On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness: The Wingfeather Saga, Book One
by Andrew Peterson
When Brandon recommended this book to me, to be honest, I was lukewarm to the concept. It seemed… just too silly. Sure, maybe it was good for reading with kids, but it didn’t really excite me. And then Brandon did the most devious, cunning thing he could ever do: he gave the book to my family as a Christmas present.
And I read it. In about three days I read it.
This is a fun, dangerous book. The tagline on the cover perfectly captures the tone: “Adventure, Peril, Lost Jewels, and the Fearsome Toothy Cows of Skree.” If you’re looking for a fantasy to share with a nine to eleven year old child, go here. You can tell that Peterson revels in language. His prose has that quirky, fun quality of someone who chews on syllables to find the right flavor combination before bringing forth on the page a sumptuous combination of consonants and vowels. The tone of the novel is one of fun adventure that remains bright while not shirking on true danger.
I suppose I should tell about the plot and the characters, eh?
Nine years ago, the Fangs of Dang conquered the peaceful land of Skree. Ever since, the Skreeans have lived under the boot of the Fangs. They kidnap children in the middle of the night at random for an unknown reason, and put down some rather harsh laws – like you need to rent hoes, shovels, and anything else that might be used as a weapon – on a daily basis, but in general life continues. Yet, the people are a conquered people, and it wears at them.
The Igiby children are excited for Dragon Day. It’s the only day anything exciting happens in their little town of Glipwood. But when the youngest Igiby’s dog attacks a fang, things begin to snowball out of control. Soon the children must contend with a haunted house, a brutal search for jewels, terrible beasts, and dangerous mysteries surrounding their mother and grandfather.
Janner, the oldest of the children at twelve, struggles with the journey to becoming a man. He wants to be responsible, but still wants to be a child as well. Peterson captures that back-and-forth will of a boy well. Janner is also a poet and a writer with a deep love for books.
Tink, age eleven, provides mischief and art. He also provides a constant hunger for food and a fear of heights.
Leeli, age… nine(?) is a fantastic singer. She also has a deformed leg, but her fierce independence keeps her moving without any kind of help.
And these three make up a great assortment of characters to focus on. I will admit some annoyance at the kids acting like… well, kids. Peterson knows how kids act, and I can’t fault him for keeping them in character and in many ways immature. Tink in particular rushes headlong into danger without seeming to learn much, which led to my annoyance, but it’s well within character. Yet Janner’s struggle to find a way to become a man appealed to me in great measure.
As I read the book, I felt it needed to be read aloud to a young boy. I think girls will enjoy it as well, but there’s so much about being a man in here that I feel it’s aimed at boys. My eldest is still a little young to grasp everything in here, so I’ll wait a year or two before reading it with him. Peterson balances the whimsical and the perilous with a deft hand. It takes a canny writer to handle villains that are both comical and terrifying, but he does it well.
Most adults will find the overrunning mystery of the novel an easy one to solve, but I suspect children will delight in it. For the adults, the fun is not in the answer, but all the twists and turns it takes to get there.
So, if you love reading books for younger boys or you have boys of your own, this is a great book to read. It’s fun and yet doesn’t skimp on adventure or danger. That’s a hard balance to keep!