100 Cupboards is a tremendous and captivating fantasy trilogy by N.D. Wilson.
It’s a difficult balance in children’s fantasy to create another world. On one hand you want the world to be wonderfully different somehow, a place where it would be fun, or dangerous, or both to explore. A place where the rules don’t quite hold the same for between here and there. But to make a new world, it has to be enough like our world to be believable. Oh, there’s the stories that cobble a couple fantastical names together and pretty soon you’re running through the Kazarkian forest trying to escape the rezznocks and rescue Rheedan, following some familiar adventure plotÂ In stories like that, there’s nothing to believe or disbelieve, there’s just the entertainment of listening to the author’s ability to invent. But in the 100 Cupboards, young Henry York is every bit believable. Even pitiable at first. He goes to live on a farm in, incidentally, Henry, Kansas, with his aunt and uncle and three girl cousins. He doesn’t really want to come to Kansas from Boston, but his parents are away on an extended trip, so he’s stuck. Doesn’t know the first thing about farms, or horses, or baseball. He’s given the musty attic room where a small crumble in the plaster just above his bed reveals two knobs, something like dials on a safe. Henry gets curious and pulls more plaster away, revealing a wall of full of small doors – cupboards – that each lead to another place.
Henry’s uncle Frank seems to know more than he lets on about that wall, and Henry’s cousins are a pushy lot.Â When Henry learns how to open some of the doors, he begins to explore the worlds they lead to – and it quickly becomes clear that these doors don’t just work in one direction. The author, Mr. Wilson, takes a bit to find the tone for the characters he’s brought to life but once he does and the forays into the cupboard worlds start to dictate the events and the book really takes off. His descriptions of the organic nature of magic and exhilirating but wearying adventure traveling puts the reading solidly in the worlds with the characters. It continues without pause in the second book, Dandelion Fire and in fact the unanswered questions of the first book bloom into an exploration of the cupboards and who lies beyond them, possibly including their crafter.Â The third book, The Chestnut King, will be at my side for the next day or two while I eagerly finish reading this series.