As any avid reader will tell you, one of the great things about discovering a series late is the ability to jump from one book immediately to the next book in the series. If you are reading them when they are first released you instead have to impatiently wait for the next book to be published.
So it was with great joy that I jumped from N.D. Wilson‘s 100 Cupboards (the first book in the series of the same name) to Dandelion Fire. The second book picks up where the first one left off. Here is the publishers blurb:
Henry York never dreamed his time in Kansas would open a door to adventure—much less a hundred doors. But a visit to his aunt and uncle’s farm took an amazing turn when cupboard doors, hidden behind Henry’s bedroom wall, revealed themselves to be portals to other worlds. Now, with his time at the farm drawing to a close, Henry makes a bold decision—he must go through the cupboards to find the truth about where he’s from and who his parents are. Following that trail will take him from one world to another, and ultimately into direct conflict with the evil of Endor.
The thing to note about this second book is that it grows in seriousness if you will – there is a maturity and thus more violence and suffering – and also a complex plot narrated from a variety of viewpoints.
This all combines to make it disappointing for some who enjoyed the shorter more quirky first book. While the first book took some time to get to the magical aspect, the plot was relatively straightforward. In this second book, the plot threads grow and can be hard to follow at times.
My opinion is that series rewards readers who both are up to the challenge and who can just “let go and enjoy the ride.”
Read in a Single Setting captures this well in her review and sums up my feelings almost exactly:
Dandelion Fire marks ND Wilson’s second foray into the complex, fantastical world first introduced to us through his excellent middle years novel 100 Cupboards (see our review). Like its predecessor, it’s full of rich, voluptuous language, and takes an almost languid approach to narrative, giving it the same sense of the organic, the natural, in terms of plotting. Indeed, I’m pleased to be able to note that this middle book of the trilogy stands well on its own two legs, rather than acting as a bridge between an introductory first novel and the inevitable denouement that is the third–although I would recommend reading its predecessor before attempting this book. While Dandelion Fire is considerably longer than the aforementioned 100 Cupboards, it does not feel bloated: rather, Wilson rather admirably uses the additional space not only to subject his poor characters to rather a lot of intrigue and violence, but also to make salient certain contrasts and themes–although to its credit rarely in a didactic manner.
It’s probably clear from the above that Dandelion Fire does not quite have the quirky kookiness that characterizes Cupboards, but it’s not without its moments of levity. Wilson’s at once rich and laconic prose is a pleasure to read, and it’s full of winking allusions and asides that add both depth and breadth to the novel without resulting in turgidity. In terms of the narrative, there are moments of familiarity that readers of classic children’s fantasy works may find somewhat derivative, and it’s true that occasionally the plot does become a little lost in itself, particularly when Wilson is working to weave together multiple simultaneous viewpoints, but it’s just so difficult not to fall for the worlds that Wilson has created: I’m entirely enamoured of that little attic room bristling with its cupboards.
As we say in church, Amen!
This series is something that I just enjoy being a part of – immersing myself into the world and characters the author is building and enjoying the adventure. Their are flaws and discordant moments – rarely is everything just as you would have it – but their is something fundamentally enjoyable about the creation so that you don’t begrudge the faults.
Eva Mitnick, for school library journal, has a similar take:
The plot is complicated, and readers not familiar with the first book will be hopelessly confused. The shifting locations and the many characters and factions are bewildering, but most of the characters have such deliciously flawed and fascinating personalities that fans of that book will go with the flow, waiting to see what the next bend of plot might bring. A quiet and quirky humor warms up the proceedings as well, leavening even the most intense scenes. The ending is satisfying enough to serve as a series closer, but luckily for fans of this challenging but rewarding trilogy, there is still one more installment to come.
So my advice? Challenging, yes but rewarding too. Dive in and enjoy it.