Hoo, alrighty. We made it to the end. Odds are, you’re tuning in for the final instalment of my review of the Wingfeather saga. This article is going to be a bit lengthier than my previous ones, as I will be summing up my thoughts on the series in general as well as critiquing this book specifically.
I don’t want to keep you any longer than you’d like, so I’m going to jump into the summary right away: war is brewing in Ban Rova as Janner, Kalmar and Leeli prepare for war. Rudric is rallying the clans to himself in defense of the kingdom, hoping to surprise Gnag with a pre-emptive strike.
However, just at this time, Janner turns thirteen and is greeted by a surprise birthday party after he comes home from the war council. The surprise is more than he knows: Janner gets drugged and is forced to undergo a bout of Blindplopping (a rite of passage in the Durgen Guild where, when the subject is old enough, he or she is escorted Bear Grylls-style to a far-away destination, where they must find their way back to home against the elements). Janner is initially frustrated, but calms himself when he reads the notes of his friends, family, and mentor which say that they believe he can pass the trials.
However, the Blindplop is severely inopportune: while Janner is away, the town of Green Hollows is assaulted by the Fangs of Dang, causing the real war to break out. Our heroes are caught unaware and are forced to retreat while the army rallies and tries to fight. Under the leadership of Rudric, the army is able to push back the Fangs–for a spell. It’s soon apparent that Rudric’s army is in bad shape and they need reinforcements.
Kalmar volunteers to go for reinforcements, and no one dares stop him because he’s the high king. Kalmar succeeds in alerting an outpost and getting the troops the army needs, but soon realizes that there’s more trouble brewing: within Kalmar himself. Kalmar is beginning to lose control of himself, starting to become a full wolf. He decides to travel to Dang to get as far away from his family as possible.
In the meantime, Janner has only narrowly been able to avoid the forces of Gnag, and soon happens upon a young troll whom some ridgerunners. Janner intervenes and almost dies, but the troll (who turns out to be friendly) saves him. Kalmar eventually meets up with Janner and explains his fears, and the warden decides to go with Kalmar to Dang (the troll, whose name is Oood, decides to join them as well).
While I was reading this book, I couldn’t help but wonder “where’s Artham?” Soon the story pans over to Artham, who is having bouts of madness and is being tended to by former Strander Maraly and escaped slave Sara in the town of…Dugtown. Claxton Weaver (the leader of the Stranders from the second book) has returned and wants Maraly back. Gammon (the Florid Sword, remember?) steps in and refuses, taking Maraly under his wing. However, Claxton is allied with the Fangs so it’s WAYY worse than we originally thought. Claxton ends up capturing Maraly, but she escapes later. At this point, Dugtown is also under attack by Fangs. This storyline continues, but it doesn’t affect the main plot so I’ll just leave the rest for you to read yourself.
Anyway, Janner, Oood, and Kalmar encounter various dangers on their road to Dang, including a psycho forest filled with the failed experiments of Gnag, but they eventually make it to the castle of Throg, where Gnag allegedly lives. Plot twist: Gnag is actually hiding in Ban Rova, and he’s captured Leeli for purposes as of yet unknown.
Kalmar and Janner are unfortunately captured as well, and hauled over to Ban Rona just in time to learn Gnag’s backstory (again, just read the book). At this point, Gnag threatens to kill Nia if the children don’t use their respective talents to open the Fane of Fire, supposedly a gateway to the Maker’s realm. Inside, Gnag forms a plan: by fusing himself with the king sea dragon, Yurgen, he can finally defeat the forces of his enemies.
All hope seems lost, but Leeli finally cracks the code as to Gnag’s weakness: the thing he’s wanted most in life is a name, (hence, Gnag the Nameless), and she names him Davion Wingfeather. Gnag ceases to be Gnag the Nameless, and he ceases to exist and dies. (It’s quite a bit more complicated than that, but I just told you the gist.) From there, Kalmar consults the Maker in the Fane of Fire on how to “unfang” those of Gnag’s army who want to reform. In the process, Kalmar himself becomes a human boy again and peace is established, but Janner is killed as the price for healing.
Okay, now for the critique. I came into this book feeling that it would be as promising as the previous one, and I was only partially satisfied. My first problem was the few annoying plot holes near the beginning that the story needed to progress. Sending Janner on his initiation on the brink of war when you need him most was a bad idea to start with, and not one that I can imagine responsible adults allowing. After all, it was their idea.
