Thisby Thestoop and the Black Mountain

It’s fair to say that I read a good number of books children’s books. Having kids of my own, I like to pilfer their shelves from time to time. In our house, we like to stock “the classics” as a sort of quality guarantee. Since children’s books became a genre there have been writers who have tried to cash in on the children’s market as a way to make a quick buck with little effort. Reading “the classics” means that you get the best books from every era without having to wade through the formulaic twaddle, most of which has mercifully been forgotten over the years.
It’s a different story with modern children’s books. Picking up a new children’s book means taking a chance on wasting your time, and the modern children’s book publishing machine loves tried and true formulas. After the success of Harry Potter we got books about schools for magical/mythological/specially talented kids who are sorted into groups based on their personalities. After The Hunger Games took off, we’ve have had m…

The Chestnut King

Darius is dead, but the witch Nimiane still lives and is growing unimaginably powerful very quickly; fingerlings have been seen abroad. What can Mordecai and his family do about it? Will the recently de-faerened Franklin fade away? Will Henry be destroyed by the growing scar on his cheek? Who is the mysterious Chestnut King who leads a group of rogue faeren? Will he help or hinder our heroes?

All these questions and more are answered in the third and final 100 Cupboards adventure, The Chestnut King by N.D. Wilson. If you didn’t understand any of the above questions, it means you need to go right now and read the first two books in the series, 100 Cupboards and Dandelion Fire. To give you a brief overview, when Henry York’s parents are kidnapped in South America, he is sent to live with his Aunt Dotty and Uncle Frank in Henry, Kansas. He meets his cousins Henrietta, Penelope, and Anastasia. Anywho, Henry finds a wall of cupboards behind his bedroom wall in the old farmhouse, and soon learns that each cupboard leads to a different world. Adventures ensue which I won’t spoil for you, the reader, but suffice to say Henry releases the most evil witch ever who wastes no time in regaining followers and power. Henry also learns that his family history is not as simple as he once believed.

I’m sad that The Chestnut King is the last book in the series, as it seems like Wilson just hits his stride here. 100 Cupboards was good, but a bit slow getting going. By the time the plot really kicks in the book is over. Dandelion Fire was much better plotwise, but the story shifted so quickly between so many sets of protagonists that it was hard to understand or care what was going on with each group. The Chestnut King strikes the perfect balance and is one of the most exciting fantasy books I’ve read in a while.

Of course even with their flaws the first two books are absolutely worth reading. N.D. Wilson can make watching the grass grow seem wondrous and exciting. He is an American G.K. Chesterton in that regard. I’ve been enjoying his books ever since he published Right Behind and Supergeddon, parodies of the poorly written apocalyptic fiction Left Behind series. I’ve followed his articles in “Credenda/Agenda” magazine. I loved his first young adult book Leepike Ridge and was also thoroughly taken with the theologically reflective Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl, a book which every Christian really ought to read.

For those who have not encountered Wilson’s writing, let me give you a little sample from The Chestnut King:
In the silent morning air, a young but large trash-eating beetle smelled something on the other side of the street, something damp and heavy. Something he could crawl beneath to find moist happiness. The creature spread its shiny green wing casings and decided to fly. Flying was always faster. He thrummed between Henry and the soldiers. The sword twitched in Henry’s hands, and the beetle parted in two. The beetle halves bounced and rolled on the cobbles and came to a stop. Curious what had gone wrong, the beetle looked around. He twitched his antennae and tried to flap his wings. He felt lighter than he had since he’d been a larva, and suddenly, he wanted to sleep. Sleep would be nice.
If you’re in the mood for a good fantasy, read the 100 Cupboards series. In a world of “Harry Potter” knockoffs*, Wilson’s books stand out as original and imaginative fiction for young and old.** Go right out and read these fantastic books.

5/5 stars

* Of course these stories share tropes with Harry Potter. That’s because Harry Potter utilizes tropes common to all fantasy stories. I remember when J.K. Rowling was being praised for the incredible originality of the idea of Hogwarts, Terry Pratchett quipped, “As soon as the Harry Potter boom began, journalists who hadn't read a children's book in years went ‘Wow, a wizards’ school! Wow, broomstick lessons!’ and so on, and generally acted as though the common property of the genre was the entire invention of JKR.”

** I wouldn’t recommend these books for the too young crowd. There are some pretty dark and disturbing things that happen. The bad guys are really bad.


Rose said…
I loved this whole series myself. Listened to it whilst driving across the American west = epic. His 'Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirlt' is one of my favorite books ever.

Have you started his next series, Ashtown Chronicles? I read the first book because it's the only one out, and I loved it but I'm worried it's going to take familiar turns in the future. Anywho.
Rick said…
I haven't read his new book yet. I was still trying to catch up on Cupboards. I've got it on my library list though, so hopefully I'll get to read it soon.