I’m reviewing On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, by Andrew Peterson, Book One of the Wingfeather Saga (2008) . In this middle-grade book, the three children of the Igiby family are being raised by their mother and their grandfather. They live just outside Glipwood, a rustic village on the edge of the sea, in the house built by their grandfather many, many years before.
Their semi-idyllic existence is marred by the fact that their country, Skree, is among those conquered by the fangs of Dang. Dang is an evil country far across the ocean, which first conquered the fabled Islands of Anniera in mid-ocean nine years before, and then soon afterward pushed all the way to the next continent and conquered Skree.
The fangs are lizardlike and also somewhat humanlike, with the remarkable ability to poison others with their saliva. So a bite from a fang is fatal. It takes just a few fangs to keep the town of Glipwood in a state of grim overtaxation.
The fangs habitually kidnap children, and soon the Igiby children become targets. Their mother, Nia, buys their freedom with some fancy jewelry she has kept secret for years, and offers to make the local commander some maggotloaf regularly if he leaves Janner, Tink, and Leeli alone.
The higher-ups take a look at Nia’s jewelry and realize it came from Anniera. They have been looking high and low for the Jewels of Anniera, and now they figure she must have them. Things really heat up! I won’t tell you what happens, but I will tell you that help comes from unexpected places after the family prays to the Maker.
What do I think?
This is a great tale told by a master storyteller. The most obvious feature is its humor. The place names and the threats are shaped by a wit: the toothy cows of Skree, the fangs of Dang, Anklejelly Manor, and on and on. Other features include page-turning intensity and well-drawn characters. The fantasy world I found quite believable–except for the funny names.
In particular, I like the way the main characters don’t value material wealth. They value each other, period. The mother gives away her precious jewelry without a second thought. At another point, Janner and Tink discover an armory of great value but don’t even think about helping themselves.
My only objection involves my particular sensibility. I have trouble aligning the humorous and therefore unbelievable names with the requirement to suspend my disbelief as I read the tale. It’s a good thing Peterson is such a good storyteller. Otherwise my disbelief at the amusing names would have mired me down.