RELEASE DAY REVIEW: On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness

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Janner Igiby lives in Glipwood, a nothing little village in the land of Skree, on the edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness. Manhood is on the horizon, but Janner finds it hard to feel much hope for the future. Skree is ruled by foreign oppressors, snake men called the Fangs of Dang, servants of a shadowy emperor named Gnag the Nameless. The Skreeans are weak and weaponless. They’re even tool-less. Any Skreean who needs to use a hoe has to borrow one from the Fangs (and fill out the requisite paperwork). And from time to time, the Black Carriage arrives in Glipwood to carry young Skreeans toward an unknown fate across the Dark Sea.

51WE0-cjRHL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_But once a year the Sea Dragons sing just off the coast of Glipwood. With their song, life reasserts itself in the hearts of Skreeans who have long since learned to numb themselves:

A middle-aged man named Robesbus Nicefellow, who had wasted his life balancing records for the famed button merchant Osbeck Osbeckson of Torrboro, decided that he wouldn’t spend another day working behind a desk; he had always wanted to sail. Mr. Alep Brume, who was sitting beside Ferinia Swapelton (proprietor of Ferinia’s Flower Shop), turned to her and whispered that he’d secretly loved her for years. Mayor Blaggus silently swore he’d never again pick his nose. All of the passion and sadness and joy of those who listened wound into one common strand of feeling that was to Janner like homesickness, though he couldn’t think why; he was a short walk from the only home he’d ever known.

A homesickness for a place he has never been. A nostalgia for a happiness he’s never experienced. The dragons’ song is a moment of otherworldly beauty and hope–of abundant life.

There’s something very big at stake here: you get the feeling that the Fangs would have a hard time maintaining their grip on Skree if the Skreeans heard this song too long or too often. And yet the song does its work on a small and personal scale too–in the realm of personal dreams, of unspoken crushes, of nose-picking. Such juxtapositions are the stuff of Andrew Peterson’s new novel, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness (Book 1 of the Wingfeather Saga). Here is a world where the everyday, the mundane is barely adequate to conceal deep longings that point to deeper truths.

It is altogether appropriate that Dragon Day is the day when Janner and his younger brother and sister defy the Fangs. It starts out as an accidental defiance, but its effects are profound and irreversible. The plot unspools from there.

I won’t say much else about the plot, but I will say that the Igiby children discover things about themselves, their family, and their fellow villagers that they never imagined. They’ve always known that their grandfather Podo is a retired pirate; but, as they learn, that isn’t the half of it. Their mother, an unassuming householder, has a stash of treasure. And the father they’ve never known–they learn to know him too. Their wildest dreams aren’t wild enough.

In On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, Peterson has created a rich, strange, wonder-filled world that somehow manages to be homey at the same time. He has drunk deeply of Tolkien, and yet this is not a derivative book.

This book describes a world that is much bigger than the book itself. You get the feeling that Peterson isn’t telling all he knows about Aerwiar (that’s the name of this world)–not because he’s withholding, but because there’s so much to tell. In frequent footnotes and asides, he alludes to little details of Skreean life, customs, and history that don’t play a part in the story itself but add depth and texture, giving the impression that this is one of many stories one might tell about this world.

You’ve read tight, precisely structured books in which no sentence is wasted, no action is introduced without its equal and opposite reaction, no minor character is so much as mentioned unless he’s going to be significant before it’s all over. Those books have their pleasures, but they aren’t the pleasures you should expect from this story.

This story is wild and overgrown. I mean that as high praise. It has a well-built plot and beautifully drawn characters; it also has throwaway lines and rabbit trails. Picture a well-constructed grape arbor. AP has proven himself a skilled craftsman, building a solid and pleasing structure. He has also had enough confidence in his art to let the vine grow on the arbor–lush and organic and not altogether manageable.

Life is busting out all over the place in this book, often expressing itself in ludicrous details. The bookstore in Glipwood has a category for “Books about Blacksmithing and/or Pie.” In the game of handyball, competitors try to score goals without using their feet, even to move. There is a statue outside town of a man enjoying his soup. The reader never finds out why.

