Allison's Book Bag

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness by Andrew Peterson

Posted on: January 26, 2013

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness: Isn’t that a delicious title? This is the name of the first book in The Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson. This past week I treated myself by setting aside evenings to read the three-hundred page fantasy and wasn’t disappointed. It’s a fun epic tale with lots of adventures, quirky characters, and a unique setting.

That said, let me caution you that On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness does have a shaky start. For one thing, it has three introductions. While one could argue that those introductions provide background to the strange worlds of Aerwiar and of Skeer, one could equally contend that the place for this information is woven intothe story itself where it is less likely to overwhelm the reader. I wouldn’t care one way or the other, except there’s also the slow start which feels too episodic. The Igiby children ask to attend Dragon Day Festival, take time to do household chores, capture some “thwaps” (which alas are never defined), eat a breakfast of hotcakes, talk about their real dad, and the list goes on. All these events happen within just the first three chapters. Too much! Then there are the weird names. The consensus among fantasy experts is that authors should limit themselves to just two or three unusual names. Peterson not only bestowed his characters with the unusual names of Janner, Tink, and Leeli, he also created unusual names for the places where his characters live, some of the creatures they encountered, and even some of the activities they enjoyed such as Zibzy (which is explained as a lawn game played with giant darts, a “whacker,” and three rocks). Sometimes I felt in need of a guide book to decipher all the strange words, which resulted in a sometimes confusing reading experience. For example, “The common thwap was a little bigger than a skonk.” Last, there’s the Peterson’s conversational style which at times rambled to the point that it sucked all tension out of an otherwise terrifying scene. Happily, Peterson does pick up speed in subsequent chapters. Whether this is because the writing improved or I got used to the flaws, I’m not sure. At any rate, by the second half of On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, the above issues stopped distracting me from a darn good story.

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness starts out being a simple tale of three siblings who want to attend Dragon Day Festival. Then Leeli wanders off and gets captured by the Fangs, evil creatures that walk about like humans but have greenish scales over their bodies, a lizard-like snout, and two venomous fangs. The Fangs learn that the Ibiby family possesses Igiby family possess a treasure that they want. Now the real adventure begins! A map leads to danger. Healing medicine saves one of the family’s loved ones, but at the cost of enlarging its recipient. A ghost terrifies the siblings. Vicious skirmishes erupt. Betrayals too. Even deaths. On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness is a rip-roaring fantasy with plenty of adventure. There are also quirky characters, the most notable being Peet the Sock Man. With his freakish personality and oddly-shaped body, he deserves to have a spot in fantasy encyclopedias. Yet there are others too such as the Fangs, with their Black Carriage and their dictatorial rule over the inhabitants of Skeer, that help create an eclectic cast of characters. Then there’s the unique setting, which Peterson brings to life  in an unusual way. Some reviewers have criticized the footnotes but their abundance helped convince me that Peterson’s world could exist.

Cover of "The Princess Bride"

Cover of The Princess Bride

Some things need to strike a right chord to work. In a way, I appreciated the three introductions. They added to the illusionary air of reality that fantasies need if readers are to accept the worlds portrayed in them. Yet perhaps Peterson would have been best served with fewer; three seem to belabor the point. In a way, I enjoyed all the small moments of the Igiby family. They allowed me to see gentler and kinder interactions, which made me feel good albeit also a little bored. Maybe with a little finesse those scenes could work, the way ones do in chapter books which are often less dramatic events such as a young student learning to write her name. In a way, the weird names are needed to demonstrate how Skree differs from our world. I just grew a little tired of reading sentences with more made-up world than real ones. Although Peterson doesn’t always hit all the right chords, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness reminded me of another fun epic tale: Princess Bride by William Goldman who incidentally also interrupted his tale with historical notes.

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, despite its short chapters of only two to four pages, is not a quick read. It took me several days to finish; long enough that I didn’t get to read the other two books in the saga in time to review them for this Saturday post. However, Peterson’s tale was also exhilarating and zany enough that I don’t plan to put off reading the sequels just because of a review deadline. So now you know what I’ll be doing this weekend!

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?

4 Responses to "On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness by Andrew Peterson"

Just as a minor note, but a worthwhile one, I noticed you called the country ‘Skeer’. I understand this may be a common error, but it’s actually ‘Skree’.
Aside from that, thanks for the review!
– B. Tyler Lowe

I’ll need to fire my editor. 😉 Have you read the fourth book yet in the set?

Yes, I have. Peterson does very well with endings to both novels and songs, so his book was a delight.

Good to hear! It’ll be on my list of sequels to read. 🙂

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