When I picked up this series, I knew only that I loved Andrew Peterson’s music and that he had written children’s books that had stunning covers. I expected to read an exciting tale with Christian themes. I didn’t expect to be swept away, or for my heart to ache with grief and longing and hope at the same time.
The Wingfeather Saga is a four-book series (plus Wingfeather Tales*) that is comparable to The Chronicles of Narnia in its beauty and glimpses of the Christian faith. Unlike Narnia, the three children who star in The Wingfeather Saga are not taken from our world to another but live in the world of Aerwiar, where dragons swim in the sea and Fangs–evil, humanoid lizards–have taken over under the rule of Gnag the Nameless.
These books are humorous, frightening, deeply sad, and relentlessly hopeful. Be prepared to get emotional reading these, particularly the third and fourth books. While they are laugh-out-loud funny at times, there are other times when I couldn’t believe that Peterson “went there,” but then I was glad he did because the victories were greater after the failures, and the hope was greater after grief. He has achieved what Tolkien calls the “eucatastrophe”–the climax that seems so bleak that you can’t imagine a way out, but then, when all seems lost, everything is redeemed. This is the Christian hope that resounds throughout the book.
The series starts with a humorous tone that is carried throughout even as they dive into more serious themes. I would compare it to the steadily increasing seriousness of the Harry Potter books. The first book alone introduces things like toothy cows, Pete the Sock Man, a librarian who quotes almost every sentence he says, and a grumpy but soft-hearted ex-pirate grandfather who collects “thwaps” (rabbit-like creatures) and dumps them in his neighbor’s yard in vengeance over a decades-old grudge. The map in the beginning of the book contains the title, “A Somewhat Accurate Map of the Glipwood Township and Its Environs (not to scale obviously).” Occasional footnotes will go into more detail about the history or environment of Aewiar, for instance when we learn that “handyball” is “a delightful sport in which each team tries to get the ball into a goal without using their feet in any capacity, even to move” (34). Peterson’s narrations spin beautifully from silliness to poetry. Even when things eventually become dark, there is a thread of hope and joy that lifts the weight just enough to pull you–and the characters–through.
As these books progress and the story grows bleaker, the storytelling also strengthens. The characters grow more real and lovable, the stakes get higher, and even the writing becomes more artful as Peterson, who wrote this series as a beginning writer, becomes an expert storyteller. The story moves beyond the small cast of characters and becomes a sweeping epic that only a skilled writer could weave together.
If you have kids and are considering reading these to them, know that, while the on-screen violence is pretty light, there are many sad, frightening, and disturbing events that the poor children have to overcome, including death, grief, and war. But that doesn’t mean that these stories are dark. Peterson shines a light into every dark corner of the book so that, even while you are weeping over the pages, you are filled with hope that everything will be all right.
These books are certainly for adults as much as they are for children. I am 27, and I loved them, the stories bringing me back to my love of children’s fantasy. If you loved reading those books as a kid, these can give you a nostalgia for those while offering something completely new. They contain enough of the fantasy tropes to appease the genre, but these are not like any story you have read.
I want to say more, but I can’t without spoilers. You’ll just have to read them for yourself. The new covers are beautiful, and there is an audio book coming soon!
If you are a writer and are interested in what these books can teach you about writing young adult fantasy, see my upcoming review just for writers!
Enjoy your journey to Aewiar!