Back in March of 2008, I was under the impression that On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness was the first book in a trilogy. However, Andrew Peterson states that his Wingfeather Saga is "a series of five (but possibly three) fantasy adventure novels." As long as the author himself is so enigmatic (and humorous) about the matter, I'll stick with the notion that his books are a triptych of the Igiby family's escapades.
North! Or Be Eaten is the second book in Peterson's trilogy (or quintology) of great storytelling, picking up precisely where the first book ended (of course). Janner, Tink, and Leeli discovered that they are not merely mischievous, good-natured siblings living in a cottage on the outskirts of the Glipwood Township; rather, they are the Lost Jewels of Anniera, heirs to a faraway kingdom, which up until now was believed to be only mythical. As their beloved friend and bookseller, Oskar N. Reteep said, "Can you believe it? A legend proved true. . . . makes me dare to believe the old stories are true after all."
Janner is the Throne Warden, charged to always protect his little brother, Tink, whose true identity is King Kalmar Wingfeather. Sweet Leeli is the Song Maiden, wooing Sea Dragons with her otherworldly voice. Their late father was Esben - the High King of Anniera - making their graceful mother, Nia, more than a great cook; she is a regal Queen. But since they are still children, Nia continues to implement their schooling using the T.H.A.G.S. method, despite any majestic titles. Janner pores over reading and writing. Tink practices drawing in his sketchbook. And Leeli sings and writes songs using an ancient whistleharp. The "Three Honored and Great Subjects" reveal the importance of art to their maturity and understanding of the world, and the restoration of their kingdom.
In the first pages of North! Or Be Eaten, the family is resting in Peet's Castle, but not for long. Oskar comes bounding through the forest with a warning: the Fangs of Dang are fast approaching to snatch the precious Jewels! Podo, Nugget, Nia, Oskar, and the royal children flee, embarking on a journey of grave danger toward the haven of the Ice Prairies, encountering more Toothy Cows, new horrific beasts, Stranders, and the awful Fork Factory along the way. Peterson's vivid writing matches the pace of the Igiby's adventures: clear and lilting when the going is easy and funny, and rapidly suspenseful with tragedy in great stretches of this book. The tale is a perfect blend of humor (snotwax candles and booger gruel are back), inventive vocabulary (such as bomnubbles and flabbits), beauty, and brokenness.
North! Or Be Eaten has a similar mid-saga intensity to Tolkien's Two Towers, or Lucas' The Empire Strikes Back film: a sweeping scope of a story, epic proportions of evil, and a web of calamitous battles that seem impossible to win. The final scenes are jaw-dropping and dire. The characters grow and reach deeper. The Igiby children wrestle with their new roles and responsibilities in these pages. They make selfless and courageous choices, but also mistakes. This struggle is especially intense for Tink and Janner. Tink is not at all sure that he wants to be a king, and Janner often loses his temper while striving to find honor in serving his younger brother. They are balanced by their crippled sister, Leeli, strangely calm in the face of peril; she once peered down upon the beautiful, frightening sea and wanted to sing.
The second volume in The Wingfeather Saga is much darker than the first. In addition to the aforementioned Fork Factory, there is a new, bone-chilling form of evil, one that seeks to harm humanity - especially children. Though I shuddered, I'd have no problem reading this with my kids. Doesn't such darkness dwell in the real world where we tread? Aren't children imprisoned and enslaved around the world? But just before the "scarytales" get too creepy, Peterson lifts the burden to write such beautiful scenes as:
"Janner pulled his gaze from the bright mountain and saw what appeared to be a cloud of yellow flower petals floating down from the slopes to the lake. Then they heard the flutter of wings and the twitter of birdsong. Thousands of yellow birds alighted on the surface of the lake, so many that it looked like the water itself had turned to gold. They sang and groomed their wings in the twilight and were visible long after night fell."
I'm all grown up, but I still shake in my boots at times. I wake from nightmares, relieved to hear my husband breathing in a deep sleep next to me. If the dream is bad enough, I wake him and we pray. We're not parents yet, but of course we will be. Then and now, when something threatens to uproot our faith, or one of our sniffling little ones, great stories remind us of what is true. I wholeheartedly agree with something Peterson said in "A Note To Parents" on the Wingfeather Saga web site:
". . . But of course the storyteller can’t stop there. He has to show in the end there is a Great Good in the world (and beyond it). Sometimes it is necessary to paint the sky black in order to show how beautiful is the prick of light. Gather all the wickedness in the universe into its loudest shriek and God hears it as a squeak at best. And that is a comforting thought. When a child reads the last sentence of my stories, I hope he or she drifts to sleep with a glow in their hearts and a warmth in their bones, believing that all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well."
The ending of North! Or Be Eaten is perfect, but baffling. As I closed the book, the story felt right in my soul, but I have no idea how Peterson will fix the tragedies. Yet there was a glimmer of hope - only a low, weak flame, but light nonetheless. And with legendary characters such as Janner - following in his uncle Artham P. Wingfeather's footsteps as a Throne Warden - and the noble Igiby family, I knew that all shall be well indeed within the pages of book 3.