Review: North! or Be Eaten by Andrew Peterson

North! or Be Eaten
North! or Be Eaten by Andrew Peterson
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

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.

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On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness by Andrew Peterson

Let’s try that unfortunate review from yesterday again (think it came out better, but I know I forgot something I had last time)

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On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness (The Wingfeather Saga, #1)On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness by Andrew Peterson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It’s great when a book exceeds your expectations — especially when the expectations are pretty healthy to begin with. I knew Andrew Peterson could tell a story well — the best of his songs are stories. So I expected a nice little fantasy story for kids, well constructed, good imagery, and so on. I got more than that with On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness.

It is a pretty straightforward kids fantasy — three child protagonists, a quaint little village, some colorful characters, nasty villains (an occupying force of humanoid lizards that eat maggots and mucous) , dragons and other strange creatures, and missing treasure. There’s excitement, danger, a strong family bond, and well-rounded characters. All that’s good enough.

But you take all the above and tell it with the the sensibilities of a hodgepodge of C. S. Lewis, Douglas Adams, and Neil Gaiman. There’s a strong sense of play here — in the language, characters, and style. Peterson’s whimsy carries this story. A few examples: the scariest creature in the world is a cow, one heroic figure wears socks on his hands, there’s a running joke about rashes that speak to the inner twelve year-old in everyone.

It’s these sensibilities that elevate this from a standard read, into something more — fun, daring and at times delightful, that can be enjoyed by young and old alike.