By dwelling on the ridiculous aspects of The Dark Sea of Darkness (even the title is a little ridiculous), I don’t mean to give the impression that it’s a ridiculous book. It’s a deep, beautiful, satisfying book, and my heart is still full of it.

Ironically, the ridiculous touches make this fantasy story feel more real; experiencing Aerwiar for the first time is a little like experiencing this world for the first time, as a child. You’re not born knowing what’s normal and what’s ridiculous. So you’re forced to take a lot on faith. A pearl comes from an irritated oyster? OK, if you say so. But it sounds like you’re pulling my leg. And of all the crazy stories ever told about where babies come from, none of them is crazier than the true one.

As a reader of On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, you’re thrown into a ridiculous, wonderful world where there’s much more than meets the eye. Sort of like what happens when you come into this one. You can take it or leave it. For my part, I’ll take it.

Jonathan Rogers is the author of The Terrible Speed of Mercy, one of the finest biographies of Flannery O’Connor we've ever read. His other books include the Wilderking Trilogy–The Bark of the Bog Owl, The Secret of the Swamp King, and The Way of the Wilderking–as well as The World According to Narnia and a biography of Saint Patrick. He has spent most of his adult life in Nashville, Tennessee, where he and his wife Lou Alice are raising a houseful of robustious children.


22 Comments

  1. Allison

    This is a fantastic review, Jonathan! You touched on so many things I, too, appreciated about the book. I love the grape arbor analogy! “He has also had enough confidence in his art to let the vine grow on the arbor–lush and organic and not altogether manageable.” All the little rabbit trails and unexpected clusters just make the world that much richer.

    I’ll take it, too. 🙂

  2. Jim A

    Thanks for the review Jonathan. I read this with some leariness that there may be a spoiler lurking in there somewhere. I’m awaiting the arrival of my copy.

  3. Nate

    I’m awaiting the arrival of my copy as well. But I’m also in the middle of the Lord of the Rings. So when it arrives I’m also going to be in the middle of a dilemma. I’m sure I’ll work something out.

  4. easton crow

    I’m eagerly awaiting the arrival. It will, like Nate said, have to wait until the boys and I finish Gene Autry and the Golden Stallion, though. We’re about half way through. It pleases me to no end that the book my dad enjoyed when he was little, and I enjoyed as he read to me I am now reading to my children. And they are enjoying it! In fact, my seven year old asked me the other day if Gene Autry was in any movies. So, now I need to pick up a few Autry westerns. After Dark Sea of Darkness I don’t know if it will be review of Prince Caspian or a dive into Tarzan.

  5. Joy C

    Thanks, Jon. I’m not much of a ‘fantasy’ reader and tho I LOVE AP’s music more than words can say, I’ve not felt any passion towards reading this book. BUT YOU JUST GOT ME! Yay. I shall buy it today. Joy

  6. Rebecca LuElla Miller

    Jonathan, you should be a writer! 😉

    Seriously, what a great intro to the book. I’m going to mention this one in my CSFF Blog Tour posts next week. I hope tons and tons of people discover this book, and yours along with it.

    Becky

  7. Christopher Hopper

    Jonathan,

    Thanks for the thorough post. I just put up my first CSFF blog tour post this morning. Really enjoying Andrew’s writings and music. My only regret is not hearing about him before!

    CH

  8. Mike

    OK
    So now what do I do. I’ve been reading Prince Caspian to my son at night and I just bought OTEOTDSOD and I want to read it to him instead. What to do? I’ll finish PC but its under duress. Thanks AP for a book that makes me laugh. One of the missing elements in today’s Christianity.

  9. Dan K

    I just finished this over the weekend. It took me a full day to get over that the next book may take some time to come out. A terrific story that gets you hooked and ready for more. The fantasy universe creation hooks you quickly (I’ve never seen a totater but I can guess at one) with a sense of humor is terrific and is great for any age.

