Book Review: 100 Cupboards

Title: 100 Cupboards  (Book 1)

Author: N. D. Wilson

Publisher’s Synopsis: Twelve-year-old Henry York wakes up one night to find bits of plaster in his hair. Two knobs have broken through the wall above his bed and one of them is slowly turning . . .Henry scrapes the plaster off the wall and discovers cupboards of all different sizes and shapes. Through one he can hear the sound of falling rain. Through another he sees a glowing room–with a man pacing back and forth! Henry soon understands that these are not just cupboards, but portals to other worlds.

100 Cupboards is the first book of a new fantasy adventure, written in the best world-hopping tradition and reinvented in N. D. Wilson’s inimitable style.

You know, fantasy is a new genre for me.  When I was a child, aside from old fairytale versions of Cinderella (called Ashenputtel in the book I owned) and Rumpelstilskin, a brief foray into The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, and short stories in literature books, I never read much fantasy.  It wasn’t my “thing.”  I remember absolutely loving LWW when Mrs. Elkins read it to us in the second grade, her rich Estonian accent making it seem even more magical and wonderful than C.S. Lewis created.

However, a few years ago I found myself reading an entire series of fantasy– and loving them!  After that, I was hooked.  The problem is, of course, that I didn’t know what was good and what was bad fantasy.  I mean, just because it’s fantasy doesn’t make it automatically good any more than something being labeled as “art” being intrinsically beautiful or artistic.  Well, after a bad day, I ordered book eight (of course it WOULD turn out to be the EIGHTH book in a series) of The Squires’ Tales, and I loved it so much that I ordered the rest of the series… several times over!  Slowly, I found different books that piqued my interest, but of all that I’ve read since then, N.D. Wilson’s 100 Cupboards series is without question at or very near the top of that list.  I love them!

Can I just say that I’m completely superficial?  I adored the doors to the “cupboards” on the jacket of this book.  They’re all so very different and unique.  Each door made me more and more curious until I just couldn’t wait to get back to the story.  Then, once again, mid chapter after being irritated by being interrupted again, I’d pick up the book, see another door, and my mind would go wild.  I think my favorite door is the white one with the single knob and a “gable” on it in the dead center of the front.  It’s just so COOL.

This book has everything that great fantasy should have.  Henry York is a sympathetic character.  You immediately love and identify with him.  He’s not perfect, but he’s admirable.  When characters are too perfect, they become annoying.  If they don’t have qualities to emulate, they aren’t worth reading about.  But there’s more to this story than an excellent hero– the other characters are equally well-crafted in their own rights.

In addition to excellent characterization, the book has the age-old good vs. evil.  I kept wanting to try to compare it to other novels, Lewis’, Rowling’s, and Flanagan’s, but while there are minor similarities (after all, there is nothing new under the sun), Mr. Wilson has created something so uniquely his that comparisons aren’t just.  The book stands alone on its own merit.  Yes, you enter another world like you do with Narnia.  The doors take you there much like the Wardrobe did in LWW, but there are so many different places and “portholes” that you truly can’t call it Narniaesque.

There is “magic” in the story.  If Narnia bothers you, these books aren’t for you or your children.  However, if you find Narnia perfectly acceptable but chose to forgo Harry Potter, I’d say this is still a good fit.  The “magic” in this book is of the same feel and purpose as it is in Narnia.

It’s hard.  I want to tell you of so many things that I loved about the story.  I love the misunderstood boy who isn’t stereotypical even though you’d think he should be.  I want to tell you about the uncle selling tumbleweeds on eBay.  That was genius!  Brilliant.  There are so many little things like that, but I just can’t do it.  I’m afraid I’d ruin the story.

Oh, and once you’re done with the first, don’t forget the second… Dandelion Fire… you’ll never see a field of dandelions the same again.

I owe C.S. Lewis, J.K. Rowling, John Flanagan, Gerald Morris, and definitely N.D. Wilson a huge debt of gratitude.  They inspired me to write my own fantasy series, The Annals of Wynnewood.  It’s not of their caliber… I’d never presume to assume it was, but it’s mine and without these and other great fantasy authors, I’d never have even thought of it.  I’m already planning my next series!

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