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North! or be Eaten

by Andrew Peterson
Series: The Wingfeather Saga #2
331 pages, Fantasy
Reviewed by Lily A.

Often grim, still beautiful.

Plot

The “Igiby” clan may have won a skirmish, but they can’t stay in their hometown and face the wrath of the Fangs of Dang. They are on the run for their lives. Along the way they must find the strength to face occupying forces, strange monsters, corrupt citizens, their own inner demons, and the temptation to lose sight of what they are and the hope which they represent.

Morality

Self-sacrifice and loyalty to one's family are strongly lauded, both verbally and, at times, by example. The main characters encounter a tribe of vagabonds who seem to respect only violence and thievery, and to get out of a tough spot, one of the children steals to impress them. One character has done a great many things he knows are wrong in the past, some of which he would rather not speak of, and some of which he speaks of lightly. Jealousy and bitterness are overcome, and great wrongs are greatly forgiven.

Spiritual Content

A man thanks the Maker (God) for his wife's life. Some magic is a part of the plot line, in the form of what appear to be telepathic abilities, as well as transformations effected by mysterious means. It is implied that several minor characters might have lost their souls. Various characters pray when in dire straits. A kingdom is said to have been kept strong because the king's brother "protects his soul by reminding him at every turn what is good and noble and true in the world."

A character sees prophetic pictures in his mind, and is told by his parent that what he has is a gift of the Maker, and that he should “serve” it. A child appears to be redeemed or brought to sanity (it is unclear which) by his family's love. Magical or miraculous stones are said to have been lit with life by the Maker when the world was made.

Violence

Fangs hit a man they are interrogating, and threaten to poison his wife. Another man is still injured from a previous Fang encounter, and the Fangs want him dead. Fangs and various beasts are shot by arrows. People find themselves in a pit full of monstrous animals, some of which are vividly described. An animal dies heroically. A captured man is in for rough handling, including being dragged along a bumpy road while drifting in and out of consciousness. Knives are brandished and drowning suggested by vagabonds. A boy is kidnapped as part of a hostage exchange with what are basically slave drivers using child labor in a weapons factory, and he is hurt in an escape attempt.

An old woman is injured. People are caged and intimidated. Two children raid the home of a dangerous animal to get its prey’s fur for warmth. Historic hunting of sentient animals is referenced, and condemned. Two major skirmishes happen. Scars and long-lost limbs are explained. An enchanted or brain-damaged character attacks his friends before coming to his senses.

Drug and Alcohol Content

A demolished tavern is looked upon sadly. Another tavern is used as a rendezvous. A kind of magical water is used to heal a character: this could be seen as drug-like, as it is possible to over-use it with side effects, but is presented as miraculous.

Sexual Content

The children's grandfather meets a former girlfriend, who insists on a (sloppy) kiss. Janner has an innocent attraction for a girl from back home.

Crude or Profane Language or Content

In the gross-out department, snotwax candles are referenced, as are various slimy-sounding foods enjoyed by the Fangs. Vagabonds take insults as compliments, threaten violence, and are filthy.

Conclusion

It is difficult to rate or even categorize a book like this. As an adventure story, it looks the darkness and evil in its world straight in the eye and then says to you that there is still hope, there is still love, and there is still light in the world no matter how bad things become. It strives for beauty and nobility, and references ancient epic tales, and then gives you monsters with silly names like “toothy cow,” “bumnubble,” and “snickbuzzard.” It has child protagonists, and is the sequel to a book visibly written for children, but it has more grim elements and violence than many parents might want their children to read. Its back-story is unabashedly theistic, and characters pray, but there is not much reference to God (or the Maker, in this case) in the characters’ daily interactions.

Personally, I loved it. I loved the courage of the Throne Wardens, and the hints of history which I hope Mr. Peterson will expand upon in his future books, and the way that the main family will fight for each other and sacrifice for each other and love and forgive even when they have made terrible mistakes. I love the strangeness, and the hints of wacky lightheartedness even in deadly situations. I love the poetry. I didn’t mind that the author does not preach.

That said, I know that not everyone will or should love this book. It could be too dark for some, and some might not find the hope which I think I saw in the ending to be enough to compensate for the darkness. It might not be religious enough for what people expect from a Christian singer’s foray into writing. It might be that a parent would just look at the book, and decide that their child isn’t old enough yet.
Still, I think that for many people this book could be a rewarding read.

Fun Score: 4.5
Values Score: 3.5
Written for Age: 11-12

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