100 Cupboards: Great premise, doesn’t pay off

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewschildren's fantasy book reviews N.D. Wilson 1. 100 Cupboards100 Cupboards by N.D. Wilson

Henry’s parents have been kidnapped, so his aunt and uncle and their three daughters have taken him in. Things are different at Uncle Frank and Aunt Dotty’s house. Henry’s overprotective parents made him eat healthy food, ride in a carseat until he was nine, and wear a helmet at recess. But now Henry eats hotdogs, drinks soda, plays baseball, and owns a knife. But things get even more interesting for Henry when he discovers that there are dozens of little doors under the plaster of the walls in his attic bedroom, and that these doors are portals to other worlds!

I love the premise of 100 Cupboards — the idea of a room full of tiny strange-looking doors to other worlds is fun and appealing to children, who are N.D. Wilson’s target audience. My kids (ages 9 and 12), who listened to 100 Cupboards with me, did enjoy the characters and the story. We listened to Listening Library’s version read by the agreeable, but just a little too mature-sounding, Russell Horton.

N.D. Wilson spends most of the book building up Henry’s character, showing us that Henry’s been sheltered and consequently he’s kind of wimpy and fearful, and that Henry realizes this and he’s ready to try to overcome his upbringing. The dialogue is pleasant, and many of the interactions with his new family are sweet and poignant (though Henry’s lack of concern for his parents is disturbing). But all of this character development comes at the expense of the plot, which doesn’t really start moving until the last 20% of the book.

Eventually, toward the end, we finally get to visit a couple of the worlds behind the doors and things get scary and bloody (it may be too frightening for some young readers). This, surprisingly, is when the plot thins. The fantasy worlds behind the doors are, so far, lacking in depth. It is probable (almost certain, really) that these worlds seem slim now because we’ve only spent a few pages there and that they’ll expand into something more impressive in the sequel, Dandelion Fire. There are many hints that 100 Cupboards is a build-up to something much bigger, and there’s lots of potential here. I’m disappointed that there wasn’t much payoff in this installment, but I won’t feel like I wasted my time if the sequel delivers.

100 Cupboards — (2007-2008) Ages 9-12. Publisher: Twelve-year-old Henry York wakes up one night to find bits of plaster in his hair. Two knobs have broken through the wall above his bed and one of them is slowly turning… Henry scrapes the plaster off the wall and discovers cupboards of all different sizes and shapes. Through one he can hear the sound of falling rain. Through another he sees a glowing room — with a man pacing back and forth! Henry soon understands that these are not just cupboards, but portals to other worlds. 100 Cupboards is the first book of a new fantasy adventure, written in the best world-hopping tradition and reinvented in N. D. Wilson’s inimitable style.

children's fantasy book reviews N.D. Wilson 1. 100 Cupboards 2. Dandelion Firechildren's fantasy book reviews N.D. Wilson 1. 100 Cupboards 2. Dandelion Fire 3. The Chestnut Kingchildren's fantasy book reviews N.D. Wilson 1. 100 Cupboards 2. Dandelion Fire 3. The Chestnut King

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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  1. This actually reminds me of the experience both Bill and I had with Marianne Malone’s The Sixty-Eight Rooms — there was this great adventure premise but it hardly got used, only for a few pages really.

  2. Yes, I remember those reviews — exactly the same problem!

  3. Like Kelly, the book’s premise and your review reminded me of the Rooms book

    Kaidan petered out on the second; I’ll be curious what you think

  4. Bill, do you mean that Kaidan read the second Rooms book, or the second Cupboards book? If he petered out on the second Cupboards book, then I probably won’t bother to try it. It also depends on whether it’s free at my library.

  5. Kelly and Bill, I just went back and re-read your reviews of the Malone book. Yes, this Cupboards book was exactly like that. The exploration of the worlds behind the cupboards is so scanty that it doesn’t deliver on the promise. Probably the sequels do, but I was disappointed enough that I’m not sure I want to risk it.

  6. He petered out on the second Cupboards book. I never picked it up as I was swamped at the time and while I don’t always go by my nine-year-old’s viewpoint (he was completely wrong on Nietzsche for instance), in this case I did.

  7. When I first saw the cover for this book I had high expectations, it looked quite intriguing. But I felt the same way, I actually only made it about half way through and stopped reading. A few weeks later I came across it again and the cover really called out to me, so I thought I’d give it another try. My reading moods do change :) but unfortunately, I still did not finish it. Bummed, actually, as I really did have a great feeling about it.

  8. I felt the same way about it, Rachel. I wanted to review it for the website and it wasn’t bad enough to deserve a “DNF” so I finished it, but I might have given up if I hadn’t been planning to review it.

  9. Overall I found this very enjoyable. The writing is excellent, and requires the reader to slow down and listen while the narrator sets the scene. The concept of the cupboards and how they work and why they’re there and much more is gradually revealed, and then things gather momentum and zip along at a great pace.
    However, it becomes increasingly apparent that 100 Cupboards is just the appetiser: the full revelations about the cupboards and the worlds will come in the second book (and they do, to a great extent…and possibly the third, which I haven’t yet read.)

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