By Grace Gardener
What kinds of things do middle schoolers like to read? If you’d believe the book industry, anything with fart jokes and yucky villains is for them. And… well, sure, I would say that people up to age 15 find toilet humour incredibly funny. This doesn’t mean, however, that any book that includes that kind of banter should be considered appropriate for them. Often enough, books that have low-level jokes can have higher-level content. I think this is the case for the Christian fantasy book series The Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson.
The series starts out with Janner Iggiby and his younger siblings Leeli and Tink. They live in a little cottage with their mother Nia and their grandfather Podo. Their land is invested with Fangs of Dang, lizardmen who are the soldiers of Gnag the Nameless. When Gnag hears rumours that the Iggiby family might be in possession of the famed Jewels of Anniera, they have to flee, starting an adventure that will change their lives and that of the world with it.
The first book starts out very fun and campy, but the series gradually gets darker. There are quite a few “oh, the author would dare” moments. The humour also becomes less, although it is present in all four books. For the first book, I would say the qualification “middle grade” definitely fits, although some scenes still push it, but the later books are not age-appropriate at all and would be better for older teens. There are some very scary and disturbing scenes, not to mention quite a few disgusting creatures to haunt your nightmares (think of the witch from the How to Train Your Dragon series, but somehow even worse). I also felt the protagonists acted a lot more mature than their age.
So, how does the series hold up if you leave aside the age-appropriateness for a minute? I would say very well. There are deep topics, heartbreaking moments, and beautiful relationships. Very heavy topics are dealt with, but not in a way that seemed too casual or jokingly. The books feature quite a few plot twists and are full of exciting escapades. The abundance of characters is not confusing, since each is distinct and loveable, the Florid Sword being my favourite.
The fourth book was a weak spot, however. It’s supposed to wrap everything up, but it actually just creates more questions and has characters doing some very dumb things. For this review, I’ll just focus on the big issue for me. At the end, the Maker (aka God) tells Tink that he will help turn all of the mutants back into normal people again, and that Tink will know what to do when the time comes. Turns out what he has to do is kill himself. I felt it a bit strange that Tink didn’t really know what sacrifice he was going to have to make. You can’t just push someone into a situation where everyone expects them to do something they didn’t know anything about.
Anyway, then Janner jumps in and sacrifices himself. Yes, he literally shrivels up and dies. The main character ends up looking like a dried, smoking voodoo doll. Even more annoying, his family doesn’t even seem to mourn. They just move on. A few days later, someone has the idea they could use some magic water to resurrect Janner. I disliked this for a variety of reasons. Firstly, it’s literally necromancy. I’m also pretty sure it was established in the first book that the water doesn’t do that. It also cheapens Janner’s sacrifice to just bring him back to life.
I think my favourite book is the second, North! Or Be Eaten. It has a lot of storylines going on (which sadly means you get alternate POVs). Like the second Lord of the Rings movie, it still has the familiar elements of home, but also the new beginnings of the adventure ahead. It’s like a bridge between both worlds.
Next would be the first book, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness. It’s the big beginning, and the most lighthearted. It’s fun, but has a lot of emotional moments. Book 4, The Warden and the Wolf King, had a lot of problems, but it still ranks third. It was quite dark, but enjoyable.
The third book, The Monster in the Hollows, was one I did not enjoy. It’s well-written, but I hated so many parts of it. Tink is bullied relentlessly, and there’s lots of injustice for everyone all-round. Janner has to protect Tink because of role in the family, which means he has to skip out on going to a club that will get him many new friends and instead go to a fighting workshop where he gets beat up daily. I felt so bad for Tink, but even worse for Janner, who has to put up with some terrible stuff simply because he’s the oldest.
In the end, I definitely do like these books and I think they’re great reads. The main problem is that the humour is targeted toward young teens and the content is more suitable for older ones. You should probably not gift these books to the actual age range they are recommended for. If you are one of those older teens, I would encourage you to pick the series up. It’s great fun and like I said: the content can definitely be confronting and intense. Just wait a few years before letting your younger siblings join in the fun.