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Review: North! Or Be Eaten September 18, 2009

Posted by markgeil in Reviews.
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This was a deadline that caused much consternation. I agreed to post a review sometime this week of Andrew Peterson’s new book, North! Or Be Eaten. Here’s the problem. We’re on page 230, and the book has 323 pages. I say “we”, because I’m reading the book aloud to the family. It’s slower, but this book reads so well out loud that I wouldn’t have it any other way. Deadline looming, I suggested that I might go ahead and finish the book on my own. The children protested mightily, declaring the abject unfairness of that idea, and I coalesced. So, here’s my review of the first 230 pages of North! Or Be Eaten by Andrew Peterson. If the last 93 pages are terrible, blame my daughters.

“North! Or Be Eaten” (one of the single greatest book titles ever) is the second book in Peterson’s fantasy fiction Wingfeather Saga. “Author” is the second career for which many of us know Andrew Peterson, the first being that he is a brilliant musician who writes songs that make me think, or wonder, or praise. But I promised myself I wouldn’t gush about him too much. But did you know he’s also an artist? Sheesh!

Some people won’t read fantasy. It’s a genre that has built itself some off-putting stereotypes, but they don’t apply here. This is a very human story, and its fantasy setting just expands the colors on the storytelling palette. Take the first words on the first page, for example. “’TOOOOTHY COW!’ Bellowed Podo as he whacked a stick against the nearest glipwood tree.” Fourteen words in and I’m already startled and smiling at the same time.

In book one of the Saga, “On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness,” (which I mentioned here), we meet the Igiby family and the three children who carry the story. Janner is 12, the eldest son, and it is his thoughts and feelings to which the third-person-limited narrative gives voice. He and his brother and sister, Tink and Leeli, have a secret. Book One exposes it, Book Two explores the implications.

North! spends far less time on character development than its predecessor, so I must recommend starting with the first book. Much of North! is intense action; the story moves quickly and we have to carry our understanding of the characters to appreciate their reactions.

As in his lyrics, Peterson has an extraordinary ability to sprinkle little lines of the sublime here and there, little moments of brilliance that pass by effortlessly. It is the mark of a confident writer that such lines, for which he must be proud, are not accorded unnecessary pomp. Chapter 15, a sad part of the tale, offers a few examples:

       “They climbed the bank slowly, dragging heavy hearts.”

       “Her tears struck Janner as the right kind of tears.”

       “He laid his head back on the stone and looked at the sky. White clouds slid across the deep blue dome, peaceful as a sigh.”

There is also wonderful humor throughout. A rotund bookseller named Oskar is a fount of literary quotes that are a fantastic comic device. Footnotes in the text lend authenticity to the imagined world, and sometimes tantalize. There’s a creature, the Bomnubble, that keeps getting mentioned but has yet to be explained. When introduced, the usually informative footnote states only this: “Bomnubbles! Woe!” I trust the scary Bomnubble will appear in these last 93 pages.

I mentioned that I’m reading these books aloud, and if you can muster an audience, I highly encourage this practice. I’ve had a grand time with the accents. My Podo is Irish, thought the rest of his family speak quite American. Most of my Fangs are all James Earl Jones-as-Darth Vader, Stranders are Cockney, and Ridgerunners speak in a skittish but proper British accent. Inexplicably, my Overseer turned out like Archibald from Veggie Tales. Oh, and the title has become a catchphrase in our house. When I finish reading each evening, I announce, “Bed! Or be eaten!” For some reason, Amy usually follows with, “Off with your heads!” the neighbors must surely wonder.

Peterson is a Christian and the books certainly have allegorical elements, but mostly they’re good, clean literature waiting to be explored. You can get both copies, autographed by the uber-talented author himself, at the Rabbit Room store.

Read! Or be eaten!

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