North! Or Be Eaten

Ryan & I LOVE Andrew Peterson's music.

We also love children's books. Especially children's fantasy.

So when we found out that we could get both Andy P & Fantasy in one package, we were eager to try it out. Andrew Peterson has recently begun to try his hand at another form of word-art. Not only is he still writing songs; he's now also writing a children's fantasy/adventure series called The Wingfeather Saga. Ryan & I read Book 1 (On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness) aloud to each other in the first year of our marriage, and lent our copy out to as many folks as we could. Book 2 came out ON our second wedding anniversary (August 18th '09), so of course we planned to order and enjoy our own copy. Imagine our excitement when we got a chance to participate in the North! Or Be Eaten blogtour! Basically, we got our own free copy of the book, and then "have to" write up a blog post on it during this week. Oh, please don't throw me in the brier patch! =D (Although it does sort of feel like I'm back in school with book reports due, lol.)

This series traces the adventures of the 3 Igiby children; Janner, "Tink" (Kalmar), and Leeli. They live, like everyone else in their land (Skree), under the opression of the cruel, venomous lizard-like Fangs of Dang. Their land is also populated by hilarious and fantastic creatures such as sea dragons, bumpy digtoads, horned hounds, and the notoriously awful toothy cows of Skree. While never truly free, at least the children had a loving home in Glipwood Township with their mother Nia and their ex-pirate grandfather, Podo Helmer... until the day when Leeli's faithful little dog Nugget angered a Fang, and everything went downhill from there. Through a series of wonderfully crazy events, the Igiby family routed & killed a whole horde of the evil Fangs, escaped with their lives, and caused the entire town of Glipwood to flee to nearby Dugtown to escape the wrath of the Fangs. They also discovered that they themselves are the hidden, surviving royal children of the lost kingdom of Anniera, a fabled beautiful Isle across the sea. Called the "Jewels of Anniera," they are sought after by Gnag the Nameless, and his plans to seize them are growing increasingly ruthless. Thus the stage is set for this second installment of the saga.

While I heartily recommend the first book to any & all adventure-lovers, this second one is even better! The characters are deepening, the story is widening, and the author seems to be settling into his stride as a writer. While the last book's humor tended to be bold-faced and silly -- at times a bit over the top, in my opinion,-- this book's hilarity is more subtle; interwoven into the descriptions & dialogue more than in (admittedly funny) footnotes-- though fear not, the footnotes are still there! =D One of my favorite of A.P's little tricks is slipping an incongruous adjective into a list of expected synonyms, with very humorous effect; such as the time Grandfather Podo is said to walk away from kissing the crone Nurgabob (his former sweetheart) with a look of mingled "fondness, sadness, and nausea."

Plot Summary
The chronicle opens with the Igiby family in hiding in the monster-infested Glipwood Forest. They've taken refuge in the tree house castle (my dream as a child!) of the half-mad "Peet the Sock Man," who they now know and love as their very own uncle, Artham P. Wingfeather-- brother to their late father, Esben the King, and the last Throne Warden of Anniera. He is an amazing fighter, devoted to the children, and his spells of insanity seem to be lessening, though he still refuses to explain how he came to have talons instead of hands, and what broke his mind...

Their refuge soon discovered, they are pursued by Fangs, and must make for the Ice Prairies in the far north, where their reptilian oppressors cannot survive, much less fight. There is a rumored gathering of resisters up there, and the family aims to join them, with their old friend Oskar N. Reteep, the book-seller, in tow. Their way is fraught with dangers, of course, from the army of pursuing Fangs, and the monsters of the Forest itself. However, this book grows up a bit, with the worst dangers no longer being monsters, but rather the twisted of our own kind: people. First, there are the thieving Stranders, who would sooner kill and rob you than ask your name; later, there are parents so desperate that they try to steal any child for the Fangs in the hope of receiving back their own children-- two replacements for every child they have lost; and still later, there are children who have been so abused and downtrodden that all they want to do is ensure that others, too, merely see themselves as "Tools." The Igibys must also confront the mixed motives and fear in their own hearts which threatens to tear the family apart. Most horrifically, we learn that the Fangs themselves- and the newer, hardier Grey Fangs, who CAN survive in the Ice Prairies,- are actually creatures to be pitied. (I won't say more on that for fear of ruining the story-- because I want you to go and read this book!)

