After reading N.D. Wilson's first book, Leepike Ridge, my oldest son and I sped through his three novels in the 100 Cupboards Trilogy: The 100 Cupboards, Dandelion Fire, and The Chestnut King. I started reading first, but by the third book, my son passed me and eagerly waited for me to finish so we could talk about the ending. Each book grew longer (320, 480, 512 pages), but neither of us wanted to put them down. When he finished reading at night, I asked him to leave it on the floor by his bed so I could snag it. They were just that good.
After his parents are kidnapped, Henry York, age 12, ends up in a town called Henry, Kansas, living with his Uncle Frank and Aunt Dotty and their three children, Penelope, Anastasia, and Henrietta, whom they also called Henry until Henry moved in with them. One night, he finds plaster in his hair and using the knife Uncle Frank had bought for him, picks all the plaster off the wall to find 100 cupboards of all shapes and sizes, and thus begins his adventures.
So Henry, a young, unlikely hero, who throws up when scared and whose parents made him wear a helmet to P.E. class, never told him he was adopted, and continually left him with nannies and in boarding school, finds 100 new worlds and a surprising heritage, learns to be brave, discovers baseball, family, and friendship, and, by the end, is given an impossible, Frodo-like, task. It's a classic tale of good vs. evil, with well-developed, unique, irresistible characters and some pretty rotten, evil ones, too. The plot keeps you guessing, and the writing is pleasantly refreshing, unique, and unexpected. You'll find yourself holding your breath, cheering for Henry and his family, and hoping he doesn't lose everything he has just gained. There are funny parts, intense battle scenes and fights, and loving and tender moments. Unlike some book series which end badly as if the author didn't know how to wrap it up, this book ties up beautifully at the end, leaving you satisfied.
My favorite part, though, is that the boys are young, but they are loyal, keep their word, face fear, and grow as young men. Henrietta starts out as an impulsive, sneaky girl, stubborn, and obsessively curious and turns into a brave, still-stubborn, yet strong young woman by the end.
As a fantasy series, this is one of my favorites; it may not be The Lord of the Rings or The Chronicles of Narnia, but it is very close. Wilson's first novel, Leepike Ridge is good, but his 100 Cupboards Trilogy is incredible. His next series, Ashtown Burials, is out, and we can't wait to read the first book!
N.D. Wilson wrote an article for DesiringGod.com called "Stories Are Soul Food: Don't Let Your Children Hunger" on why our children need good strong stories of good and evil, and even magic. I wrote earlier about Wilson's father, Doug Wilson, author of Future Men, here. (It was quite by accident and a cool coincidence that I found out that N.D. Wilson and Doug Wilson were thus related!) For a three-chapter-sample of 100 Cupboards, click here.
Finally, I leave you with two quotes from the last book, The Chestnut King; quotes which reveal why both my son and I loved this series.
"Frank opened his mouth. He wanted to make her promises, to tell her lies, but he couldn't. Instead, he leaned his face over into her wet, straggling hair.
"'Dots,' he whispered. 'You're my life, and I've loved it.' He drew in her smell, and she leaned her head against his lips. 'Every kiss, every dirty look, every night we slept between clean, starchy sheets, and every night we didn't. Every nag and needle and nudge.'
"He sat up. 'Your peaches,' he said. 'And your applesauce. How many pies do you think I've eaten in my life?' He looked down at her. 'Not enough.' He smiled. 'If we get out of this, there needs to be more pie. That's all the complaining I've got.'" -- Frank to Dotty when it seems they will both die soon, The Chestnut King
"Let evil hear the pounding of our feet! Let evil hear our drumming and our chanting songs of war. Let evil fear us! Let evil flee! In any world, may dark things know our names and fear. May their vile skins creep and shiver at every mention of the faeren. Let the night flee before the dawn and the darkness crowd into the shadows. We march to war!" -- King Nudd, The Chestnut King
Note for parents: I recommend this series for children ages 10 and up, maybe older, depending on the sensitivity of your child. My son is 12. The books contain fighting and other violence, bloodshed, death, some very dark moments, and magic. The 2nd book uses the profanity d**n.