Friday, September 18, 2009

North! Helps The Wingfeather Saga Find Its Bearings

Picking up a sequel can be a daunting prospect for a reader. Yes, the charms of an initial title in a series may entice you to snap up the second volume. But for every follow-up that winningly expands on its predecessor’s virtues, there are plenty that drive them into the dirt. Put another way, for every The Empire Strikes Back there seems to be a corresponding The Phantom Menace. So when I saw North! Or Be Eaten, the next installment in Andrew Peterson’s The Wingfeather Saga, I felt a bit of trepidation. Would it improve on the funny fantasy of On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness or leave me wishing I’d spent the weekend with another paperback?

Peaceful Glipwood, home of the Igby family, lies in ruins, ravaged by the Fangs of Dang, rapacious serpent soldiers with a taste for wanton destruction. The Fangs, though, weren’t out simply to loot and pillage: They wanted the Igby children -- Janner, Tink and Leeli. Unbeknownst to everyone but their mother and uncle, the trio is heir to the fallen kingdom of Anniera, and the evil tyrant Gnag the Nameless wants to make sure it stays in ruins. Now the Igby family must flee to the Ice Prairies with wounded bookseller Oskar N. Reteep and Peet the Sock Man, the deformed former Throne Warden of Anniera who went half-mad when he abandoned his king during a Fang attack. If they can make their way north, they’ll be safe, because cold-blooded creatures like Gnag’s minions couldn’t possibly survive in such a harsh environment. But Gnag didn’t seize control of all Aerwiar without craft and cunning, and he has a plan to track the Igbys no matter where they run.

Though Dark Sea of Darkness possessed a well-imagined world and a winning sense of humor, it suffered from first-novel flaws (such as a chronically wandering point of view) that made me doubt the viability of the series. Fortunately, Peterson has honed his writing chops in the past year and a half, and North! is all the better for it. Plot, pacing, tone -- everything is sharper. Though the levity of Dark Sea of Darkness has disappeared almost entirely, one hardly misses it because North! kicks off with the proverbial bang. The sequel isn’t afraid to keep you perched on the cliffhanging edge or to subject its characters to any number of privations -- or to kill them off entirely. One commonality between the two books is that Peet steals the spotlight, his internal struggles with his fractured mind every bit as compelling as pitched battles with Fangs. Alas, Leeli once again gets relegated to second fiddle, but that’s a minor complaint. North! is a solid effort, one that has me anticipating its successor.

(Picture: Copyright 2009 by WaterBrook Press; used by permission)

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