Friday, February 08, 2008

book review: On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness by Andrew Peterson


Title: On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness
Author: Andrew Peterson
Publisher: Waterbrook Press, 2008
Genre: Children, Fantasy
ISBN: 1400073849

It is night and in the distance Janner Igiby hears the sound of the Black Carriage. Will it turn into the lane of Igiby Cottage? Is it coming for him? The frightening words of a Skree nursery rhyme sing-song in his head:

“Lo, beyond the River Blapp
The Carriage comes, the Carriage Black…”

Welcome to the Igiby Cottage and Andrew Peterson’s fantasy novel On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness – a tale of danger, mystery, imagination, and humor.

The Igiby cottage, just outside the village of Glipwood in the land of Skree, is the home of 12-year-old Janner, 11-year-old Tink and their little sister Leeli who live there with their mother Nia and ex-pirate grandfather Podo.

Though things really are cozy and safe enough in the Igiby’s home, the same can’t be said for Glipwood. Indeed, all of the land of Skree is under a shadow. Some years ago the Fangs of Dang – those creatures which would exactly resemble humans if it weren’t for their greenish scales, lizard snouts and fangs jutting from snarling mouths – conquered Skree. Now their menacing presence makes even a trip to Books and Crannies a perilous venture.

This night the Black Carriage never arrives and Janner finally gets back to sleep. He awakens to a much brighter world and the happy thought that this is the best day of the whole year – the Dragon Day Festival.

Festival day in Glipwood goes just fine until sundown when the Glipfolk begin heading for the beach. Then Janner and Tink realize Leeli is missing. In the distance they hear her screams and find her at last in a back alley, cornered by two fangs. This is only the children’s first of many encounters with these evil creatures which escalate finally to where even their snug little cottage is no longer safe.

I love the self-contained universe Peterson has created. It comes complete with its own calendar, plants (totatoes, sugarberries), creatures (toothy cows, horned dogs, ridgerunners), foods (maggot loaf, ratbadger tail salad), folklore, songs, history, even writers (Bahbert Pembrick, Rumpole Bloge and others – with quotes from their writings all footnoted as proof they really do exist).

The characters are colorful. Of the Igiby family we get to know Janner the best as we work with him through his struggles of growing up. Elegant Nia and short-fused Podo are also interesting and complex. Another intriguing player is Peet the Sock Man, who gets his twords all wisted, lives in a surprise-filled treehouse and wears socks on his hands. Of course the fangs are thoroughly evil and as loathsome as a bad smell.

Peterson’s entertaining story-telling style recommends the book as an excellent read-aloud. The book contains several entire songs (Peterson, after all, is a lyricist in his day job), as well as maps and a couple of line drawings to make it an altogether convincing other-world adventure – not to speak of the sly and kid-friendly humor that brings on many a case of titters (booger gruel and snot wax candles indeed!).

But though the story is entertaining, the themes are serious. Good and evil thread through the book. Character development gets front page billing as Janner faces his selfishness, fear and jealousy. The children learn about loyalty, responsibility, respect, courage, forgiveness, and the importance of serving. And there is lots of scope to read a Narnia-style message into the characters and events.

Some of the questions about the world of Aeriwar, the jewels of Anniera, and the Igiby children’s father are answered by the end of book. But the loose ends that are left ensure that readers old and young will eagerly anticipate Book 2 of The Wingfeather Saga. Book 1 – On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness – is due out mid-March.

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