North! Or Be Eaten by Andrew Peterson: Quirky fantasy quest-story
2nd book in the Wingfeather Saga
Overall rating: 9/10
Quality of writing: 9.5/10
Concerning content (language, violence, etc.): small
Age level: 10 and up
In a similar vein to the first book in the Wingfeather Saga, this book chronicles the risky escapades of the Igiby family (brothers Janner and Tink, their sister Leeli, and their mother Nia) as they flee north to the rebel stronghold of Kimera in order to escape the pursuing hordes of Fangs (evil monsters created by the villainous Gnag the Nameless). Along the way, they have many harrowing adventures and escapes while travelling through the land of Skree (occupied by Gnag’s forces). Incorporating complex plot and character development, this book combines meaningful spiritual content with quirky worldbuilding and dialogue, and, like the other books in the series, is unlike most other works in its genre (in an exceptionally good way).
The plot of North! Or Be Eaten is slightly more straightforward than that of the series’ previous book, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, and it centers primarily around Janner, Leeli, and Tink trying to escape (along with other characters) to the city of Kimera in the northern Ice Prairies. However, while the protagonists’ goal is relatively clear-cut, that certainly doesn’t mean the plot is boring or monotonous—along the way, the Igiby siblings are opposed not only by the Fangs of Dang, but also villainous (and smelly) Stranders, a type of bandit; strange wild animals (mostly invented by the author); and even betrayal by their own allies. The characters’ own backstories also figure prominently into this book’s plot, including startling revelations about Podo (the Igibys’ grandfather) and Peet the Sock Man (who is revealed to be Artham Wingfeather, the Igibys’ uncle), as well as surprising discoveries about the Igibys’ own identities. Overall, the plot of North! Or Be Eaten improves on the pot of the series’ previous book (if that’s even possible): it has a clear-cut goal, exciting action, and intriguing character-backstory-related plot twists. (10/10)
As in On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, the characters in North! Or Be Eaten are an unusual mix of silly and serious, ranging from the pudgy book-quoting librarian Oskar Reteep, to the guilt-ridden (and slightly insane at times) warrior Artham Wingfeather (alternatively Peet the Sock Man). The reader gets to see even more development character-wise in this book, especially as the Igiby siblings undergo various trials together and are forced to reckon with their newly-realized roles as the “Jewels of Anniera” (heirs to the legendary island kingdom of Anniera). Other characters also undergo significant testing and difficulty over the course of the book, with Artham Wingfeather dealing with his guilt over abandoning his brother Esben (the former High King of Anniera), and Podo confronting his troubled past as a hunter of peaceful aquatic dragons. North! Or Be Eaten does include slightly more mature character issues, but the content itself is appropriate (the only potential concern would be the vividness of the book’s portrayal, such as one scene in which Artham is forced to watch Tink become transformed into an animal-like by a servant of Gnag—see Concerning Content below for more). Overall, the characters in this book manage to present a compelling view of their personal struggles and development while remaining extremely funny at other times. (10/10)
North! Or Be Eaten is similar to On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness in terms of difficulty: its characters are unique and not easily confused, its plot is based on a straightforward objective, and the overall style is quite readable. As in the previous book, Peterson does sometimes use metaphorical or complex descriptive language; however, this should not prove a problem for most readers and actually lends a vivid and realistic atmosphere to his writing. Overall, North! Or Be Eaten is not overly difficult for its age range and merits a 4/10 on difficulty.
Quality of writing
Andrew Peterson’s writing in this book is exceptional, as in his other works. While incorporating elements of quirky dialogue and humorous worldbuilding (some of the creatures he invented for the story’s fictional world of Aerwiar include “quill diggles,” “bomnubbles,” and “toothy cows”— which are as strange as they sound), his writing also reaches deeply into the personal struggles and development of his characters. This deeply meaningful style is certainly curious when combined with the frequent instances of humor in the book, but the overall effect is quite engaging. Furthermore, Peterson does not shy away from the spiritual aspects of his sub-created world—references to “the Maker” abound in North! Or Be Eaten, along with characters’ reverence for the divinely appointed order inherent in Aerwiar. Overall, the quality of writing in this book is excellent and merits a 9.5/10.
North! Or Be Eaten has slightly more concerning content than On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness—not that it contains anything inappropriate per se, but some of its scenes are more vivid than those in the previous book. Battles are more frequent in this book, and there are more wounds described (not graphically); the protagonists are also forced to watch one or more of their companions be captured or harmed on a few occasions. Furthermore, the emotional range undergone by the characters in this book is more extreme than that in the previous book, ranging from deep grief, to guilt, to anger. (Note: Peterson does not glorify such emotions, but nevertheless recognizes that they are a very real obstacle and part of life.) Overall, this book presents only the elements necessary to portray the forces of evil in the story as really and truly evil and a legitimate challenge to the characters; this should not prove a problem for most readers in the intended age range.
Based on this book’s readable style, engaging humor, and lack of major concerning content, it is recommended for readers ages 10 and up.
A new edition of the Wingfeather Saga is being released for 2020! The books include new illustrations by Joe Sutphin as well as new cover art. Additionally, all four books are now in hardcover! This is the perfect chance to check out this excellent series, if you haven’t already. Pre-order at https://store.rabbitroom.com/collections/the-wingfeather-saga
Disclaimer: As a member of the official Launch Team for the series’ re-release this year, I received a free uncorrected proof copy of North! Or Be Eaten. However, all views and opinions expressed here are my own. In other words, these are great books. (Go check them out if you haven’t already.)