It is true the Shining Isle is smoke and ashes and that darkness is wide over the land. But your long memories have failed you. Of all creatures, you should know that the darkness is seldom complete, and even when it is, the pinprick of light is not long in coming — and finer for the great shroud that surrounds it.
This quotation is from the closing pages of this volume, and sums things up pretty well. This is the second book in a fantasy series — and certain things have to happen in a second book — namely, things get dark and bleak, almost completely so as stated above. Peterson makes sure that North! or Be Eaten fulfills that role just fine. It got a little darker than I expected, more than many contemporary children’s authors would be willing to go. But Peterson doesn’t go too far, he’s actually honest with his readers — no matter their age — things look dark, but there’s the pinprick of light. That’s always present.
To match the tone and events of this book, the sense of whimsy and play that was so prevalent in the first book is almost gone. There are hints and traces, but it doesn’t go as far as it did before — which is good, it wouldn’t have fit this time. It was appropriate in On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, and it will be again, but it’s not now.
The Igibly family — Wingfeather, actually — has had to leave their home and strike out trying to survive the Fangs. So the world of the novel has to expand — as does the cast of characters. More villains, more Fang-victims, more monsters, more betrayal, more close calls and trouble in general for the family. More friends and allies, too — more wonders of a fantastic world, more chances for heroics (obvious and not so much), more opportunities for kindness.
The characters are forced by circumstance to grow up quickly, and they do so — but not to the extent it feels forced or unnatural. These are diamonds being formed by intense pressure, and on the whole, they do so well.
I know most readers of this won’t pick up on it, but I caught some echoes of the Song of Ice and Fire in this book — for example, Janner and his new friend, Maraly, remind me a lot of Jon Snow and the wildling, Ygritte — so much so that I kept waiting for her to turn around and say, “You know nothing, Janner.” The geography and climate of the North here also struck me as very Westerosian. I can’t imagine that Peterson was tipping his hat in that direction, but you never know.
Not as fun as the first book, but still a well-told story, consider me ready for more.