In addition, Kalmar’s decision to leave his family behind (because he was losing control of himself and he didn’t want to hurt himself) was justified, but deciding to singlehandedly storm Gnag’s fortress was pure folly. Plus, Kalmar was previously hyper-dependent on Janner, so this evolution of his character was quite sudden–and unprecidented.
However, the story only improves from there: no plot holes of mentionable importance showed up throughout the rest of the tale. However, a few elements of the story were underused and/or handled incorrectly. One such dynamic was Artham Wingfeather: despite being such an important character, he had virtually no influence on the plot. I was waiting for him to use the story of how he’d overcome his transformation to help Kalmar reconcile his. No such thing happened, and I was very disappointed.
Another problem was Gammon and Maraly. The father-daughter relationship worked pretty well, but was just introduced onto the scene without being developed. It came out of the blue and was really confusing. Again, previous foreshadowing or development would have helped this problem out a lot.
While I found Gnag to be actually a pretty compelling villain, his buildup should have been longer. It’s unfortunate that the only backstory we get for Gnag is half-baked into a bunch of lore entries within the last novel. It would be better if they foreshadowed this all the way back in the first novel, but I doubt Peterson had his entire epic planned all the way back then.
Leeli still did not get a character arc, and Kalmar’s was all but…canceled. Having him turn back into a human at the end seriously annoyed me, as being a wolf was so deeply ingrained into his character and became an inescapable part of his identity, and how he learned to live with his debility was very entertaining to read about (it’s what made the third book the best in the series). I was really hoping that Kalmar would remain a wolf to illustrate someone’s heart is what really matters, and that a Wolf King would be an example to all Anniera. (or at least the wolfishness is passed to Janner instead of him dying, because that’s what I thought would happen when he intervened).
Janner dying made less sense then him becoming a wolf, as it would have been more poetic for Janner to take on the ugliness of the multitude of fangs who were healed instead of just…dying. If I were to guess, Peterson was just running out of creative ideas to put in and decided to close the story with and ill-placed death. Killing characters off is not Peterson’s strong point.
Also…Podo. He died off-screen and it’s not explained how his skull was hurried over to Anniera in time for Gnag to give it to Yurgen, and it definitely would have been far better if we had seen Podo go out with his boot on instead of just hearing about it. Again, another poorly handled character death. Rudric’s was all right, though.
The following characters were cool but were not explained enough: Yurgen, Gammon/The Florid Sword, Armulyn (who makes another appearance in this novel), and Maraly. I really wanted to like these characters, but I couldn’t bring myself to because they were so undeveloped. Yurgen probably had the most development of the four, but I would really have loved to know Gammon’s backstory (and particularly why he wanted to start a rebellion, adopt Maraly, become the Florid Sword, etc.)
I know I’m being a bit hard on this book, and that’s because I actually really liked it. It was very entertaining and kept me up to 3:00 AM last night (hence the late article…). It seemed like a good end to the series, and most of the character interactions were quite solid. The travelogue was also one of Peterson’s better ones, and I especially liked the ideas he played with throughout the series.
Probably my biggest problem with the series is that you need to read through roughly 450 pages of pretty meh material to get to the good stuff. The change in the series’ tone from childish to mature was a welcome one, but I don’t see why the series couldn’t have started out that way.
And despite the enormity of the last book, there was just so much more story that was left to be told. Peterson tried to build an extensive history for the world, but most of it was honestly pretty rushed. The first book accomplished almost nothing in this respect, and the second delivered pretty late. The fourth felt like a very solid three-quarters of a good story, but I’m guessing the original book was way bigger so a lot of content had to be cut.
Also, another annoying theme throughout the third and fourth books was the Pretty much Useless Side Plot. Janner’s escape from the Fork Factory was a lot less compelling than Sarah’s. It honestly felt like Peterson was obviously contriving problems to make the story go forward.
Did I mention that I felt kinda betrayed when Kalmar turned back into a human? Sorry, that’s a pain point for me.
But as for what I liked…I appreciated how Peterson could create a pretty original world without too much of an influence from Lewis or Tolkien. The characters were very likable, especially Kalmar and Janner. I found myself loving the heroes and hating the villains–a real mark in Peterson’s favor.
All in all, I’d say it’s no masterpiece, but definitely fun and worth a read. I guess I’m held back by complaining that it could be so much more, because it had the potential to be one of the best series that I’ve ever read. The rating for the whole series is probably 7.1/10, worth a read in my estimation.
But don’t let me ever, ever catch you saying that it’s better than Lord of the Rings or Narnia.
Good luck, and happy writing!
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