So, besides the good story, why should you read this book, or give it to your 9 year old son to read? There are so many life-lessons packed in amongst the creatures, adventure, and humor. The foremost themes which I noticed are: that of "Names-" duty & identity; family; honesty, guilt & acceptance; and true living (the search for a home). Let me very briefly take each in turn. Again, I don't want to say TOO much, so that you want to go get the book yourself! :)

Names- from the very first chapters, I noticed an emphasis on people's true names. Nia insists on using Peet's real name-- Artham. At first, each instance triggers an insanity attack, but as time goes on his eyes remain clear and he actually seems to be growing back into his formidable self-- the warrior prince, devoted to his brother the King, whom every maiden dreamed of marrying.

Names are tied up with our truest selves; with our responsibilities, our duties, and our identities. Janner, as the eldest Prince of Anniera, faces the task of defending his younger brother, who will be King, and caring for his sister, mother, and even grandfather (though the latter is far from a helpless old man!). Throughout the book, he wrestles with anger and hopelessness over this responsibility. It's a huge part of his character's growth. "Protect. Protect. Protect. Janner was no longer just Janner Igiby of Glipwood Township. He was Janner Wingfeather, Throne Warden of Anniera, protector of the throne, and protector of those he loved. [...] Artham reminded him that royal blood pumped through his veins, royal not just because of ancestry but because of the love of those who had gone before him and laid down their lives for him." (p. 54) During his captivity in the Fork! Factory, what keeps Janner sane and committed to escape is the remembrance of his name. He refuses to think of himself as "A Tool," but reminds himself of his name, and of the responsibility that goes with it: he must get back to his family, especially his brother. This sense of identity & duty not only leads him to escape, but to aim to rescue others, and in the end, to be responsible for his brother Tink's return to his own sense of self.

In contrast to Janner, Tink runs away, resisting the responsibility of being King, and tries to join the Stranders, whose clan leaders are quite UNresponsible. "A clan leader ain't in charge of anything. He does what he pleases, and the rest of the clan has to do what he pleases, too. Bein' a clan leader ain't about having responsibility-- it's about havin' none at all." (p. 116) Tink's flight from his name & duty very nearly leads to the utter loss of his identity; transformed by the enemy, he doesn't know his own name, his own family, or remember his own history. The tale's greatest moment of triumph, in my mind, comes at the end, as one brother's sacrificial love- as he clings to his duty despite all -saves the other, and brings him back to his own name and acceptance of his own place. I love that in this book "being true to oneself" has nothing to do with selfish self-fulfillment at all. It's all about self-lessly serving others, as your identity demands.

Family- This could go without saying, since the main characters are all members of one family. However, it goes deeper than that. The oppression of the land of Skree by the Fangs has led to the degradation of the family, and we see that on so many more levels in this book than in the previous. Families are ripped apart as Fangs steal children in the night, never to be seen again. The desperation of the parents of Dugtown is one of the saddest, most touching aspects of the book. The most depraved group, said to be even worse than the Fangs, is the Stranders. These men are lawless, shirking every duty, and one of the things the children notice is a complete lack of family structure. Strander children fear Strander adults, the clan leader turns on his own mother, and there appears to be no difference between men & women.

Honesty, guilt & acceptance- Two characters have pasts from which they are running: Podo and Peet (Artham). Both have to face their guilt and failings, confess them to their loved ones, and both are shocked to find freedom from their guilt in that confession. "[Podo] moved through the days in peace and wonder, for his whole story had been told for the first time, and he found that he was still loved." (p. 321) There is mercy mixed with justice. Artham is completely freed from his insanity once he confronts his failings, faces them, and embraces his responsibility in the here and now. He is actually transformed into a magnificent, powerful warrior... it's a pretty cool scene.

True Living/The Search for "Home"- Throughout the book, Janner wonders where 'home' is now. They can't go back to Glipwood, they are on the run, and even the Ice Prairies hold no safety. He finally decides that the only home left to him & his family is the one where their kingship lies: the Shining Isle of Anniera. Various members of the family- Tink especially- grumble about wanting to go back to Glipwood, to the way things were, and Podo points out repeatedly that they didn't have a truly free life even then. They were always under the fear and oppression of the Fangs. This realization spurs the Igibys on to try to free ALL of Skree from Fang control, as they know that without putting up a fight, no one will ever truly live free. Is it coincidence that 'Skree' rhymes with 'free'?

So there you have it-- my synopsis and mini-analysis of the book. I do hope it made you want to read it. :) It's an enjoyable adventure, and well worth the time. There are wonderful snippets of poetic prose as well as outright poetry. Parts are funny, parts make you think, and as always, the creatures are quite something else. This book is more serious in some ways than its predecessor: the children face real losses -even death- and must deal with them; they must wrestle with dangers from within as well as from without; and we see deep consequences for each person's choices. "Don't just follow your heart," Podo warns them, "your heart will betray you." (p. 51)

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