This is my third time to read this book in the space of about a year. Delightful yet again!
The Short but Hopefully Informative Summary
Janner, Tink, and Leeli Igiby never expected adventure to find them. The most exciting things they usually experienced was Janner tripping over everything, Tink's scary excursions fixing the roof and dropping hammers on people's heads, and little Leeli's dog Nugget chasing Thwaps out of the garden. Once a year, the Dragon Day Festival reminded them that the world was wider, but it looked like they would never see it.
A safe adventure would have been nice. They certainly didn't want to be carried off by the dreaded Black Carriage, or to have trouble with the evil and mean and disgusting lizard-men, the Fangs of Dang.
But one day, life turns more topsey-turvey than Peet the Sock Man walking on his sock-covered hands. More confused than a garden full of ornery, hungry, pesky Thwaps. More exciting than the longest book in Oskar Reteep's Bookstore. More frightening than the dreaded evil ruler, Gnag the Nameless.
Well, not that frightening. Yet. But there are horned hounds, toothy cows, digtoads, quilldiggles, pain, woe, and sorrow to deal with.
Whimsical and Weighty, Hilarious and Heartfelt
This is the sort of book which is fun to read aloud. It's the kind in which humor lurks, ready to pounce on you with the suddenness of a ridgerunnner. The footnotes are hysterical. Peterson read it to his own kids, and I would love to read it to mine someday (I might skip over the few slightly crude moments, though). It's a rollicking adventure, and the first time through I read it in a day, it was so enthralling. But as filled as it is with fast-paced action, the Igiby family is the bright hearth fire at the center of the tale, and the quiet moments bring a perfectly balance. Peterson knows how to paint simple, wonderful pictures of home and family that make me want to weep.
Beware, Ye who are Delicate of Stomach!
- There are a few crude parts. They're not truly disgusting in the moral sense, in my opinion, only rather nasty. I could do without these quite well, but they didn't make me want to stop reading. I did grow up in the country, after all, with five brothers. ;-)
Praisables, or "Better than Podo's famous Cheesy Chowder with Butterbread!"
These abound! Protecting and fighting for family is a huge stress of the story. The parental figures, mother Nia and the ex-pirate grandfather, Podo, are both wise and good and strong characters. Home is a beautiful thing, made not of wood or stone but of family. Bad things happen when older siblings neglect their responsibilities, but overall a good picture of brotherly and sisterly affection is painted. There are also a few lessons in contentment, as well as the counterbalancing virtue - knowing your true home is somewhere you've never been.
Only the Beginning!
(Unless you're a character in the book who meets an untimely end...)
What else do I say about this wonderful book? It ended as well as a first installment might. Not that the wait has been easy. But finally the second book is written, and I'm finally reading it! Watch for my review of North! Or Be Eaten between the 14th and 18th of this month, when I will be participating in the official blog tour for the book.
I shall leave you with one of many good passages from the book.
On the lawn in front of old Charney Baimington's cottage a small fire was burning. Several people lounged around it, listening to Armulyn the Bard sing. The orange glow of the fire lit his face and cast a large shadow on the house behind him. Armulyn was singing a song about Anniera, and his eyes seemed to glow with their own light as he looked out past the dark around him. It was as though he could see before him the fair island itself with its kingdom of sailors and poets, its high green mountains and shaded vales, the bright city where a good king once reigned and the people sang in the fields while they gathered the harvest. Somehow, Janner felt that it was more than just a song. Armulyn had put his secret dreams to music. Janner felt pulled to those mountains, and he saw it in the faces around the campfire too.'
The song ended, and for a moment before the applause, the small gathering of listeners was silent. Janner looked up to see that his mother's face was wet with tears and that she, like the bard, was staring into the distance.
"Why are you crying?" he asked, squeezing her hand.
Nia jumped a little, like he'd just woken her from a nap. She smiled down at him. "It's nothing, child. And why are you crying?"
Janner hadn't realized it, but his cheeks were wet as well. "There's just something about the way he sings. It makes me think of when it snows outside, and the fire is warm, and Podo is telling us a story while you're cooking, and there's no place I'd rather be - but for some reason I still feel... homesick."
On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, chapter 13
On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, chapter 13
1. The toothy cow image is from Bahbert Ollister Pembrick's Creaturepedia. A collection of his notes and sketches can be found here.