Friday, August 12, 2011

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness

Andrew Peterson is one of my favorite singer/songwriters. I was naturally intrigued to discover he penned children's fantasies as well. I am going to say that his talent as a lyricist is greater than his talent at narrative prose, but that doesn't tell you much as he is a superior musician. I very much enjoyed the book too.
On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness (Adventure. Peril. Lost Jewels. And the Fearsome Toothy Cows of Skree. The Wingfeather Saga Book One) 
A long title, and kind of a ridiculous one, but the book does have a hint of the ridiculous in it. The story takes place in the land of Aerwiar (a name derived from "here we are") and has a variety of odd creatures with odder names. Quirky is the word used to describe it on the back of the book. When I began to read I felt that Peterson had built a tower of quirky so high it was in danger of toppling into the realm of cutesy. I try to avoid cutesy at all costs and almost stopped reading as a result. I decided to give it a little longer and was soon wrapped up in the story. Peterson manages to avoid cutesy (but only just).

This is the story of three children, Janner, Tink, and Leeli Igiby, and how their boring life becomes full of danger and intrigue involving secrets of a toppled kingdom and the lost jewels of Anniera. The plot focuses on Janner, the eldest, who has grown a bit resentful of his role as protector of his younger siblings. And one really can't blame him given that Tink and Leeli possess the common sense and survival instinct of gnats.  It is easy to identify with Janner as he struggles with his role and his grandfather's admonitions to put others before himself.

There is evil afoot in the land the Igibys call home. The nameless evil (named Gnag the Nameless) has taken over the land of Skree from his fortress in Dang and filled it with his minions, known as the Fangs of Dang. I found it a little difficult to take villains with such an absurd name seriously.

There is quite a bit of the absurd in the book, making Aerwiar more reminiscent of Oz or Wonderland than Narnia or Hogwarts. The narrative structure is also more similar to the former, very action driven and almost episodic. There was another way in which this reminded me of those other two books. The absurd elements in the story make the darkness seem not as menacing in many ways. I never felt a true sense of peril. There is danger but it never becomes foreboding. Even when tragic things happen, they are fixed in such a way that nothing is sacrificed or lost. (There were sacrifices that occurred prior to the story but these are told in exposition by the adults to the children and are therefore distant and not as real.) Which is why I think the book works best for an audience  as yet untouched by cynicism, or one that is easily creeped out by truly dark elements in books. It would make a great read aloud for emergent readers and a good independent read for 2nd-5th graders. I have handed it over to Bit to read and she is all kinds of excited about it.

This is, of course, the first in a trilogy. The other two books North! Or Be Eaten and The Monster in the Hollows have both been released already. Janie at Redeemed Reader reviewed the second book here last week.

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