Welcome back to my ongoing review of the Wingfeather Saga. In the last instalment of the series, I was far from impressed at the quality of Andrew Peterson’s work. However, I liked this book a great deal better than I did the last one, but Peterson’s biggest issues still follow him into this novel.
Spoilers follow: Janner, Tink, Leeli, Podo, Nia, and Peet have fled from the town they have been hanging out in for the first book and are now hiding in Peet’s treehouse. As it turns out, Oskar’s not really dead and discovers that the Fangs are aware of Nia and the children’s parents. He rides quickly to warn them, and they escape right in the nick of time, Fangs in hot pursuit.
The Fangs follow our heroes through thick and thin, bolstering their ranks with trolls. They manage to capture Peet and Nugget falls to his doom, but the rest of the party escapes. Their plan is to make it to the Ice Plains, but are stopped by a group of malicious scavengers called Stranders.
To let them escape, the leader of the Stranders commands Podo to tell them a story, but the leader double-crosses them and tries to drown the grown-ups instead. Tink succeeds in knocking out the leader and winning the admiration of his daughter, Maraly, who comes up later in the story. Our heroes press forward from there.
Soon they arrive at a dark but large industrial-esque town. They go to an old confidant of Oskar’s, only to find the Fangs of Dang waiting for them. Podo, Nia, and Leeli escape, but Janner and Tink are left behind. Janner tries to get Tink to go back to their family, but the heir to the throne (secondborn, if you’ve been paying attention) chickens out and runs away. Janner pursues the best he can, but is captured by Fangs and taken to the Fork Factory.
From there, Janner is miserable and feels useless. In time, he forms a plan with his old-town friend, Sarah Cobbler, and ends up escaping. Sarah chooses to stay behind, and Janner eventually meets up with Maraly again. Janner gets a trio of notes from Oskar, Nia, and Podo, who encourage him and give him directions to their hideout (they’d already made it to the Ice Plains).
All this time, ‘ole Peet is still locked up, and is transferred to another ship, this one full of sentient, two-legged wolves. They appear to be transmuting humans into Grey Fangs, (basically, humans into werewolves, only they can’t change back) using a ritual called the Song of Ancient Stones. Peet agrees to have the ritual performed on him if the leader lets the other children (whom they are slowly turning into Grey Fangs) go free, but is double-crossed and is forced to watch Tink undergo the ritual.
This “summary” is getting pretty long, so I’ll cut it short: Janner makes it to his folks’ hideout with the help of a rebel leader, who turns out to be the masked vigilante who saved their lives earlier, Peet grows wings and rescues Tink, but not before he becomes a wolf, and Podo narrowly escapes being eaten by sea dragons. The ending had a lot to cover, but I’ll explain what I liked in detail below.
Since I started off last time with criticism, I’ll start this time with a bit of admiration: Peterson has finally solved his Hero Problem. Throughout the course of the story, there wasn’t really a competent hero we could get behind and depend on to help the Igibys (or Wingfeathers) out of their problems. However, one has risen through the ranks to become a true hero: Janner.
I think part of the problem in the first book was that every conflict he engaged in he was VASTLY outdueled: an eleven-year-old can’t fight an army of Fangs. Therefore, Peet and Podo had to do the fighting for him. But in this book, he’s separated from the grown-ups in the Fork Factory: he’s given a challenge that is tough, but not impossible for someone like him. This allows him a chance to rise to the challenge and overcome, demonstrating his competence as a Throne Warden. I enjoyed this part immensely, as it was a key part of Janner’s growth into maturity and competence.
The infusion of Dark Fantasy into the story was something it desperately needed. I needed something to recover from the giggly, idyllic kids from the first book and something that would initiate the story into true Epic Fantasy. What was great about the Fork Factory, the Stranders, and the Song of Ancient Stones is that I felt like the danger was real. It was a great change from the light anti-conflict of the first novel.
The thing the story most needed, however, was to follow Sanderson’s Zeroth Law: “Always err on the side of what’s awesome.” The idea is to create stories that deal with “cool” elements, like power armor or time travel. In the first novel, nothing’s really that cool: we have hybrid animals, crude jokes, and mundane problems. The coolest thing would probably be Podo, but you don’t find out that he’s a pirate until later.
The level of raw cool in this book has boosted its quality greatly. Peet has wings and he’s not insane anymore? Tink becomes a wolf-man? (Or should I say, wolf-boy?) There’s a rebellion led by a masked vigilante? Cool! Peterson wasn’t creating enough of a unique, immersive world until halfway through this book. It actually becomes Epic Fantasy with sword fights, rituals, transformations, daring escapes, emotional conflicts, and best of all, traveling! If he keeps up this trend, I can see how this book series will turn out to be pretty good.
All right, time for the bad: Peterson has a few repeat problems. Chief among them is that his foreshadowing is either weak or completely absent, as it was in the first novel. If the Grey Fangs were going to play a big role in the story, shouldn’t they have been mentioned before then? Couldn’t you have hinted that the Florid Sword was really the leader of the rebellion? The rebellion leader was only hinted at once, in only one scene before he made a meaningful appearance. Yet he’s the one that shows up and saves the Igibys’ bacon.
And the naming problem is worse in this book. He’s begun giving lighthearted names to truly brutal things, like the Fork Factory (children are tortured, forced to be slaves, and many die here). I really liked the addition of the factory, but the name threatened to let all the air out of something very serious.
I will touch briefly on Peterson’s inability to kill characters properly. Something I failed to mention in the last review is that the water from the First Well felt like a blunt plot hole. There had to have been a better way to work it into the story and explain how it worked, but no such explanation was offered. Heck, we don’t even get to see the well.
But anyway, Oskar seemingly “dies” in the first book but is present in the second one, despite a fatal stomach wound that he reopens on occasion. The amount of “Oh no! Nugget’s dead!” moments up until this moment are pretty annoying, and I found myself being more annoyed by the dog’s presence than otherwise. When someone’s about to die, let them die and stay dead. This is the rule, and exceptions should be few and far between.
But so far, all in all, the series is doing all right at this point. I’d give North! Or Be Eaten a solid 7.2/10. A definite upgrade from the more mundane first novel, and I seriously enjoyed the second half of it. Peterson’s biggest problem is poorly foreshadowing future events and setting Plot Promises. Not a waste of my time so far.
Good luck, and happy writing!
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