Book Review: The Chestnut King

Stephanie at Read in a Single Sitting turned me on to N.D. Wilson’s 100 Cupboards trilogy, and I finally finished the last book, The Chestnut King. This trilogy is quirky, emotional, scary, and exhilarating. Henry York, is a kid with a lot of spunk who grows up into a clever young man with a lot of integrity. His journey from 100 Cupboards, to Dandelion Fire, and ending in The Chestnut King has been a grand adventure, for him and for me.

In 100 Cupboards Henry discovers the wall in his attic/bedroom has been hiding secrets, 99 cupboards to magical lands secrets, to be exact. Then Henry discovers that he is originally from one of those magical lands and is being hunted by an evil queen, who imprisoned his biological father. So in Dandelion Fire Henry decides to run away from his adoptive parents into the cupboards. His cousin Henrietta follows him on his adventures both times. Meanwhile, Henrietta’s father, Uncle Frank, follows both them because he too is from the cupboards. The story lines converge and a battle is fought and won, but the war has just begun.

Niamine, the evil queen, is back in The Chestnut King, and it is up to Henry to find a way to save his Uncle Frank from capture and his Father from being harmed. Even though Henry has had many adventures, the grown-ups try to coddle him, so he strikes out on his own. Of course Henrietta follows. In 100 Cupboards Henry was splattered with the blood of the evil queen and now she has a link to him, physiologically and psychically. This complicates things for Henry. He decides his only course of action is to get the help of the faeries.

I really enjoyed reading this series, though I felt there was a disconnect from book one to book three. The story starts out with a boy exploring a series of magical cupboards and ends with a young man battling evil forces. I liked each of the books, but the trilogy is a little disjointed from itself. The Chestnut King is by far my favorite of the three. I love wild adventures, battles, and clever children. The Chestnut King has all three and more. The series is unexpectedly clever, witty, and engaging. Just be forewarned when starting 100 Cupboards, things do not go as expected. I said it before, and I will say it again. I thought I was going to get Indian in the Cupboard or The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and instead I got a Harry Potter book by C.S. Lewis. Not a bad thing, just unexpected.

I had some trouble with the rather overly put together ending of the book and the series. There is a saying we learned in law school, “Stop before asking the last question” or “Never ask the last question, just walk away.” I wish the book had ended before N.D. Wilson asked his last question, made his last statement. Not everything needs to end so neat and tidy. Especially not a magical book with cupboards, evil queens, and dandelion fire. But all in it, it is a delightful narrative, with an imaginative tale and excellent writing.


Book Review: Dandelion Fire

Dandelion Fire is the second book in N.D. Wilson’s series. Read my review of the first book, 100 Cupboards here. Some small spoilers about 100 Cupboards ahead. Basically it is impossible to talk about Dandelion Fire without a bit of background from 100 Cupboards. This is not a series to read out of order. In 100 Cupboards we learn that Henry is a very special boy who lived with his parents until one day they were kidnapped and he was sent to live with his Uncle Frank, Aunt Dolly, and three cousins in Kansas. During his stay in Kansas, Henry discovered 99 cupboards hidden behind the plaster in the wall behind his bed. With the help of his cousin Henrietta, Henry found one more cupboard in a secret room behind a secret door that could only open with a magical key. Using dials located upstairs in the attic, Henry and Henrietta explored the 100 magical cupboards with the help of their grandfather’s diary. As a result of their adventures, a boy named Richard followed them back into the real world as well as an evil Queen that Henrietta and Richard managed to shove back through the cupboards into another world after Henry had fought her. Henry was hurt, but he was alive.
In the second book, Dandelion Fire, Henry is starting to heal from his adventures with the 100 cupboards and dealings with the Evil Queen. His parents have been found and in two weeks he must return to live with them and leave Kansas. Henry has no desire to live with his adoptive parents. Henry was adopted because he is actually from one of the magical worlds behind one of the cupboard doors. He doesn’t know which cupboard and he doesn’t know why his biological parents sent him through the cupboards to Kansas. After the fight with the Evil Queen, Henry’s cousin Henrietta buried the magical key that opened up the secret door to a secret room that led to the magical cupboards. Henry figures his only way to not go with his adoptive parents is to explore the cupboards again, and so he and Henrietta dig up the key. Then some magic happens right there in Henry, Kansas and it is the start of an all new adventure for Henry and Henrietta.
The second book in this series was extremely interesting. Once again the book dealt with some dark and scary moments, even though it is a book for kids. I’ve been telling the story to my 6 year old niece and I’ve prettied up the story a bit for her. Though the book is marketed toward younger readers, I think it would depend upon the maturity of a kid as to whether this is a good series for them to read. However, I loved the mysteries presented in this book, the different connections that crept together, and was thoroughly surprised by the direction the book took. It is a though provoking book, the children do learn lessons, and they grow as people. A trick that not every author does as aptly as N.D. Wilson.There were some points in the book that felt like filler, but mostly everything that happened had a purpose which was revealed by the end of the book.  I thought this was a great fantastical series with some overtones of Judeo/Christian beliefs that were not so heavy handed as to take away from the over all story of the book. I read through the book quickly and found it a fun read. The direction of the story definitely did not go as I thought the series would go, which was a pleasant surprise, but also a bit off kilter from what the first book presented. I guess I thought I was going to get Indian in the Cupboard or The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and instead I got a Harry Potter book by C.S. Lewis. Dandelion Fireis a good book, an interesting series, and I am definitely going to read the third book.

Read another review here and here.