They say not to judge a book by its cover, but I’ve worked in a bookstore long enough to know that this is a lie. Sure, don’t just people by their outside appearances, but you can totally judge books that way.
Before even opening Andrew Peterson’s book, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, I can tell that the author is whimsical and the publisher is savvy. The book is a beautiful blue that’s been designed to look weathered by old age and use. The typography clearly says Fantasy, and the images are provided by a professional artist. In an industry where fantasy books have some of the worst covers that feature some of the most enthusiastic amateur artists, it is nice to see a publisher who believes in a book enough to spend some good money on design.
Flipping through the pages, I can already tell that I’m going to enjoy this book. Why? The extras. Within the roughly 300 pages, I see footnotes (which is a fun addition to fiction books), maps and illustrations, and an appendices. The chapters are short and the characters have names like Podo, Janner, and Leeli. This book is aimed at a younger crowd. It is obviously fantasy and is set firmly in the author’s rich imagination.
But Josh, when are you going to read the book and stop talking about how it looks?
Okay, okay. But when you are standing in a bookstore and you pick up a book that you know nothing about, it is helpful to know what you are looking at. Publishers are trying to get that book into the right hands, and they design everything except the words on the page to get it there.
First, you should know that while this is Andrew Peterson’s first fiction book, the man has experience with storytelling. For about five years, I was the music buyer for my bookstore. For those of you who are imagining me walking to the checkout with a pile of music and calling that my job, I was responsible for making sure that the store had music to sell by ordering it from various publishers and music companies. That is where I first heard the name of Andrew Peterson. Peterson is a singer/songwriter with an easy style and thoughtful lyrics. His songwriting and live show storytelling tell me that he knows what he is doing when crafting words together.
But on to the book itself…
I first read On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness a few years ago and I thoroughly loved it. I picked it up again yesterday to refresh myself for this review and instantly remembered why. From the first words of the introduction, readers will be able to hear Peterson’s sense of humor. And it is right up my alley. A brief excerpt introducing the bad guys of the story, Fangs:
The Fangs walked about like humans, and in fact they looked exactly like humans, except for the greenish scales that covered their bodies and the lizard-like snout and the two long, venomous fangs that jutted downward from their snarling mouths. Also, they had tails.
As to the characters, the story revolves around the Igiby family. Eldest son, Janner, is the main character for the series and we see the world mostly through his eyes. He is responsible and a strong lead. His younger brother, Tink, is the family troublemaker. And youngest sister, Leeli, is a sweet, crippled girl with a bright sense of humor. As with all good fantasy tales, at least one parent is out of the picture. The kids are raised by their stalwart mother, Nia, and her father, a former pirate, Podo Helmer.
The basic story is that the Igiby family is being hunted by the Fangs and must reach safety. Along the way, we are introduced to all kinds of fantastic characters. The plot has some really nice twists that keep you interested and the short chapters are custom made to tempt unwary readers into saying, “Well, its only a few pages, I can keep reading.”
The only thing that I didn’t enjoy are some of the modified animals and vegetables. Reading about thwaps, which are essentially rabbits, who steal totatoes, a mixture of potatoes and tomatoes, seemed more juvenile than the rest of the story. In my opinion, if you are going to create a fantasy world with new creatures, please design them to be completely different from what I know. If something is a rabbit, call it a rabbit. If it is a thwap, don’t describe a rabbit and tell me that it is slightly larger than a skonk (not a typo).
Aside from that, I loved this book. The story has barbed hooks that refuse to let you go. The characters are instantly likeable or not likeable as the author designs them to be. The only warning I have is that this is book one of a series, and if you don’t want to read the whole series, leave this book on the shelf.