  10. Josh D

    Late one evening I was walking through the bookstore and happened upon a snazzy looking book. One look at the cover and I bought it. I never even flipped it over to the back to read what it was about. “Adventure. Peril. Jewels. And the Fearsome Toothy Cows of Skree.” I knew I had to read it. I sped through the book I had been reading, dying to dive into The Dark Sea of Darkness, and when I finally did, I was blown away. First off, I didn’t even realize until half way through it that the Andrew Peterson who penned said book was the same one who’s CDs I’ve nearly worn to a frazzle. Totally blew me away. Secondly, how could you not fall in love with the Igiby’ children, their charming mother, their one-legged ex-pirate grandfather, and a boat load of phenomenal characters , such as a quirky fellow named Pete the Sock Man. Loved every minute of it and will be sharing this book with everyone I can. Thank you AP, and I’m dying to read Book Two (I don’t suppose a street date is available on that is there? Too early, huh?)

  11. Nathaniel Miller

    It took me 3 days to finish the book. For me, a book that has me finishing it in 3 days is at least an engaging story if not a well written book. I’m beginning to wonder what AP cannot do. He certainly has God given talent in “word, form, and song” (and maybe mathematics, too). I especially liked how the book ended: with more to tell but a clear ending. Can’t wait for the second book and next album for that matter.

  12. Paul Holderman

    Oh I will be getting this. I am a huge allegore story fan and it seems to be the best way to tell a myth of real things. I did want to mention here that I was on Andrew’s personal site and reading about and I then went on web surfing and landed on Todd Agnew’s site to see his daily entry while he is beginning to record his new CD with band, and he mentions that he picked up a book written by one of his favorite songwriters, called On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, and he is digging it!! too funny.. .. well now that Todd is digging it i have no excuse!1 kidding I was ordering it anyway.

    See the entry from Todd’s Blog:
    “…I’m reading some Francis Schaeffer and this great new fiction book I found at Barnes & Noble the other day called On The Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness. It’s a cool story. I picked it up because the author had the same name as a songwriter I love. Turns out it’s the same guy! Andrew Peterson, who you guys might remember from my raving about his last record, The Far Country, one of my favorites of the last… well, one of my favorites from any era. So I’ve really been enjoying his new book.”

    http://www.toddagnew.com/v2/community/index.php?blog_id=46

  13. Lora Weatherly

    Similar to Josh D, I spotted the cover of this book while walking through a book store. I admit that it was the illustration of the “toothy cows of Skree” on the back that caused this book to end up in my basket. I had an idea that it was going to be a fun read, and I cannot describe how much I have needed that of late.

    Once I started reading, it took me only a day and half before I had it completed. Most books have a “point of no return” that requires you to keep reading until you pass out from exhaustion or the book is finished. This book just happened to hit that point a great deal sooner than most. The silliness was pretty well confined to the appendices, footnotes, and random assides. The actual story, while having plenty of moments of humor, was quite serious and enjoyable. I look forward to reading the next in this series.

    The thing I liked best about this story was how unlike a great many other pieces of recent Christian fiction it is. Christian authors often come at their writing with a clear agenda in mind, and allegory is just a more expansive version of this agenda. These authors cramp and force the story to meet the needs of their agenda, rather than letting the story naturally flow and turn as all truly good stories do. The characters often feel false and the plot gets clearly manipulated for extra-textual reasons. In short, the hand of the author is very visible and the reader is conscious of being prodded down a particular path. It was refreshing to simply have a good story told from a Christian worldview. There are themes, yes, but no obvious agenda aside from a good story. I’m afraid I disagree with you, Paul Holderman: this is not allegory, just really good fiction.

  14. Ginger

    I read the book because I knew that Andrew Peterson was a logophile a storyteller and a lover of George MacDonald and the other greats. I loved the book: particularly, the courageous mother who trains her children to be who they were destined to be, even if it didn’t make sense on the farm. (After convincing my book club to read this book we had a great discussion about homeschooling your children to adore truth and beauty vs. teaching them to do well on the ACT. )
    While the footnotes were hilariously enjoyable, the whole book teetered on the line of silliness that caused me to not quite believe that the whole story was believable. I felt like I wasn’t meant to take it seriously though the plot itself was serious enough.
    I can’t wait to read the next one and look forward to more books by this gospel centered author.

  15. Nachrichtenportal

    I’m awaiting the arrival of my copy as well. But I’m also in the middle of the Lord of the Rings. So when it arrives I’m also going to be in the middle of a dilemma. I’m sure I’ll work something out.

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