monthly fandom

100 Cupboards

Here’s a series that everyone who loves fantasy should be reading. The 100 Cupboards trilogy, by N.D. Wilson, is my favourite work by one of my favourite living authors. It’s got magic. It’s got epic battles between good and evil. It’s got cute magical creatures that look like mini rhinos. It’s got a terrifying villainess and a powerful young hero who could easily give ol’ Harry a run for his money. It’s beautifully written and has a cast full of unforgettable characters.

And yet, its fandom is like a tiny grain of sand on the infinite shore of geek. I’m hoping for a (good!) movie to boost these books’ popularity, but so far there have only been rumours and vague promises, and I’m still very lonely in my affection for the trilogy.

The 100 Cupboards trilogy begins with a book by the same name. In that book, 12-year-old Henry York goes to spend a summer with his relatives in the town of Henry, Kansas. (Wilson likes the name Henry. And, like many other fantasy writers, he also likes Kansas.) Henry’s there because his parents were kidnapped during a bike tour through South America, and his aunt, uncle, and cousins–the Willises–are the only people who can take him in. Henry is pretty okay with this, because he barely knows his parents and his home life has always been deadly dull. That dullness is cured when he discovers 99 cupboards hidden behind the wall of the guest bedroom where he sleeps. And these are not ordinary storage cupboards. They all lead to different places and times, some pleasant and some…not so much. And once open, they tend to let things through from the other side. Add to this the ancient bedroom that’s been locked for years, the secrets Henry’s uncle Frank is keeping, and the strange dreams Henry begins having about the cupboards…and the Willises’ house is not exactly a quiet vacation spot.

The series continues with Dandelion Fire and The Chestnut King, in which Henry and his cousin Henrietta (yeah, again, lots of Henries) explore the cupboards and deal with the faeries, wizards, witches, and family secrets they find on the other side.

The guide to the cupboards.

 

Why do I love this series so much? Well, first of all, the universe in which it takes place is fascinating. We don’t get to see the other side of every cupboard–more’s the pity, since at least one of them appears to lead to Middle Earth–but the worlds we do get to see are as imaginative and varied as a fantasy buff could wish. There’s the Steampunk Capitol of the Universe, aka Byzanthamum; a world ruled by the kind of faeries the Irish were afraid to tangle with; a perpetual sea battle; and an ancient tomb full of insane, life-force-sucking, immortal hags.

Annoying lawn pests? Think again…

 

I also enjoy the way magic works in these books. It’s not all about wands and spells; those who can wield magic (mostly seventh sons and faeries) get their power from the natural world–“green men,” in particular, are each connected to a specific plant from which they derive their magical abilities. And they don’t have to be “cool” plants, either; the most important green man in the books is connected to the humble dandelion. That’s the kind of series this is: lots of faeries and witches, but lots of bumblebees and baseball, too. It mixes the mundane with the magical in a way not many fantasy books do, though more of them should.

But what really makes these books special is the cast of characters. There are a ridiculous number of unforgettable, quirky people in these pages. Henry has a wonderful, believable hero’s journey, and he’s refreshingly angst-free for a teenage fantasy protagonist, especially considering the amount of trauma he goes through in just three books. Frank Willis is, by far, the coolest uncle you could ever wish for. I love Henrietta’s fearlessness, even though it gets her into a lot of trouble in the first two books. Eli FitzFaeren is short, grumpy, and wonderfully complicated. Richard provides the most adorable and pathetic of comic relief moments. And I love the faeren. All of them. They make typewriters and stolen dressing gowns cool.

 

I should also mention that Nimiane, the main villain in 100 Cupboards, is easily one of the creepiest fantasy villains I’ve ever encountered. Maybe it’s the possessed cats…or the lack of eyes…or the way she sneaks into other people’s dreams…or the way she “feeds” by turning living things into ash…something about this lady is just a wee bit off. Gotta love a truly scary witch.

 

 

Picture this, in semi-human form.

 

Also…I want a raggant. Like, you have no idea how much I want my own raggant.

Just look at him…he’s soooo cuuuttee!!

 

So please, go read these books, and release me from the burden of being a one-person fandom!

Namarie,
Aldy

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monthly fandom

New Book!

If you follow my blog for very long at all, you’ll soon learn that N.D. Wilson is one of my favourite living authors (there’s really only one other, and she also goes by her first initials). Of course, you’ve never heard of him, because none of his books have been turned into movies, and therefore his fandom pretty much consists of…me. And maybe a few smart preteens and adults of the sort who like to discuss the writings of G.K. Chesterton in pubs. N.D. Wilson is a wonderfully creative writer who deals in adventurous young adult novels and equally adventurous nonfiction for adults. And today he just released Empire of Bones, book 3 in the fantastical Ashtown Burials series.

empire of bones

Hooray! I can’t wait to go out and buy it!!

The Ashtown Burials series isn’t technically steampunk. It takes place very definitely in the present, and doesn’t involve a whole lot of clockwork. But the story does contain all kinds of anachronistic technology and situations. The plot revolves around Cyrus and Antigone Smith, siblings who are recruited into a secret society, the Order of Brendan, whose main job is to protect the world from the mischief of “transmortals” – powerful humans who have made themselves immortal. These beings include real-life historical figures like Robespierre and Rasputin, and also mythological characters like Arachne and Dracula.

Since so many of the main characters come from the past (whether it’s the 18th century or prehistoric times), Cyrus and Antigone get into a lot of interesting situations. They fight with swords and guns, fly around in helicopters and ride nauseating underground trolleys, face mutant zoo animals and telepathic sorcerers, and wear World War II air force jackets with their jeans and backpacks. The main villain of the series, Dr. Phoenix, uses a very Victorian concept of “science” and genetics, combined with some magic and relics from Greek mythology, to do his evil deeds. In the first book, The Dragon’s Tooth, Cyrus receives a dangerous gift from a man named Billy Bones (who literally has his skeleton tattooed on his skin), and is later betrayed by a cook named Sterling who has two wooden legs. In the second book, The Drowned Vault, the Smiths meet their ancestor John Smith, of Jamestown fame, and his reactions to modern technology result in a lot of laughs. It’s past-meets-present, history-meets-fantasy–almost like steampunk on steroids.

Anyway, it’s an incredibly fun series so far. Think Percy Jackson and the Olympians meets Treasure Planet, only way better. We should have more steampunk books like these. I can’t wait to read the next one! Namarie!

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Uncategorized

And now, a word from my hero

Well, one of them.

“…I write for children because I have read more than my fair share of adult ideas set out and explained by adult thinkers and theologians, philosophers and pundits, and I may as well admit that I have been more influenced (as a person) by my childhood readings of Tolkien and Lewis…than by any idea books that I read in college and grad school. The events and characters in Narnia and Middle Earth shaped my ideals, my dreams, my loyalties, and my goals. Kant just annoyed me.”

-N.D. Wilson, “Death By Living”

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