Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Toothy Cows and Fangs of Dang

Have you ever read a book and found yourself lingering over it, wishing there was more? This is exactly how I felt upon finishing North! Or Be Eaten by Andrew Peterson. In fact, I turned back to enjoy a few pages for a second time.

The title lets potential readers know that this book won't be completely serious. Unlike most of the high and noble fantasy I read and love, this tale has a sense of humor. A sense of humor that is overlaid with some extremely nasty creatures, horrid situations, and nail-biting action. I tend to get caught up in a story when it is well written, and I found myself swallowed up by the adventures of the beleaguered Igiby family. It was soon apparent that this novel is a continuation of the journey/adventures that began in On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, released last year. Unfortunately, I haven't read the first book; this one would probably have been less confusing if I had. Nevertheless, I could figure thing out well enough to stay engrossed in the tale at all times.

Briefly: The Igiby family is hiding out in Uncle Peet's Treehouse, having fled the Fangs of Dang who are out to get them, when their friend Oskar the bookseller comes to warn them that they must flee even further. Grandfather Podo has a plan to head for the Ice Prairies because the reptilian Fangs couldn't manage colder climes. Of course, they have to take this convoluted route in order to find a guide to the city of Kimera. Along the way they have to deal with toothy cows (who are much meaner than our cows, not to mention they will eat people), quill diggles, Bomubbles (a version of Abominable Snowmen), the horrible gargan cockroaches, dangerous falls, armies of Fangs, the wicked Stranders, the desperation of Dugtown, separation, treachery, slavery, more treachery, freezing, and even greater dangers. Sorry to say, not all of our heroes will live to the end of the book. And of those who live, not all will pass through unscathed. Some situations are heart-rending, like the factory full of child laborers. The dark passages are grim indeed, but hope never dies. And the children learn to use the extraordinary gifts that the Maker has given each of them. When they submit to the will of the Maker and use their gifts properly, it always makes a difference for the good.

I'm grateful for the comedic relief that Peterson plants in skillful doses, keeping the tale from overbearing despair at times. I chuckled at many of the names he chose for people, beasts and places. Dear Oskar Reteep, in spite of his loyalty and persistence to keep up, is humorous with his constant and ineffective quotes (In the words of the poet, Shank Po, "I'd rather not. What else have you got?")

There is such a wealth of themes and golden nuggets (the faithful dog, by the way, is one of those: his name is Nugget) that it's hard to decide what to include here. Among themes would be obedience vs. selfishness; importance of family; faith and hope; help unlooked for and unexpected treachery; learning to listen for the Maker (God)'s voice and following His lead. The main characters are all changing and growing as the story unfolds, and the development makes many of them sympathetic in my eyes. I find I care about what happens to Janner, his mother, and his sister. And then there's the very strange Peet (Artham is his real name) and the grandfather Podo who has deep secrets that affect all of them more than anyone will realize. There are several mysteries going on, and many times I was sure I knew the answers, but when the truth came out, it slapped me in the face! I like that. Great suspense and surprises.

In summation, this book gets a high score from me. It's considered young adult, but I am sure most adults who follow fantasy will enjoy it, too, especially those of us who don't let logic get in the way. For a sample of what to expect, you can read the first chapter in my previous blog.

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