Last night I finished a book so utterly whimsical I cannot bear to state its silly title more than once. The first entry in Andrew Peterson’s legendary-among-Christian-homeschool-nerds fantasy series The Wingfeather Saga tells the tale of the Igiby children—Janner, Tink and Leeli—who behave as children in fantasy tales are contractually obligated to behave. They brave a haunted house, trespass in a foreboding forest, and narrowly evade the venomous agents of a wicked tyrant with such frequency they ought to ask about a punch card. There are family secrets, legends of an overthrown noble kingdom, absurdly inhospitable fauna, and a distant evil overlord with a comical name. It’s got more or less everything you’d require in a children’s adventure fantasy, including a late plot development that’s less a twist and more a crowd-favorite finale.
As much of the fantasy guff is fairly rote I’ll refrain from saying much more about the world Peterson’s crafted*. There are two reasons I would recommend this novel to young readers. The first is that the prose sparkles with its charm. Peterson advertises himself as a poet and a musician, and his mastery of delightful language is apparent. The sentences are simply a joy to read, full of warmth and humor more than a little winking. The second reason is that the adventure itself is often quite thrilling, and even though the last-minute rescues are so recurrent they border parody the plot manages to be a pleasing ride until the end. I especially enjoyed the “heroic has-been” supporting characters. As a specimen of a bildungsroman fantasy, the novel is nearly immaculate in form.
My single real complaint is that the novel is so whimsical it sometimes becomes insufferable. I enjoy humor and whimsy just like every other cold-blooded half-human bred in a military lab (or is that just me?), but the book just doesn’t quite succeed in balancing them with the (sometimes quite grim!) adventure aspects. It gave me narrative whiplash to jump between points of genuine tension and silly footnotes about people and places with singsong names talking about boogers and whatnot. It needed to either be more committed to whimsy or less. It comes off halfway between Terry Pratchett and Redwall, and not in a complementary way. For that reason it’s harder to recommend to teens and up.
Still, despite that flaw, it remains a well-written and exciting adventure, and I just might acquire a physical copy of the whole series for my own children.
*I do want to complain that one particular comedic subplot feels copied almost directly from the second Harry Potter novel. It involves small, bipedal pests overrunning a garden and the cranky removal thereof.