Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Warden and the Wolf King

Title: The Warden
          and the Wolf King

Series: Wingfeather Saga #4

Author: Andrew Peterson

Genre: Mid-grade Adventure/Fantasy

Rating: Craft—4, Content—3,
Overall—3.5 stars out of 5

Excerpt from “The Slog of War,” Chapter 1 of The Warden and the Wolf King:

“What happens next?”

“How am I supposed to know? I’ve never been in a war.”

“But we’ve been here for three hours at least. And we haven’t eaten a thing.”

“Look, all I know is we’re supposed to sit here and be quiet until the tribes are finished pledging—or whatever it’s called. And we’re all hungry, but at least you don’t get cold.”

“How many tribes are left?”

“You can count.”

“Wait, how many tribes did we start with?”
“Kal, can you just find some way to be interested in what’s going on? Mama said this hasn’t happened in decades. And they’re here for you, after all. The least you can do is show some interest. Shh! Here comes a tribesman.”

Janner and Kalmar sat on a wooden platform overlooking the Field of Finley, now covered with snow. These were the fields, Janner remembered, where many years ago Podo Helmer had won the heart of Wendolyn Igiby by competing in the games of the Bannick Durga against the roughest and rowdiest of the Hollowsfolk. But there were no games today. Today was about war. Which meant boredom.

Three siblings work to use their gifts to end an evil ruler’s reign of terror and reclaim their homeland.

Craft: The Warden and the Wolf King marks the end of the Wingfeather Saga, and it does so in dramatic fashion as the Lost Jewels seek to reclaim their homeland from the Nameless one.

As a result, the story is filled with intense action and high tension for the most part. The opening drags a little, as various elements are set into place, but soon battle lines are drawn, wars are being fought, and risky plans are set into motion. From that point on, there is no catching one’s breath.

The cast, which has grown with each successive book, now stretches across two continents. Yet the characters remain unique and easy to identify as each faces their own personal battle within the larger scope of the story. Arcs are completed with satisfaction, though some of the secondary characters’ feel rushed a bit at the end (Sara, Artham) in order to bring the story to a rapid close. 

The one downside to all this is that The Warden and the Wolf King is very serious and even dark in tone. It is the logical conclusion of the story that has been built, as each book in the series has become more somber. Nonetheless, the tongue-in-cheek humor and rollicking fun of book one, the elements which first drew me to this series, have now been shoved far into the background of the story, and that saddens me some. Sometimes it is nice to have a lighthearted series that provides a simple, comical adventure to lose yourself in.

But once I get past my original expectations of the series, The Warden and the Wolf King offers a sound conclusion to the Wingfeather Saga.

Content: I only say The Warden and the Wolf King provides a sound conclusion, because though it is the logical end, it lacks, at least for me, the final pressure release that comes with the satisfying end of a good story—you know, the kind that allows you to close the cover of a novel with a big sigh of contentment (or that bittersweet smile with a sadder ending), knowing that all has cumulated as it should. 

Again, it’s not this ending is ill-chosen for the story; indeed, it suits the story, the logical end for both the book and the series. However, it doesn’t satisfy. Instead, it feels oppressive, suffocating and even a touch hopeless. Perhaps it because the end is kept short, so we don’t get a chance to really absorb the shock of what has happened in the final climax, much less savor the results in a way that convinces us that this really was how it had to happen. Nor does the predominance of death throughout the story help, especially when you remember the target readership is from elementary school to early middle school. Indeed, if it weren’t for the brief epilogue, even I, as an adult, would have found the end crushing.

That said, this story has much going for it thematically, as it provides strong illustrations of the power of a name and the impact of fulfilling one’s calling, among other things.

Concerning other typical gray areas, there’s no sexuality and only some light romantic threads. Violence is a bit higher in this book—there is a war going on—but it is done in typical fantasy style.

The supernatural also comes more the fore in the story. Much of the “magical” elements are perceived as either evil, attributed to non-human characters, or straight from the Creator. It does push the boundaries some with the three children’s abilities to use their supernatural gifts basically on whim. But for the most part, I don’t see the use of the supernatural as problematic.

Summary: The Warden and the Wolf King turns in the final installment of the Wingfeather Saga with high dramatic fashion. But while the ending fits the story, it is more unsettling than satisfying, and extra caution may need to be exercised with younger readers due to the resulting darker tone. Otherwise, many readers will find this a thrilling conclusion to a rollicking adventure.

Rating: Craft—4, Content—3, Overall—3.5 stars out of 5

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


Meagan Myhren-Bennett said...

Like your insights into the book and the series.

Shannon McDermott said...

If not for the epilogue, I wouldn't have liked the ending, either. It was logical, as you said, and heroic, but ... I want happiness. Please, after all the suffering, let's have happiness.

I also felt Artham's storyline wasn't really resolved. The epilogue hints at that, too. Maybe there'll be another book, hopefully a lighter one, to give a happier resolution to some of these characters.

Interesting analysis. I enjoyed reading it.

Chawna Schroeder said...

Thanks for stopping, Meagan & Shannon. I'm glad you found my review interesting. It's always a bit hard to put out a review that isn't all sun and roses--it invariably receives criticism--so it is nice to hear I'm not alone in my thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Your blog post really helped me understand the book and the series. I haven't been able to read the books yet but the free Kindle sample of this book is pretty addictive.

Robert Treskillard said...

That's true about the lighter sides of the story lessening ... but then again, there was a bit of that in book 2 as well, which surprised me. Still, I think the series is deeper having explored the darker confines of the world. Great review!

Chawna Schroeder said...

I'm glad my blog helped, Annakindt, and I hope you do check out the entire series. It really is a great story, and it would probably be even more enjoyable as you would know going in that the light side of the first book will quickly give way to something more.

Robert, the series probably is better for digging deeper, but I find myself believing that this could have been done without losing the humorous adventure promised to me by book one. Or at the very least, if the series had come full circle, ending with the humorous adventure feel that it began with. But writing a book, much less a series, is a very tricky thing, so who knows if it really could have been done?