On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness is a whimsical adventure tale, funny, scary, inhabited by Fangs of Dang, crazy sock men, and genuine recipes for maggotloaf. North! Or Be Eaten, Book 2 of The Wingfeather Saga, is the classic journey story: a book of creatures, encounters, fascinating locales, and of course, coming of age.
But it’s in The Monster in the Hollows that this series steps up and takes its place as a true fantasy epic — still quirky, still definitely located in the world of Aerwiar and not in Middle Earth, but firmly rooted in epic soil. The Monster in the Hollows is a bigger, sadder, older, and more beautiful part of The Wingfeather Saga than we’ve seen before.
(Warning: series spoilers ahead.)
The story begins, as all good sagas do, where the previous book left off: with the Wingfeather family sailing across the Dark Sea of Darkness in search of refuge in the Green Hollows, homeland of Nia Igiby Wingfeather and the last place in all of Aerwiar that is still free. But what begins as a warm welcome for Nia and her children quickly turns sour when the transformation of Kalmar is revealed: the Hollows are still free because its people have vigilantly driven every Fang from their land, and they are not keen to welcome one into their bosom now.
A startling sacrifice from Nia convinces the Hollowsfolk to accept all of her children — but no sacrifice can buy their trust. Janner, Kalmar, and Leeli settle into their new home and school, caught between the delight of being children again, with a home far from Fangs and from fear, and the knowledge that they are outsiders here. Janner struggles to love and protect his brother even as he resents him for estranging them.
But something strange is happening in the Green Hollows. A monster lurks in the shadows, a voice calls to Janner out of eerie visions, and Kalmar, it seems, has a secret . . .
In The Monster in the Hollows, Andrew Peterson once again weaves a tale that rings as true when it’s exploring the firesides of home as it does when it’s delving into the exotic places and peoples of a beautifully rendered fantasy world. As ancient secrets are revealed, revolutions are fostered, and the forces of evil gather for attack, we find ourselves caring just as much — or perhaps more — about the love between brothers, the faith of a mother, and the success of children in school. The forces of good, after all, are not concentrated in some distant castle or far-off king, but in frail human vessels in need of family, forgiveness, and the power of hope.
As before, the story is primarily told through the eyes of twelve-year-old Janner, the oldest of the Igiby children and the Throne Warden of Anniera whether he likes it or not. Much of the saga’s attention hovers, with Janner, at the outer edge of childhood. But the more adult story which readers have been able to glimpse all along through Podo, Nia, and Artham comes into the foreground in a greater way in The Monster in the Hollows, as Nia especially takes on a more central role.
New characters are introduced — including the memorable Head Guildmadam of the Ban Rona school, Olumphia Groundwich — and subplots from previous books carried to their conclusions. (I found the further fate of Sara Cobbler to be particularly interesting, and particularly affecting.) The setting, Ban Rona of the Green Hollows, is likewise more adult: the fearsome toothy cows, bomnubbles, and snickbuzzards of Skree — terrifying as they could be — have faded into the background, replaced by the rotting, misshapen cloven of the Blackwood. Where Glipwood Township was as amusing as it was oppressed, Ban Rona is the stuff of legends. And this book, for the first time in the saga, is entirely devoid of footnotes.
All in all, The Monster in the Hollows is a wonderful read, both entertaining and deep, and an effective launching pad into the fourth and final book in the series. For that, we’ll have all just have to wait, content in the knowledge that it’s likely to be worth waiting for.