When I first heard of The Wingfeather Saga, I distinctly remembering thinking, “On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness? North! Or be Eaten? What outlandish titles!” I had no interest whatsoever.
But thanks to their glowing praise from author Gillian Bronte Adams, I opened the first page. And from there I was held captive.
Andrew Peterson is perhaps first known as a songwriter and singer, and his talents there translate beautifully onto the pages of a novel. Everything he writes touches something inside us, whether it reawakens the wonder and excitement of childhood, or the deep void of loss, or the shuddering sense of revulsion. It is very strange indeed how he can send our spirits soaring with his heavenly descriptions, and then a few pages later he can make you gag with his boyish fascination with the gross.
His first book opens with cheeky humor and leads into an adventurous search for treasure, full of danger from his various strange creatures (beware the toothy cows) and from the minions of the Nameless Evil (Named Gnag), who desires the treasure for himself. We’re introduced to a loving family of three children, a mother, and a piratey grampa, and as they come to such life, you know Peterson is writing straight from the experiences of his own family (indeed the children are based off his own).
But although the first book is fine enough, it’s the following three that prove these series as so much more than children’s books. The rollicking chases and narrow escapes gives way to the struggles of rivalry amongst families, the sacrifice of responsibility, the recognition of the selfishness deep inside every core, and the wavering grasp of faith.
Very little is what it first seems—the children, the monsters, and above all, the Nameless Evil.
Although humor still abounds, it is seen far less as the children mature to an understanding of their fallen world and prepare to face darkness and death. Even the outlandish creatures of Peterson’s imagination are no longer so funny-seeming, but sad. That which I laughed it in the prologue of the first book drives me nigh to tears by the fourth.
Are there flaws with the books, slight story inconsistencies or a few rather useless scenes? Yes. Does any of that matter while reading the epic tale? No.
The final book, The Warden and the Wolf King, culminates in a deathly quest and the final battle against the enemy, while deep factions threaten to split the family apart from each other and from their faith in their Lord. For where is God in the midst of suffering and tragedy? It is truly the most epic book of the four (and well over twice the size of all the previous) and it ends upon a note of expectation for the future, a future the reader is desperate to know, but which Peterson is quite content to leave to our imaginations. For maybe the adventures to come are too wondrous for us yet, whereas everything else before (to quote another great fantasy writer) “had only been the cover and the title page …”