The Jewels of Anniera are preparing for war. All the long winter they have been rallying the people of the Green Hollows to go up against Gnag the Nameless, to end his destruction by destroying him.
The Skreeans are preparing for war. All winter Gammon has been leading them in the work, making ready to attack.
And then Gnag beats them to it.
The Warden and the Wolf King is the fourth and final book of the Wingfeather Saga, written by Andrew Peterson. This book, more than any of the others, belongs to the Wingfeather children, Janner and Kalmar and Leeli. Artham and Podo had their most pivotal moments in the first and second books, Nia had hers in the third. Here, in the fourth book, the adults retreat and the children take over.
This novel is the most intense of the series, in action and in darkness. What strikes me about the sadness of this book is that it leaps at you from unexpected places: characters left lost even after a great triumph, the boys and the cloven in the Blackwood. (You who have read the book, you know what I’m talking about. “Anniera. My home.” Really, I think I teared up.)
A lot of characters – not heard and hardly thought of since the second or even first book – come back. We even make it back to Glipwood, with reflection on how it all began. It was gratifying to revisit so many earlier elements of the story. The major storylines are brought to complete and satisfying conclusions, and such elements as the cloven and Gnag himself are thoroughly explored.
The one storyline left unresolved is Artham’s. The Warden and the Wolf King underscores his brokenness; his nightmare of ghouls in a dark chamber is the worst moment of his madness in the entire saga. And there’s no resolution. The story ends on a hopeful note for Artham, but he never truly finds healing or a lasting peace.
At first blush, it’s a little curious that Peterson finishes the stories of characters we thought we’d never see again and leaves Artham without resolution. But it makes sense. Artham’s story cannot be quickly or easily finished. That ship sailed when Artham snapped at the beginning of Monster in the Hollows. Andrew Peterson established then that even Artham’s glorious transformation wasn’t enough for healing, and now he needs to come up with something even better. Which won’t be easy, because that transformation scene was tremendous. (Authors do these things to themselves.)
Now I’m going to turn on the SPOILER ALERT for a few criticisms. I think the decision to bring back Bonifer Squoon was a mistake. It didn’t add much to the book, and it placed an unfortunate asterisk on the ending of Monster in the Hollows.
Additionally, Artham’s decision to retire to his treehouse when he knew there was a fleet of Fangs heading in the direction of his niece and nephews struck me as inconsistent with his character. I know he was, as he said, lost. But any more lost than when he first stumbled from the Blackwood and resolved to protect his brother’s children?
Finally, the book had continuity errors. Characters knew things they had not known in the last book and had no apparent opportunity to learn. If you read the conversation between Janner and Artham in the first chapters of Monster in the Hollows – the last conversation they have in the entire series – it’s clear Janner has no idea why Artham is so disturbed by the Blackwood. But in The Warden and the Wolf King, he knows his uncle’s history with the forest. The whole character of Arundelle is a kind of continuity error. (Anybody remember Alma Rainwater?)
All right, SPOILER ALERT OFF.
I regard the flaws of this novel as ultimately minor, especially in a 519-page conclusion of an epic. The Warden and the Wolf King is a fascinating book; I would even call it a great book. It is spiritually strong – very aware of the Maker, searching after His presence and His goodness. A phrase appears multiple times in the story – the Maker’s good pleasure. There’s both comfort and courage in it.
The Wingfeather Saga is one of the best series I have ever read, and The Warden and the Wolf King is an excellent denouement – heartfelt, imaginative, full of meaning, with hope and sorrow and glory.