Life in Glipwood Township has always been hard for the Igiby's. The three children live with their mother, Nia, and their grandfather, Podo. Nia lost her husband and Podo lost his leg in the Great War, and now, they try to survive without drawing unwanted attention from the horrible Fangs. Peterson writes,
"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."Peterson's ability to use tongue-in-cheek humor even when he is describing something awful sets him apart from other fantasy writers I have read. Although the story is dark and Janner, Tink and Leeli only narrowly escape, there are countless times throughout the book you will grin, chuckle and laugh out loud.
When Nia gives the Fangs heirloom jewelry as a ransom for the children, the Fangs realize she knows more about the lost jewels of Anniera than they thought. From then on, the Fangs pursue Podo, Nia and the children. Janner, Tink and Leeli learn to face their fears as they follow the courageous examples of Podo and Nia. They overcome betrayal, the horned hounds and haunted catacombs. Not until they are rescued by crazy, mysterious Peet, the Sock Man, do they learn the truth about the Jewels of Anniera.
Podo and Nia constantly tell the children what it means to live a life in service to the Maker. Themes of faith, forgiveness, courage and invaluable worth are present, though written in a subtle manner similar to Tolkein's Lord of the Rings series.
Justin Gerard's muted pencil drawings evoke the mood and tone of the story, and are appropriately dark.
What I Like: Peterson is an excellent wordsmith. He creates vivid pictures in readers' minds, and he knows how to keep the story light and charming, while never losing its frightening edge. For instance, when the boys find a treasure map to Anklejelly Manor, they read, "If anyone reads this without permission, he will be most certainly and brutally slain. Or at the very least I'll chop off a finger or two. Or three."
The creatures living in Skree are sometimes whimsical (thwaps) and sometimes terrifying (the horned hounds), and sometimes a combination of the two (toothy cows). We learn more about these creatures, as well as traditions, games and Skreean history, in abundant footnotes. While rarely necessary to the story, they add depth and a realistic feel to the story. They would be fun to use if you were teaching students how to use footnotes, and they even include fictional source citations. Peterson has enough imagination for several writers, and uses it well.
I also like the themes in the story. In one footnote, Peterson discusses the folly of only believing in things you can see, (an obvious biblical parallel). At the end, Nia implores her father to forgive Peet the Sock Man, saying, "Your anger is becoming a burden you no longer bear alone. It's causing us to suffer with you. . . ." Readers will learn many good lessons about heroism, family and responsibility in the Igiby's fascinating journey.
What I Dislike: Many of you probably know I have a hard time with scary materials, both for myself and my children. While I would not recommend this book for bedtime reading, Peterson's humor keeps it light enough to be well worth the scary scenes. There are some scenes where a black carriage comes to take children away from their homes, and some of the boys' explorations and subsequent captures by the Fangs are also scary. However, Peterson does a good job of showing us how the children deal with fear, and a ray of hope always remains.
A few plot items weren't entirely wrapped up at the end, but thankfully there is a sequel.
Overall Rating: Excellent
Age Appeal: Young Adult (I would say 9 and up, but not for children who are easily frightened or prone to nightmares).
Publisher Info: WaterBrook Press, 2008; ISBN: 978-1-4000-7384-9; Paperback, $13.99
Buy it at Amazon.com for $10.19.