Book 2 of the epic adventures of the three children who are heirs to a kingdom, sought by the Fangs of Dang, and as normal as any other set of siblings.
North! Or Be Eaten, by Andrew Peterson (Vol. 2 of The Wingfeather Saga). Waterbrook Press, 2009, 323 pages.
Reading Level: Ages 10 and up
Recommended For: Ages 10 and up (or brave, fearless, adventurous 9 year olds!)
Picking up a novel in the middle of the series is a risky move, but unfortunately a time-saving move. So it was a little difficult plunging into this land of unfamiliar names and creatures, but the writing was good enough to make me stick with it, and I’m glad I did.
Picking up mid-story: hard times have come to the land of Skree, where the three Igiby children live a quiet life with their mother Nia, grandfather Podo and paternal uncle, Peet the sock man. But they have learned that they are really the royal children of the Shining Isle, a place of legend they didn’t know was real. Even now it’s hard to believe in, though they’ve received gifts from their deceased father to vouch for it: Janner, age 12, has the First Book, a history of uncertain authorship; Tink, 11, has their father’s sketchbook, to which he adds his own drawings; and Leeli, their crippled younger sister, has the magic blowharp with which she can summon half-forgotten music and beguile all listeners.
But as volume 2 begins, the Fangs, henchmen of the evil overlord Gnag, have discovered the children’s existence and destroyed their village in hopes of capturing them. Gnag wants them alive, but that’s no reassurance: from what they know of him, they’d be better off dead than fall into his hands. Thus begins the perilous journey of the subtitle (A Wild Escape, a Desperate Journey, and the Ghastly Fangs of Gnag), which takes them along the banks of the wild river Blag, through the canyon, through the dregs of the criminal refuge Dugtown, across the ice plains, over the mountains, to the shores of the Dark Sea. In other words, North! Or be eaten . . . The title suggests a certain tongue-in-cheekiness, (as does the title of the previous volume, On The Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness: Adventure, Peril, Lost Jewels and the Fearsome Toothy Cows of Skree), making the reader expect an ironic or satirical tale. Not so: deeper and deeper we go into real tragedy and despair, until I was more than ready for a turn in fortunes.
Gnag (whom we don’t actually encounter yet) dispatches adults without a qualm, but his real target is children–lost, stolen, used and discarded, lied to and misled. Children are both uniquely adaptable and uniquely vulnerable: able to accommodate drastic reversals, but unable to judge between wise choices and disastrous ones. Janner is the main character in this volume, if not the whole series, and many of his challenges are related to his impetuous and volatile brother Tink. Janner’s calling is to protect his brother at all costs, for by their tradition it’s the second son who ascends to the throne of the High King while the first son is known as Throne Warden. Throne Warden was the office held by their Uncle Peet, a poor addled soul when we encounter him, who tragically failed his task and has suffered for it ever since.
Janner has to struggle with his calling: “He was only twelve, but he knew enough to realize that the way before him would be hard. Is it worth it? he asked himself. Was it worth losing the old life in order to learn the truth of who he was and who he was becoming?” That’s at the beginning of the journey; he’ll face that question again on several occasions, including a dark night of the soul, “trapped in a place where he had nothing but himself.” Redemption is nigh for him. Redemption arrives for Peet in a truly thrilling climax. But Tink will have to wait for his.
A world where things unseen are the truest things of all, where legends turn out to be real, where the way is hard but worth it, where people are called to be, and really are, more than they appear—this should sound familiar to us. “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (I Pet. 2:9). The heavy matter is leavened with light and humor, for “the Maker’s world is swollen with magic. It hides in plain sight in music and water and even bumblebees.”
Since the third volume of the trilogy, The Monster in the Hollows, was published just a couple of months ago, and the first volume is now available in audio, this is a great time to introduce the family to the Wingfeather Saga. No waiting to see what happens next!