The Warden and The Wolf King Book Review — Part 1
I was sitting at an outdoor table under a tent with my son Sean when Andrew Peterson plopped down next to us and began to eat his dinner. It was a cool September evening in Nashville at the 2012 Hutchmoot. Talking to Andrew was like talking to a long lost friend. The conversation meandered to children, much like the three jewels of Annieria in the Wingfeather Saga. Andrew scrunched up his face, shoved his nose in my son’s face and proclaimed: “You better behave, Sean me boy, or your father’ll have you hoisted up the petard!”
I’m sure Andrew doesn’t remember this. He said things like that to everyone at Hutchmoot, but we remember it well. And, it is that spirit of random abandonment to reality that flows through the Wingfeather Saga.
Being a alumnus of two Hutchmoots, I can easily see in Andrew’s writing his love for Buechner, Lewis, MacDonald, Tolkien, and Wendell Berry. He blends elements of fantasy, swashbuckling, and allegory with a touch of parable throughout his works all set against a lushly realized landscape. Now, I am an author of a book series. I am currently in the final edit on book four and I can tell you it is not easy keeping all the story lines coherent and moving in parallel. One of my pet peeves is with authors who set out to write a book series and run out of creative energy early on. They create immersive worlds, stunning characters, and set up elaborate plot lines and then just get lost in their own maze. The list of book series I have given up on is long. By book four, you can tell you are lost in a forest along with the author and there is no way to get out unless you turn back (reboot your story) or open up the Pandora’s box of contrivances and let loose the deus ex machina.
Andrew did not disappoint me. In fact, he left me wanting more! He is to be commended for laying out a coherent storyline for all four books from page one of book one. I wondered from the beginning why he chose the name “Gnag the Nameless”. Even that simple name had profound and deep meaning revealed only in the final pages of book four. Such attention to detail early on smacks of brilliance (yes, Andrew, I called you brilliant — so get over it!).
To achieve this feat, “The Warden and The Wolf King” must have brought Andrew great pain and turmoil. Here are three reasons:
Reason 1: Tapestry
When we left things at the end of book three, the story of the fork factory and Artham across the Dark Sea of Darkness was left dangling. We left Janner, Kalmar, and Leeli reeling from the truth about their father, the King of Annieria. The Hollowsfolk were about to face war with the Fangs. And, the foul traitor (whose name shall not be mentioned lest ye be spoiled!) was revealed. As a writer, I said a long prayer for Andrew for he had indeed painted himself into quite a number of scattered corners. How was he going to bring all of these plot points together in the fourth book? It was nigh impossible, I thought.
Well, Andrew has achieved the impossible. In fact, as the pieces of his story began to fall into place; as the threads were snagged and woven into the tapestry, the final story emerged with such clarity, such, well — incredible gastronomic satisfaction I was left breathless and stunned and, yes, teary eyed. As each storyline dropped neatly into place like puzzle pieces snugly tucked into the whole, the story emerged and I gasped with wonder. This is what he had intended from page one! Andrew, thank you, thank you, thank you for a story well told I will not long forget.
Reason 2: Toothy Cows
How can you possibly make something like a toothy cow menacing? I mean, really! I can see Andrew, as a father, spinning this tale to his three children and throwing in these absurdities to delight and frighten them. But, to take such childish things and build a story around them? That takes a great deal of nerve to even attempt such a thing. Trolls, I understand. There is a shred of background to draw upon. But, I must say this: Andrew has created a brilliant array of creatures whose names and descriptions both delighted and alarmed within the same moment. To create a world of such creatures and make them believable and emotionally moving is very, very difficult.
I recently toured New Zealand for three weeks. My wife and I found ourselves on a 700 acre farm on the south island. We were cruising along on a four wheeler with David, the farmer as he took us out into his herd of red stag deer and cows. As we arrived in the midst of huge herd of his cows, one thought chilled my brain. What if these were toothy cows? Can this four wheeler outrun them? Would we be the entrée on the cow’s plate this evening beneath the Southern Cross? I could see the headlines back home: “Louisiana physician and wife devoured by Kiwi toothy cows! Travelers beware!”
Andrew, thank you for making me believe in toothy cows!
Reason 3: Redemption
In my next post, I’ll go into more detail about the story and the characters. But, right now, I want to pause and regale Andrew with numerous accolades. I did not see the end coming. Not in a million years. As a writer, I am constantly analyzing the story always trying to see where the author is going. Many times, I can see the ending coming early on and as the contrivances abound and the story gets propped up by dozens of wobbly trusses, I almost weep in disappointment. The author could have done this or that. Why didn’t the author see how he could have worked this angle in chapter three?
