You’ve probably heard my doubts sung about this series (albeit only alluded to: I never had a solid opinion until today), but last night I just got done with the first novel in the series. While I fully intend to read each of the others (it only took me like three hours) I want to stop and express my thoughts on this first novel.
First of all: this is hardly epic fantasy. Not trying to offend anyone, but the mundaneness of most of the plot is really stifling. Rather, it’s more of a non-epic fantasy like The Wizard of Oz, until it oddly changes into something more like Narnia at the end. Not necessarily a problem, but (at least right now, in the first novel) it can’t even be compared to Tolkien and Lewis. I will disclose a brief summary of the plot, and then cite my biggest problem with the series thus far.
Janner, Tink, and Leeli Igiby (12, 11, and 10 respectively) live in a sleepy settlement just outside the Dark Sea of Darkness, with their mother and grandfather (Nia and Podo). They are oppressed by the evil, reptilian Fangs of Dang, who are the soldiers of Gnag the Nameless, and enjoy terrorizing the townsfolk.
Most of the book is a series of unfortunate accidents that happens to the Igibys, mostly tangles with them and the local Fangs. It soon becomes apparent, however, that many people are keeping secrets from the children, and especially about the Igibys’ father, whose name is Esben.
Eventually, however, the Fangs get wind that Nia has the fabled Jewels of Anniera, which are written to be instrumental in Gnag’s collapse and the reestablishment of Anniera (the kingdom is a fallen one, and legendary in the eyes of the children) The malicious Fangs burn the Igibys’ house to the ground and pursue them deep within the forest.
Previously in the story, the children had been saved by a crazy nut job named Peet the Sock Man (probably the best dynamic of the story, in my opinion), and he returns again to help Podo (who is revealed to be an ex-pirate) battle off the Fangs. They successfully escape, and then it’s tell-the-truth time: the Igibys are actually Wingfeathers (the original rulers of Anniera), Esben was the king, Peet is actually Artham Wingfeather (the Throne Warden of his brother, Esben), and the jewels of Anniera are actually the children themselves. The story ends with the family hiding in the forest from the fangs, from which they’re presumably well-hidden.
I had several problems with this story. First of all, before I even read the first book, I have heard people that were saying that series was “better than Tolkien”. That’s a problem in and of itself, as the two can’t even be compared because of the difference in the genres. While this wasn’t exactly a problem, I was kinda disappointed to discover that I wasn’t reading a tale of swashbuckling adventures, daring raids, and challenges issued against horrible monsters.
Okay, onto my first real problem with the narrative: the foreshadowing. In my opinion, this was the one thing that was really poorly done, and if made better, the story’s quality would be greatly improved. There were a bunch of reveals at the end of the book, but only one of them really excited me (and that was that the children themselves were the Jewels of Anniera). All the other foreshadows were really meh.
Instead of gradually revealing who Janner, Tink, and Leeli’s father is, Peterson kinda “accidentally” spills his name to the kids early on. It seemed wooden and undercooked. I would have liked it far better if Janner (who was the main protagonist) would have figured it out himself but was missing one clue, and he turned to his mom to figure it out. But instead, every single “hint” only reinforced one fact: your father’s named Esben, and we don’t talk about him. All the information we know about the Igibys’ past throughout the bulk of the story is spilled within the first ten minutes.
Even worse, Peet the Sock Man was the story’s best dynamic, and he remained in the dark for far too long. Yes, I get that he’s a bit wacko, but he’s also Artham Wingfeather, Throne Warden of Anniera. Just because he has such an epic name is an excuse to reveal more about him. But for three quarters of the story, the best we got was a not-so-subtle “Wingiby Ingfeather” and a journal, which never made sense until the end of the story. Peet was just not interesting until later, and then when he was interesting, they didn’t explain anything (like how he has talons instead of hands).
To sum up this problem with the story: Book 1 has too much information that is saved for the end and too little to give at the beginning to keep the reader hooked. I felt like this was a book that suddenly remembered that it was supposed to follow in the footsteps of The Lord of The Rings and became an epic fantasy.
My next big problem is Peterson’s Hero Syndrome (no offense, again, but I think I’ll be using this term in the future). For most of the story, there wasn’t a proper appearance of a hero. I just found myself putting the book down and saying, “Wow, this story is in real need of an Aragorn.” The element of heroism was sadly missing for most of the story.
Of course, you can say that Peet and Podo are both heroes (they’re the only ones who put a real beating on the Fangs of Dang), but if they were, why didn’t they intervene earlier? The town was being oppressed by the malicious Fangs, and we had an ex-pirate and the so-called “greatest swordsman in the kingdom”. But they were disguised as elderly grandpa and raving lunatic, respectively. I was really hoping the Bard was going to be that hero, but that was also underplayed.
My third and final big problem with the first book was Peterson’s worldbuilding. While I’m sure he would have done a fine job with doing it through dialogue, the “encyclopedia entry” way of worldbuilding has not aged well. It feels like a very superficial way to tell a story with a good bit of lore, but there’s ways of condensing it into the story which Peterson didn’t even try. Some people like the “short histories” at the beginning of the book: I all but skipped them. Regardless, there are better ways to do worldbuilding. The world he built was fine, but he built it poorly.
Then I have a bunch of small complaints that are more subjective and don’t matter nearly as much: Peterson’s names seemed fairly uncreative and annoying, such as Fangs of Dang, Gnag the Nameless. (Better names would be the Fangs of Gnag and Dark Lord Gnag, or the Nameless One. The first one was clearly done to rhyme and the other one is a contradiction.)
The crude humor wasn’t funny. Maybe that’s just because I’m no longer twelve, but it felt much more forced than, say, Cressida Cowell’s How to Train Your Dragon. The reoccurring rash joke felt like it belonged in some darker novel, and the general diet of Fangs shall go unsaid.
All in all, my rating for this book is 6/10. I’m sorry, but the book is just amok with things that just could have been better. However, I was expecting this: a friend informed me that the first book would be worse than the others, and it gets better as you move on. I sure hope this is the case, because I’m going to be reading nothing but the Wingfeather Saga for the next few days.
Good luck, and happy writing!
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