Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Book review: On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness

Andrew Peterson, who has become one of my favorite singers and songwriters, has written a novel, called On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness. (No, that title isn't a typo.) By happy circumstance, I was selected to participate in a "blog tour" for the book, which means (among other things) that I was provided a pre-release copy of the book to review here.

If you've heard Andrew Peterson's music, you know he has a knack for spinning tales and telling stories. In this book, he's taken his story-telling to new levels, and developed a book (actually, a series-- this is book one in the "Wingfeather Saga") that fantasy lovers will find engaging and delightful.

Now, I have a confession to make: I'm not a fantasy lover. I didn't make it through the
Lord of the Rings books-- I didn't even finish the first volume. (I DID love The Hobbit. And I haven't really given the others a try since the Internet made it easier for the non-cartographers among us to follow where we are in the plot.... maybe I'll give them another chance.) That said, I've found Peterson's book to be very readable, and quite clever. Like a lot of fantasy, it comes across at first as if it was written for young readers, but deeper meanings and meta-themes emerge in this book that are great for all ages.

One of the best things about the book is that it doesn't take itself too seriously. Just about the time when things get too weighty, they seem to lighten up quickly-- making for a good ebb-and-flow in the narrative arc. There's a good story here, and it should develop well as the "Saga" continues in other books. Andy
has built a well-kept alternate world (called Skree) where, unsurprisingly, many things are very much like our own, while others are smartly different. Perhaps as a nod to those of us who don't immerse ourselves into fantasy worlds easily, he's introduced his alternate world in a helpful overview at the beginning.

We then follow the adventures of the Igiby children-- Janner, Tink, and Leeli-- as they face the various aspects of their world. Here's the summary that the publisher provides:
"In the quiet land of Skree, the Igiby children—Janner, his younger brother Tink, and their crippled sister Leeli—stumble upon the lost jewels of Anniera and determine to return them. Unfortunately, the scary-bad Gnag the Nameless seeks the jewels for his own evil ends… and so our band of friends, accompanied by their trust dog Nugget, must escape with the help of their mom and grandfather (who happens to be an ex-pirate).

Their journey takes them through an inventively fantastical world of wonders, complete with memorable characters (like Gnag’s evil minions the Fangs and Peet the Sock Man), fanciful creatures (like sea dragons, snickbuzzards, toothy cows, flabbits, and bomnubbles), and captivating places (like the Books & Crannies bookstore, Shaggy Tavern, the Dark Sea of Darkness that divides the land of Skree from Anniera, the Glipwood Forest, Ice Prairies, and the Stony Mountains).

Through fast-paced storytelling, little ditties, songs, and poems, side-splitting asides, sensory descriptions of time and place, and characters rich in heart, courage, and smarts, Andrew Peterson has created a wondrous tale you’ll enjoy and treasure—just like those lost jewels."

Peterson clearly borrows on the patterns and traditions of other Christian fantasy writers-- J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Madeline L'Engle... but not too much, and not without good effect. I especially appreciated the quest for identity that the main character, Janner, engages in throughout the book: primarily, understanding the person of the father he never knew, who died before Janner was able to know him. This theme, which isn't developed to completion in this volume, promises to be a key part of future installments.

Andy Peterson blogs too-- with a community of bloggers at a site called
The Rabbit Room. You can get a copy of On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness from Amazon (or by ordering through the Rabbit Room). Waterbrook Press, the publisher, also provided me with a give-away copy; I'll announce the way that you can enter your name to win this copy in the next few days.

Congratulations to Andy on your new book! (I call him Andy for two reasons: first, we've met and talked a bit, and second, because hey, he has that sort of friendly feel about him.)

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