Saturday, July 14, 2012

North or Be Eaten--A Review

North! Or Be Eaten. Book 2 of The Wingfeather Saga. By Andrew Peterson. Colorado Springs, CO: Waterbrook Press, 2009, 323 page, $13.99.

I picked up this book because it was there. It wasn't given to me. I wasn't asked to read it or review it. My wife had it, said she couldn't get into it, so I thought I'd give it a try. I hadn't read any fiction in several years and felt I could use a break from academic reading. For those who are interested in fantasy literature, this review will give you some idea of the overall contents of the book and what I believe are its strong points and weaknesses.

North! Or Be Eaten fits neatly in the genre of fantasy literature. Peterson creates a world with a variety of strange but vaguely familiar creatures. The society is pre-industrial (for the most part), and there are talking lizards (called "Fangs") that have invaded and routed the world of men. The war is brutal for everyone, but especially for children, who are captured and forced into slave labor making weapons for the Fangs (the part of the book that hints at some industrial complex). They have a mysterious master called "Gnag" who seems to be a malevolent spirit of some kind. The purpose of the war on the world of men focuses on capturing the young heir to a throne from a land across the sea that many believe is only a myth, and his brother and sister. Being the second book in the series, there are gaps in knowledge for a reader like myself who has not seen the first volume. Footnotes in some places refer back to the first volume.

There is a broad variety of the society. Before the invasion of the Fangs there are towns and cities of respectable folk, but there are also towns filled with more seedy people, and then wild, roving bands of highwaymen known as "Stranders" because they live near the main road that passes along a strand of  a major river. The main characters are Tink (Kalmar Wingfeather, heir apparent to the throne), his brother, Jenner  (Throne Warden, charged with keeping Tink safe at all costs), Leeli (the sister and Song Maiden, who plays a semi-magical "mouth-harp"), Nia (the Queen Mother), Podo (Nia's father, a former pirate with his own secrets to keep), Artham Wingfeather (Throne Warden to Tink's father), and Ozkar (a bookseller). The story takes the reader on a journey of escape from the Fangs and also from each of the character's own past transgressions, failings, and fears. One harrowing escape after another move the action from beginning to end.

In terms of strengths, the book moves quickly. It is an easy read with short chapters. Character and plot development, overall, are well done. It is a tale of failure and redemption in the end, and of the importance of family and learning what really matters in life. Ordinary people do extraordinary things, things they didn't know or think they could do. Pride more than once leads to missteps and failures. As with most stories set in a mythical world, good wins out in the end, but in this instance, it is mixed with a great deal of pain and sorrow, and an odd turn in the plot at the end. Line sketches throughout the book help readers envision some of the odd creatures that inhabit this world.

What weaknesses are there in this book? Well, the most significant weakness is the final plot twist. It simply does not seem to contribute to the story in a meaningful way, unless it is to highlight the power of love to overcome failure. The ending is bitter-sweet, and the plot twist seems contrived somehow.

So, would I recommend this book? Well, maybe for older teen readers. It really doesn't seem to be a book intended for an adult audience, and if  you're accustomed to reading J. R. R. Tolkien, Stephen R. Donaldson, or C. S. Lewis, this book will come across as a pale imitation of great fantasy literature.

Baptist History Guy