Friday, May 25, 2012

Book Review #9: Neversink

With all my writing and blogging over the few months, I haven't had much time for reading.  But boy do I have a treat for you today!   At my Highlights workshop earlier this month, I was given a lovely book called Neversink by Barry Wolverton.  It's a truly unique animal fantasy story, and I was already hooked by the time I read the subtitle: A Puffin Saga.

Here's the blurb from Wolverton's website:
Along the Arctic Circle lies a small island called Neversink, which wouldn’t be considered much worth saving by many talking animals. But for Lockley Puffin and his fellow sea-birds, the remote and rugged habitat is just perfect.

They have few concerns other than Egbert, a scholarly walrus with an opinion on everything, and Ruby, a vagrant hummingbird prone to withering put-downs.

All that changes when Rozbell, a pygmy owl with a Napoleon complex, takes control of the Parliament of Owls, the governing body of the territory that includes Neversink. Can Lockley, Egbert and Ruby stop an owl invasion?

In short, Neversink reminded me of the story of the American Revolution delightfully played out by puffins and owls.  The poor puffins and other auks (sea-faring birds) just want their fish and freedom, throwing a "Fish Party" by tossing food into the ocean and fighting taxation without representation.  It was a very interesting read and full of humor and wit, with a few clever jokes thrown in that adults will particularly appreciate.  What I found most impressive about Neversink, though, are the animal cultures Woverton creates and his narrative voice.

In Neversink, there are several distinct animal cultures the reader discovers: puffin/auk culture, owl culture, walrus culture, and even a bit of badger and weasel culture.  Each animal culture has their own beliefs, mottos, and standards that members of society should live up to.  When individuals don't adhere to the rules and standards, they are viewed as wave-makers and oddities.  The owls have a tendency to overreach their power; the walruses waver between two extremes of fighting constantly or basking in their superiority over less-learned creatures, and the auks prefer to stay in line and simply grin and bear whatever comes their way.  (Which makes it rather hard for Lockley Puffin to convince them they need to fight for their freedom!)  Without being heavy-handed at all, Wolverton shows that it's harmful to stay in such cultural ruts and that reason and goodwill are the keys to a happy life.  (You should pay attention to how he sneaks these morals into the story--that's not an easy trick to pull off!)  Plus, the puffins make tea and fish smidgens and the owls wear hats, and how can you NOT love animals with cultures like that?    

Neversink is narrated by a walrus and, as you might have guessed from the information above, he is a rather academic and prolific walrus.  He is also incredibly funny, throwing friendly jabs at the other creatures and giving the reader humorous insights into the walrus way of thinking.  Neversink's narrator can definitely be classified as an "Intrusive Narrator," meaning he talks directly to the reader.  Sometimes this narrative choice can stick out in a book like a puffin in a flock of parrots, but it works wonderfully in Neversink.  Wolverton shows that when used correctly, an intrusive narrator can make the reader feel a deeper connection with the story.  In retrospect, it's actually hard to imagine this book without the walrus commentary--it's entwined that well with the story.  This is an impressive feat to pull off, and if you are thinking of adding an intrusive narrator to your own story, you should certainly study how Wolverton works his magic.

If you love animal fantasy stories, Neversink is a must-read.  And if you write animal fantasy, it's a must-read, too.  Wolverton's skills in crafting animal cultures and prowess with narration add such a richness to his story, and both are important aspects for you to think about when creating your own animal fantasy world.  (And just look at that adorable puffin on the cover!  He won my heart before I turned the first page...)

You can check out Wolverton's website at:  And if you read this book, do let me know!  I'd love to hear what you think.  :)

Note: The cover art and blurb for Neversink are both from Wolverton's website.


  1. Hi K.S.,

    I apologize if I seem like a stalker of my own book, but I stumbled on this (which I was delighted to read, of course), and wondered -- what is the Highlights workshop? Is it affiliated with the magazine? And who was this kind person who gave you the book?


    Barry Wolverton

    1. Hello Mr. Wolverton,

      What an unexpected treat to have you stumble upon my blog! The Highlights workshops are affiliated with the magazine and organized by the Highlights Foundation. Specifically, I attended the Fantasy Reunion Workshop just a few weeks ago, which was led by authors Anne Ursu (the very same who wrote such a nice blurb on the back of your book) and Laura Ruby. Your editor, Jordan Brown, was a special guest and gave me your delightful book since I also write animal fantasy.

      I hope you enjoyed my little review of Neversink. It really is a wonderful book--and quite funny, too! I hope to see more stories about Lockley Puffin in the future!

      Thanks so much for stopping by!

      -Kathryn Powers

  2. I am so envious you got to meet Anne and Jordan! I will finally get to meet Jordan at the SCBWI conference in LA in August. Would love to meet Anne some day.

    1. I'm sure you'll meet Anne at some conference or other down the line. (She is a wonderful person!) Have fun at LA! I was lucky enough to go to that conference a few years ago, and SCBWI puts on a fantastic event! :)