Thursday, January 28, 2010

North! Or Be Eaten

Title: North! Or Be Eaten
Series: Wingfeather Saga #2(See my review of book 1 here.)

Author: Andrew Peterson

Series: Mid-grade fantasy

Excerpt from “The Lone Fendril,” Chapter 1 of North! Or Be Eaten:

“TOOOOTHY COW!” bellowed Podo as he whacked a stick against the nearest glipwood tree. The old pirate’s eyes blazed, and he stood at the base of the tree like ship’s captain at the mast. “Toothy cow! Quick! Into the tree house!”

Not far away, an arrow whizzed through some hanging moss and thudded into a plank of wood decorated with a charcoal drawing of a snarling Fang. The arrow protruded from the Fang’s mouth, the shaft still vibrating from the impact. Tink lowered his bow, squinted to see if he had hit the target, and completely ignored his grandfather.

“TOOOOOTHY—oy! That’s a fine shot, lad—COW!”
Three children head north, attempting to escape the evil lizard overlords.

The Craft: What makes a good story good? Or more precisely, what makes a good novel well-crafted?

Is it a certain way of handling language? Is it the abiding by predetermined rules? Is it vivid characters, high stakes, descriptive settings, or unexpected twists?

It is all these things . . . and none of them. Failing to meet any one of these standards doesn’t mean the story is not well-crafted; many master bend, even break, the “rules” of good writing. Yet have none of these and the story will most certainly nose-dive.

So what makes a well-crafted novel?

I think it is balance—it brings together all these elements in a combination that’s just right for that story.

And this is what we have in Mr. Peterson’s North! Or Be Eaten.

Though not the most outstanding work in children’s literature, this second installment of the Wingfeather Saga finds a good balance point. No longer as episodic as the first book, it brings back the colorful cast of book one and pushes them onto a cohesive journey of rising conflict and stakes. Yet the same wonderful tongue-in-cheek humor that drew me to the first still adds a delightful dash of tension relief in all the right places, keeping the reader from despairing or getting bored, and the cadence of words still makes this a great selection for reading aloud.

The Content: I easily admit it. North! Or Be Eaten definitely carries a darker edge to it than On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness. The question is this: Is this darkness appropriately handled for the mid-grade readers? (For more on why I maintain this is a mid-grade novel, see yesterday’s post.)

While I do not wish to go in-depth here about darkness in fiction (check out my post from a previous tour by that title here), I think I can say that the darkness doesn’t overwhelm for this age.

Yes, there’s things like death, betrayal, secrets, and other heartaches. Child labor, thievery, and combat exists. But the light, hope, and humor consistently breaks up and defies the darkness. The greatest evils are kept externalized. And when evil is encountered, the descriptions are kept to a minimal or completely off the page.

Does this mean any child can read this? No. Some should not attempt it, especially if easily scared. But none of the topics go where a child should not.

Other topics of concern would include the supernatural, especially where the Wingfeather children are concerned. But these supernatural giftings are clearly explained as a “gift” from the “Maker” (a reference to God in the story) which cannot be manipulated or used at whim. (See Chapters 57 and 58 in the book for more on this.)

Themes include the poison of jealousy, problems of jumping to conclusions, revenge and justice and mercy, the problems of secrets, responsibility, unconditional love, and seeing with that unconditional love beyond the surface.

Summary: Better than the previous book, North! Or Be Eaten is a humorous adventure with a slightly darker edge. While not for everyone (beware of kids who scare easily), this story will thrill and amuse. Especially good for read-aloud and boys of mid-grade and tween ages.

Rating: Craft—4, Content—3 (lower because some caution required for the target market), Overall—3.9 out of 5 stars.

Disclaimer: In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.


Fantasythyme said...

Good, long review of North or Be Eaten. You raise some good points about considering the appropriate age for the book content. North or Be Eaten may be more suited for tweens than a mid-grade reader, though I enjoyed the author's puns and writing style.


Chawna Schroeder said...

North! Or Be Eaten sits a bit on the borderline, but I personally feel that the content is still accessible to most mid-grade readers, who will mostly just see the adventure in it all.

But thanks for stopping by. It's always interesting to hear what others think.

Krysti said...

I don't know... My nine year-old snatched the book fresh out of the package from the publisher and I had to pull rank and seniority, and explain my "NEED" to read this book so I could review it before I got it back. She decided it would be more fun if I read it to her (and she admitted she was a tiny bit scared, just enough to make having me read it with expression be more fun than reading it to herself). AFTER I finish reading all of Donita's books to her... :D Oh dear. She may be 20 by then! lol.

Phyllis Wheeler said...

Terrific review, Chawna!

Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

I agree, Chawna. This review is excellent.

I'm glad you're discussing the appropriate age level. I fell into calling On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness middle grade and North YA (because it is darker). LOL. That might be a cop out.


Chawna Schroeder said...

Krysti ~ So many books, so little time! I hope your nine-year-old enjoys both Donita K. Paul's and Andrew Peterson's books.

Becky & Phyllis ~ Thanks for stopping by. I'm glad you enjoyed the review. I hope you found food for thought.