With “The Warden and Wolf King” I knew Andrew would find his moment of redemption. I know Andrew. I have listened to his songs over and over. His “Light for the Lost Boy” album is one of the most profound and deeply moving collection of stories, yes stories, I have ever found. And so, it was with great anticipation I looked for the hidden gem of redemption; the foreshadowing of where Andrew would take me. Because I knew it would be powerful; it would be unforeseen; it would be breathtaking.
And, it was. When the moment came, I screamed aloud with shock. My eyes filled with tears and I remember saying, “Yes, yes, yes! That is the only way this could happen. But, why? Why? Why?”
And, here is what is so brilliant (yes, Andrews you are brilliant — accept it and go have a cup of hot tea in your Rabbit Room mug!). Never have I seen a work so beautifully, so profoundly, so accurately pull me into the shocking, numbing reality of what Christ did for me on the cross. There was nary a mention of God or Christ in this book, but like Lewis achieved in “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” the image of total unconditional sacrificial love is so powerful; so gripping; so unforgettable no one can walk away from this book without understanding the power of the cross.
And, Andrew, I want to thank you for that moment. I will NEVER forget it!
To Find this book use this link.
For Andrew Peterson’s official book site this is the link. And Andrew’s personal site is here.
I gladly and with great anticipation received a copy of this book for this review. Readers of the first three books may feel appropriately envious!
Check out these other reviews of “The Warden and the Wolf King”:
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Rachel Starr Thomson
And, if you would like to check out a special offer for my three books in the Jonathan Steel Chronicles, go to the order page at 11thdemon.com.
Posted on July 21, 2014, in Apologetics, Breaking News, My Writing, Speculative Fiction, Steel Chronicles and tagged Andrew Peterson, Buechner, C. S. Lewis, Christian Speculative Fiction, Hutchmoot, Rabbit Room, toothy cows, Warden, Wendell Berry, Wingfeather saga, Wolf King. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.
Dear Dr. Hennigan:
I have just now ‘stumbled’ onto your website.
(I daresay that there was a Divine hand in it).
I had set my face like flint to unearth a review of Andrew Peterson’s ‘The Warden & The Wolf King’ that really WAS a review.
Anyone can cheerlead and toss bouquets.
Not just anyone can open doors in my mind about books that have opened doors in my mind.
I am fascinated by your observation that Peterson “blends elements of fantasy, swashbuckling, and allegory with a touch of parable throughout his works, all set against a lushly realized landscape.”
Aha! So THAT’S why I was thunderstruck by the Wingfeather Saga!
As part of a ‘spiritual regimen,’ I embark upon late-night bicycle rides out into the countryside near where I live in London, Ontario.
These 25-mile, 2-hour treks have become treasured times in which I immerse myself in podcasts, lectures and – wait for it – audiobooks by my favourite Christian authors.
Under a canopy of stars, with an intoxicating cold, crisp snap in the air and very little in the way of vehicular traffic, I have just listened to the entire Wingfeather Saga.
And guess what?
My 25-mile, 2-hour bicycle excursions started turning into 35-plus-mile, 2-3/4-hour pedalling expeditions as I encountered cliffhanger chapter ending after cliffhanger chapter ending.
I didn’t want to go home…..
At least, not yet!
Speaking of the importance of “story”:
I am drawn to YOUR story, good sir, as laid out on your bio webpage.
So many labyrinthine twists and turns!
More than once, God’s wisdom seemed so counterintuitive, so at odds with your hopes and dreams.
This paragraph in particular leaped off the page at me:
“After months of struggling with the fledgling organization I descended into a deep, dark depression. God crushed me. I learned the futility of taking my good idea, holding it up to God and asking him to bless it. ‘Hey, God! Guess what we’re going to do together!'”
I’m reminded of how Janner Wingfeather had his heart set on the Bookbindery Guild, but instead is directed to the rough-&-tumble Durgan Guild.
He and Calmar even needed to secure special permission from Guildmaster Clout to join the other older Hollish boys.
It took Janner awhile before he comprehended how ‘the bigger picture’ would be served as a consequence of what could only be described as a crushing disappointment at the time.
It would appear, Dr. Hennigan, that you and Janner are kindred spirits.
P. S. Have YOU ever released any of your titles as audiobooks? I'd LOVE to be able to purchase them and listen to them on my late-night cycling excursions.
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