The Wingfeather Saga, by Andrew Peterson (who’s also an accomplished singer-songwriter), is a rollicking read that tweens and young teens will particularly enjoy.
The four-volume series traces the adventures of three siblings–Janner, Kalmar, and Leeli–as they try to evade and overthrow a vile overlord known as Gnag the Nameless. Years ago, Gnag destroyed the High Kingdom of Anniera, and now, with the help of his monstrous Fang army, he’s bent on dominating all the land of Aerwiar. He’s also obsessed with finding the hidden Jewels of Anniera, which are somehow connected with Janner’s family. With the help of unlikely friends (and equally surprising foes), Janner, Leeli and Kalmar embark on a quest to undermine Gnag and his minions, and restore freedom to the land of Aerwiar.
The Wingfeather Saga is a wonderful blend of adventure, fantasy, and coming-of-age novel. Much of the books’ greatest strength, however, lies in their characters. There’s a whole cast of unpredictable, larger-than-life heroes, villains and sidekicks: a fantastic jumble that alternately calls to mind C.S. Lewis, Charles Dickens, J.K. Rowling, and Lloyd Alexander.
Here are just a few members of Peterson’s unforgettable cast.
“If we have to fight to make it there, I’m willing to do it. And if I have to pull you by the collar, you’re coming with me.”
At the inception of the Wingfeather saga, Janner Igiby is a boy of twelve. He’s introspective and curious, and would really prefer to spend his days playing zibzy (his favorite sport) or combing through the volumes at Books and Crannies. Instead, as the Dragon Days approach, he’s charged with looking after his reckless younger brother Kalmar, and lame little sister Leeli. It’s a task that many an older brother has had to shoulder, but Janner’s position is somewhat unique. Not only must he keep Kalmar from eating too many blueberry gooseballs, he must also stave off hordes of reptilian Fangs, thieving Stranders, and other cruel emissaries of Gnag the Nameless, all of whom seem intent on his family’s destruction. Along the way, Janner discovers clues to his true identity, bound up in gifts and words passed down from a father he barely remembers.
Although the four books of the Wingfeather Saga alternate between the perspectives of various characters, Janner’s story takes the central role. He’s the unlikely hero who, Harry Potter-like, must mature from boy to man as he faces down inner and outer demons, all in preparation for the inevitable final conflict with his archenemy, Gnag.
Oskar N. Reteep
“In the words of Bimm Stack, ‘I’ve an idea! Attend closely to me and your might find your shoes.'”
Oskar N. Reteep, “Appreciator of All Things Neat, Strange, and/or Yummy,” is the proprietor of Books and Crannies bookstore, located in Janner’s home village of Glipwood. He’s large, loveable, and nearly bald (though he tries to disguise that fact by combing white wisps of flyaway hair across his forehead). Oskar serves as Janner’s kindly mentor, and is always quick to offer some helpful, obscure quote from an equally obscure author.
Oskar’s shop is more than a bookstore. It’s a treasure-trove of wisdom and folklore; a reminder of the way life used to be in Aerwiar, before the Great War’s desolation.
Like one of Tolkein’s hobbits, Oskar’s simple, homely exterior conceals a brave and loyal heart. Despite grave danger, Oskar proves himself to be one of the Igiby children’s staunchest friends. In addition, his translation of an ancient tome is essential to the story’s plot, providing the children with pivotal information along their journey to the Shining Isle.
“I ain’t yer lass. And you’d best not take another step forward.”
The sordid city of Dugtown crawls with criminals and vagabonds. It’s a rowdy place, for sure. But just beyond the streets of Dugtown, on the shores of the muddy River Blapp, is an even worse society: clans of roving, throat-slitting bandits known as the Stranders.
Maraly Weaver is the daughter of Claxton Weaver, the self-proclaimed Strander King. She’s dirty and ragged, with a tendency to hurl her dagger first and ask questions later. But she’s also a brave, fierce friend, with her own code of honor. When Janner loses his family, it’s Maraly who journeys with him across the barren Ice Prairies, in a last-ditch effort to find them.
The Florid Sword
“Filthy Fangs, be thou warned, for the Florid Sword hath arrived!”
This swashbuckling sword-wielder is a delightful blend of Robin Hood, Zorro, and old-time actor Errol Flynn. He conceals his true identity behind his black mask and swirling cape, and speaks in elegant, Shakespearian English.
Janner first meets The Florid Sword on the crime-ridden streets of Dugtown, a river city that’s been taken over by the Fangs and Stranders. Janner is impressed by the masked man’s lighthearted defiance of the evil, lizard-like Fangs. But beneath the flamboyant façade, is he truly a hero that Janner can trust?
These are just a few of the vivid protagonists you’ll meet as you read through the Wingfeather Saga. But of course, there are so many more: Janner’s pirate grandfather, Podo Helmer; his secret guardian, Peet; the whiskery headmistress Olumphia Groundwich; the enigmatic Bonifer Squoon…
With each volume in the series, the plot thickens, the stakes heighten, the world of Aerwiar widens, and its inhabitants grow more endearing and bizarre. Give these books a try: I guarantee you’ll enjoy the ride.
Who is one of YOUR favorite literary characters? What makes them unforgettable? And, if you’ve read the Wingfeather series, who would you want to add to this list of characters?