Book Review: North! Or Be Eaten
According to George Lucas, the second section of a story is where you must place your characters in the worst situation possible. This only works if the audience identifies with the characters, if they care about them, and I’ve found that I can’t help but care about the three Wingfeather/Igiby children. They have now proven themselves to be the seedlings of the royalty that runs in their lineage, and in Andrew Peterson’s second installment of the Wingfeather Saga, North! Or Be Eaten, their royalty is pitted against a vast and sinister array of villains. Even more difficult are their battles with the devils on their shoulders as they flee the soulless Fangs of Dang, the Stranders of the East Bend, and the pitiable beggars who lost children to the Fork Factory. Uncle Artham, the elder throne warden, does his best to remain lucid as he slips toward madness. Tink broods uncertainly and reluctantly over his future kingship and the responsibility thereof. Janner struggles to live up to the task of protecting his often frustrating and argumentative family.
Meanwhile, we are allowed in on the spotty and questionable history of the Igiby clan as we know it. Why is Podo Helmer so afraid of the sea? What brings him to scoff at the dragons that everyone else finds so majestic? We find out more about the power behind Leeli’s songs and the abominable origin of the Fangs. As I turned through chapter upon chapter, I found myself more and more on the verge of tears as the family was ripped apart and sent through one crucible after another. Janner goes to the Fork Factory. Tink faces the bitter end of all those drawn away by the Black Carriage. Podo finally greets his grim history. And Nia and Leeli are forced to watch patiently as these men, young and old, scramble to stand on two feet as they are repeatedly tried. Through all of the family’s seeming failures they somehow draw nearer to a victory, the face of which they never could have recognized before.
The environs of North! are bedazzling in themselves. Andy takes us from the green boughs of Glipwood Forest to the dizzying heights of Fingap Falls and Miller’s Bridge, to the grimy and oppressed streets of Dugtown, where hundreds of secret hallways tunnel beneath the city. Beyond that there are the crystalline chambers of Kimera, the cold and stony passageways of the Phoob Islands, and finally, the Dark Sea of Darkness itself. But if all these places weren’t enough, Andrew has crafted a world beyond them, complete with history and rife with tales and characters that cry out to be unearthed. We discover the ancient and tragic lives of the dragons themselves and the reasons for their deep and painful sorrow. Early secrets of Aerwiar are revealed, and we are told of the greedy sabotage of Ouster Will and the fall of the world.
After On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, Andrew Peterson again attests to his craft as a consummate storyteller, bringing his love of narrative (which has long been a part of his songwriting) once more to the written page. I am so glad that this is the sort of story he has chosen to tell. The more I dig into the annals of Anniera, the more depth I discover. There are older languages which have yet to be fully expounded upon, maps which invite me to consider the boundless adventures beyond my own horizons, and the predominant temptation of genealogy that calls me to consider well the rock from which I am hewn. I hope fans of Tolkien, Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle, Wendell Berry, and the like discover this book and its predecessor. A great shortage exists of authors who are willing to undertake the monumental task of spinning a world and all its history and trappings out of literary thread. It’s good to know that there is another of these daring souls at large.