Monday, March 17, 2008

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness Book Review

Any book with the subtitle "Adventure. Peril. Lost jewels. And the Fearsome Toothy Cows of Skree." will be sure to get my attention. Upon opening said book, I would expect to find action, mystery, suspense...and a large helping of humor. I was not disappointed!

In his first novel, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, Andrew Peterson weaves a magnificent tapestry out of what is at first glance merely an enjoyable children's fantasy story. Peterson has transmogrified* the ordinary adventure into a rollicking, robust tale that is neither too silly nor too sad nor too syrupy sweet, yet has the proper doses of all of the above. From beginning to end, this first installment of the Wingfeather Saga resounds with hope, stirs the heart, and tickles the funny bone while offering glimpses of the One True Story that makes all others worthwhile.

This imaginary world is imbued with a gaggle of cartoonish, oddly familiar creatures: some good, some benign, and some dangerous. The good, a family called Igiby, are our protagonists, and these three ordinary children will soon be caught up in an extraordinary adventure that begins in their own small township. When Tink, the middle brother, finds a mysterious map which mentions the lost jewels of Anniera, the siblings are propelled into a series of events that will forever alter their ordinary, somewhat comfortable lives, (since it is hard to be comfortable when you have been ruled by Gnag the Nameless for nine long years). With help from their mother Nia, grandfather Podo and various friends, the Igiby children attempt to avoid the dangerous Fangs--and horned hounds, toothy cows, and the occasional traitor in disquise--who are determined to harm them and capture the lost jewels for their leader.

Something that surprised me about this story was Andrew's ability to make even the most hilarious-sounding characters come to life with a pathos and drama that runs deeper than your usual children's book. From the Igiby three to Peet the Sock Man and Zouzab the Ridgerunner, Peterson has managed to develop amazingly complex, robust characters despite silly-sounding names. I did not expect to get so caught up in the Igiby's world, but by the end of the book, Peterson's ability to bring his characters to life forged an emotional connection, and I just couldn't put the book down. Though I guessed correctly about some of the events and circumstances, I was enthralled with these children and their world and stayed up past my bedtime, like a kid with a flashlight under the covers enjoying every stolen moment.

Not only has Peterson created a thrilling story, he also has perfect comedic timing coupled with a unique and somewhat odd, yet appealing, narrative style. Just a few chapters in, I was almost overcome by the giggle-inspiring vocabulary. The trilling titles of Leeli Igiby and Oskar N. Reteep, quotations from notables Eezak Fincher and Bip Thwainbly and locations like Fingap Falls and the Glipper Trail beg to be read aloud. From descriptions of Zizby matches on the lawn to a garden full of totatoes and a forest filled with cave blats, I had to keep pronouncing the not-quite-familiar words to myself so I wouldn't get confused. (By the way, AP, if you read this, I'm still not sure how to pronouce "Anneira". A-near-ra? An-ne-eye-ra? In my head it's stuck as A-near-re-a, for some reason.) Also, dear reader, you must be prepared for the footnotes. "Footnotes?" you might ask. "In a kid's book?" Somehow, Andrew makes it work. The result is only slightly jarring, as he will intersperse the most tense and serious moments with a random aside, but it helps to break the creschendo of action and offers a chance for the reader to make mock-serious Masterpiece Theater voices.

(The only thing better than reading this book aloud with your family would be to watch a live performance of Andrew Peterson voicing all the characters. You know that Aeden, Jesse, and Skye must have so much fun listening to their Papa tell bedtime stories!)

Peterson has thoughtfully imagined not only the names of characters and places, but also his entire mythical world. I admit, by the end, Peterson impressed me with the cohesion of his narrative. As one who wrote a senior thesis on C.S. Lewis' Narnia Chronicles, after finishing this first edition of the Wingfeather Saga, I will tentatively predict that Andrew has created a more comprehensive world than Lewis did. (Narnia fans, don't skewer me, please! Hear me out!) While Lewis borrowed his creatures from Norse, Greek, and Roman mythology as well as from his friend J.R.R. Tolkien, Peterson created his inhabitants (almost) entirely from scratch, providing extensive (and hilarious) footnotes on their backstories and providing humorous details that may or may not be relevant but are always entertaining. Admittedly, there are traces of Tolkien and Lewis and even J.K. Rowling (garden gnomes = thwaps) throughout, which is not surprising since they are some of his favorite authors. Peterson, however, breathes new life into an oft-imitated genre, with a unique voice and an enduring theme. I won't go so far as to say that the Igibys are the next Harry Potter, since that may be an impossible feat in the publishing world these days, but these books are sure to instill a love of reading into at least a few hundred dozen kids, one of whom I hope is my own.

As a fan of Andrew Peterson's music for almost ten years now, I would be remiss if I didn't mention some of his songs and lines that this book brought to my mind. The obvious "Little Boy Heart Alive" is overshadowed, in my opinion, by these fitting lines from a song Peterson wrote with Andrew Osenga, titled "More":

A thing resounds when it rings true
Ringing all the bells inside of you
Like a golden sky on a summer eve
Your heart is tugging at your sleeve
And you cannot say why
There must be more

When I read the last sentence of On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, I felt at once that Peterson's book rang true. The hope that was shining in the Igiby home reflects the Hope that shines throughout Peterson's music and his life. I am grateful that through this book he has shared with us some of the light and laughter that fills his home.

Andrew Peterson is a critically acclaimed singer-songwriter and recording artist best known for his Dove Award-winning songs of the year, “Nothing to Say” and “Family Man.” A natural-born storyteller (being a preacher’s kid from the south), he wrote and produced the popular Christmas play and musical, Behold the Lamb of God. He has recorded seven albums and tours every year. Andrew and his wife, Jamie, are the parents of two sons and a daughter and live in Nashville, Tennessee. His website is

I hope this review inspired you to pick up a copy for yourself! You can buy it at Amazon or directly from Peterson himself at The Rabbit Room. We do have one extra copy you can win for yourself, so stay tuned for the Giveaway Announcement coming soon!

*transmogrify (v): to change or alter greatly and often with grotesque or humorous effect.


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