By Pierce Taylor Hibbs
12.01.2022 | Min Read

The best stories I’ve ever read are like canoes. They carry me effortlessly on the quiet surface of each page, hardly causing a ripple. I’m enraptured by the story without even noticing. There are real characters, creative and suspenseful situations, and the one key ingredient to any powerful story: mystery. There’s mystery about who people are, where they’ve come from, and where they’re going. And that mystery, when combined with creativity and depth, is what pulls me in. I’m delighted to say that this was my experience with Andrew Peterson’s The Wingfeather Saga. In fact, I haven’t enjoyed a fiction series this much with my kids since we read  Chronicles of Narnia. And that sets a high bar!

Let me break down how these components (real characters, creativity, and mystery) appear in the first book, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness. In future posts, I’ll do the same for the other books. But I’ll say at the outset, this is a work of beauty and brilliance that you won’t want to miss. As a testament to that, at the end of this post I’ll tell you what my nine-year-old son has to say about it.

Real Characters

When I say “real characters,” I mean characters that you can believe are real. They align with experiences and situations you can identify with in your own life. And even if you can’t identify with them, the characters are so quirky and interesting that you want to. There’s Janner, the coming-of-age eldest brother who longs for adventure and independence, but he’s still learning that independence is always tempered by responsibility and a care for others. Who among us can’t identify with that? Then you have Tink, the wild middle child with a passion for food, fun, and the absence of responsibility. He seems helplessly self-centered, which annoys Janner to no end. And we all can identify with being helplessly self-centered. And then there’s sweet, compassionate Leelie, physically crippled but spiritually luminous. She’s so aware of others’ emotions and lifts the entire room up with her goodwill when she enters it. We all want to be Leeli, even though we fall woefully short.

Their mother, Nia, is quiet, strong, and noble. (Editor's Note: Minor spoilers ahead!) But you can tell that she has secrets behind her parental protection, the greatest of which comes out at the end of this book. Podo, the ex-pirate grandfather, is the most colorful—strong, proud, but soft in the presence of Leeli. He’s the one we might have trouble relating to, and yet we all want an ex-pirate grandfather, don’t we? A man hardened by the sea and weathered by adventures, but who now makes it his life’s purpose to guide and protect those he loves. The Igiby family is a rich collage of temperaments, aspirations, and fears—all of which draw us closer to them as we watch the narrative unfold.

Even characters on the periphery of the action are curiously engaging. There’s the mad “Pete the Sock Man,” who emerges as a mysterious hero with a troubled mind. And there’s the constantly quoting bookstore owner, Oskar N. Reteep, “appreciator of the neat, the strange, and/or the yummy.” His incessant references to obscure authors is sure to draw out your smile. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the fangs of Dang are sure to draw out your scowl. Their venomous fangs drip in service of “Gnag the Nameless,” the lord of evil in this tale. My son could never get over the fact that Gnag the Nameless . . . had a name.

You’ll be exposed to characters in this series who are both believable and entertaining. There’s plenty to relate to, and there’s plenty to smile at. And that can’t be said about many stories.


The world of Aerwiar, with all its strange beings, is a work of true creativity. The names of animals are close enough to our own that they evoke a mental image for kids, but there’s plenty of room for imagination. For example, something will surely come to mind at the mention of “Flabbits” or the picking of “totatoes” in the garden. And “toothy cows” conjure up images of menacing bovines. The other creatures you meet in The Wingfeather Saga are a blend of familiarity, imagination, and awe (or horror, depending on the creature).

But the creativity extends beyond the creature types. It runs into the drama of the narrative itself. The hideous oppression from the fangs screams out for just rebellion, and the phantom of a dreamlike kingdom called Anniera looms in the background. How are things going to change for the Igiby family? Where can they go to find freedom? And how hard is it going to be to get it? What will it cost them? And how are sea dragons, a horse-sized dog, and a man with talons for hands going to fit in? You’ll find out, all in good time. Few stones are left unturned. But there will be plenty of surprises in how the drama unfurls.


The mystery of The Wingfeather Saga comes out in the details, many of which my son brought to my attention through questions. In the first book, he was frequently stopping me.

  • Why do the fangs turn to dust when they die?

  • Is Gnag the Nameless a person or a creature? Why does he even want these “jewels of Anniera”?

  • Where was the Igiby family before they came to Skree? And what lies on the other side of the Dark Sea of Darkness?

  • Where does the black carriage take the children captured by the fangs?

  • Why don’t the people just fight back?

For mystery to work, it needs to draw out our questions and suggest opportunities for answers, without giving things away. And I found Peterson did a fine job of this. There’s also biblical allusions for those who might be looking for them, but they’re not as close to the surface as a Lion called Aslan who sacrifices himself and rises from the dead. You need to ponder things a bit to see where they may have come from in the author’s mind and the story of Scripture, and that makes it fun. It also, I would imagine, will make the series attractive even to those outside of the Christian faith.

As the series progresses, you’ll find that the mystery both deepens and widens. More comes into the tale than you might think, and more lies beneath it than you would guess. That’s why I’m having just as much fun re-reading the books with my seven-year-old daughter.

My Son’s Review

I’ll leave you with a review from my nine-year-old, who shows remarkable perception of what’s going on in stories. I read Chronicles of Narnia to him when he was only four, and I was amazed at what he took in about Aslan and “the deeper magic.” Here’s his review of the first book. We both heartily recommend that you dive into The Wingfeather Saga  with anticipation and an appetite for epic adventure.

"This was a fun story! Adventure, fun, and three kids who can save the world. It’s one of those books that shows a whole other world. Janner is my favorite character because he’s brave."