Andrew Peterson has long been one of my very favorite singer/songwriters. His lyrics possess both depth and whimsy, a combination that is rare among Christian artists. He has also shown a proclivity for conveying rich spiritual truths in his music using familiar language from popular fantasy novels by Christian artists such as the Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings (particularly in his album “The Far Country”). So when I found out he was writing a series of fantasy novels himself, my interest was piqued.
What I encountered in this first entry to the “Wingfeather Saga” was a fun-filled yarn that was a pure pleasure to read. Peterson is a first-rate storyteller, and this is sure to be a book that will be enjoyed by many a young reader (and a few old ones, too).
Though it got off to a bit of a slow start (then again, so did The Fellowship of the Ring…), I quickly found myself completely wrapped up in the story and, more importantly, in the characters. The action focuses on the adventures of the Igiby children: Janner, Tink, and Leeli. Through his engaging writing style, Peterson quickly allows the reader to become invested in these children. Their personalities are very well-developed, as are those of the secondary characters; no two-dimensional caricatures here!
While the story itself is engaging (I won’t spoil it for you by revealing too much of the plot, but the teaser on the cover will perhaps whet your appetite: “Adventure. Peril. Lost Jewels. And the Fearsome Toothy Cows of Skree.”), the real strength of this book is the way it incorporates a lot of teachable moments that touch on some serious real-life issues. This book was written for children, but especially to be read to children by adults (The language of the book lends itself particularly well to out-loud reading).
In addition to the more serious themes such as trust, forgiveness, and the providence of God (or “The Maker”, in the book), there were a few things I especially enjoyed in Peterson’s writing. One of these is the way he makes books themselves so fun. Peterson, like me, is an avid bookworm, and this love of books is instilled in nearly every chapter of this novel. “Books and Crannies”, the bookstore frequented by the Igiby boys, is a place filled with deep mystery and a sense of adventure. Salvaging (and reading) old books is portrayed as one of the noblest deeds a hero can do. I was also fond of the “boyness” of the boys in the story. This novel doesn’t take itself too seriously, and is not afraid to be irreverent (though never crass), the way little boys often are. Face it: Sometimes boogers are hilarious!
The only thing that keeps this from being a 5-star story is the sometimes awkward use of language, especially in the names of characters and places. One of the things that made LOTR so great is the fact that J.R.R. Tolkien was such a great linguist. He didn’t just invent and name characters; he invented entire languages! When he named characters and places, there was a sense of history in the consistency of fantastic names. This is one of the great weaknesses in many books in the fantasy genre, as such linguistic genius is exceptionally rare.
However, Peterson does an admirable job of lending depth to his fantasy world in many other unique ways, most prominently in his use of footnotes. Throughout the novel, he has incorporated notes that provide historical commentary on many of the locations, creatures, and people mentioned. While these notes usually have little to no relevance to the main plot line, the many citations of “scholarly” works set in this fictional world are an interesting way to create a sense of antiquity for “Aerwiar”, much in the way of the languages of Middle Earth or the ruins of Narnia. These footnotes are also dripping with the tongue-in-cheek sarcasm characteristic of the way Peterson tells stories in his live concerts.
I am looking forward very much to the sequel, “North! Or Be Eaten!”, which I’ll probably read this week. Even more, I am looking forward to the day I can read this book to my own son in a few years! Buy it here.