shocking secrets that will shape the fate of the entire world of Aerwiar.
Though brimming with action and danger, this book is also full of humor. Strangely named characters (Gnag the Nameless), odd luminary substances (snotwax candles), and clever interjections will keep you chuckling to the end. But lest the story careen off into silliness, Peterson underlays it with deep and dangerous mystery, which surfaces in magical moments of lyrical beauty. A careful mixture of prose and poetry promises a grand adventure ahead.
North! Or Be Eaten takes off at a breakneck pace and seldom rests. Janner, Tink, and Leeli Igiby are on the run and face new terrors at every turn: trolls, gargan rockroaches, and deadly Stranders. And while abounding in adventure and peppered with humor, this book begins to really delve into some rich themes: resentment, loyalty, identity, self-sacrifice, fear, failure, and hope. And yet it never feels heavy or laborious, but rather honest and true.
This book does not suffer from “sequel syndrome.” Peterson’s writing style and skill are steady and strong, and his story is thoroughly engaging. Chapters are brief enough that at the end of each one, I found myself thinking, I have just enough time for one more. Okay, maybe just one more. You won’t want to put it down.
Like Books 1 & 2, The Monster in the Hollows will sweep you up in adventure and captivate your senses. And then it will plunge you into a flood of deep emotion. Prepare yourself for some ugly crying.
For the first time in the series, this book sits relatively still, geographically speaking. The Igiby children attempt to settle into a new life in the Green Hollows — the last safe haven in Aerwiar. But the mistakes of their past and the secrets of their heritage hunt them even in the Hollows. They will face impossible choices. They will suffer tremendously. And a new evil will emerge.
You can still count on some well timed humor from some favorite characters in Book 3, but overall it feels a bit grittier, more personal and more purposeful. You get the feeling that everything is culminating, that all the cords of the story are drawing tight in preparation for the final act. And rightly so — there’s only one book left to go: The Warden and The Wolf King, due out next year (I hope).
One of the strengths of The Wingfeather Saga is that its characters are so truthful. There are no illusions of perfection. They fear, and they fail, and they despair. And so you believe them. Two characters in particular, because of their devastating failures, must constantly fight to remember their true identities. And it’s characters like these, flawed and broken and unpredictable, who carry the narrative. How much courage it must have taken for the author to entrust his story to such people! But the payoff is that it rings true. A messy story is one we can relate to. We identify with characters full of paradoxes. We understand when faith wrestles with doubt. The story is ours.
Here’s an excerpt to give you an idea what you’re in for:
His heart was black with despair, so the Maker’s magic was most welcome. It helped him believe there was power pulsing behind the veil of the visible world, pulsing like blood through the world’s veins, sending life and light coursing through everything, surprising and confounding at every turn. When he remembered this, the darkness glimmered with goodness (p. 288).
What you won’t find in The Wingfeather Saga:
- Talking lions, rings of power, or magic wands
- An overtly Christian message
- Unnaturally smart or brave kids who don’t need guidance from their guardians
What you will find:
- Some darkness and violence
- Plenty of plot twists
- Persistent themes of redemption and hope
My favorite things:
- The suspense and adventure
- The ease of identifying with and caring about the characters
- The constant emphasis on family
If anyone makes these books into movies, my husband may be lost forever.
In the words of Maleficent the Magnificent, “Dang! That is all.”