I was that child who was forever looking for a secret passage and ever being disappointed. I still want a huge, but hidden slide that starts in my closet and ends on the ground floor, designed to be super-fast so my children never know when I might show up or from where. Yes, that is a vital component in my dream house (unless I get to live in a library, then I would make the slide from ceiling to floor with exits on each floor for the patrons–still a vital component).
With this in mind, were I to find myself in the situation that young Henry and Henrietta do in 100 Cupboards by N.D. Wilson, I would have died from hyperventilation, or at least given myself a severe concussion from when I fainted to the floor from standing on my bed. You see, behind the plaster of Henry’s wall in his aunt and uncle’s house is a wall of 100 cupboards leading to different worlds. This way trumps my hidden slide (but I still want it).
The concept is really fun, but I’ll admit, reading 100 Cupboards was an odd experience. I couldn’t ever really tell if I enjoyed the book or not. Sure, fascinating, but enjoyable? Not so sure.
I chose this book to read for the blog as part of the YA/C literature component I wanted to mix back into my reading, lest I get into a rut with non-fiction (more about the whys in Monday’s “Journey” post). I chose it based on nothing but Amazon.com reviews and plot summaries. Not an easy way to determine whether the book is challenging, but I had a good idea that the world creation was pretty unique, and that was enough for me. I always find created worlds challenging to absorb; it’s a wonder I got into fantasy at all.
I don’t know how many of you have seen the movie Treasure Planet (and if you haven’t, what ARE you waiting for?!), but 100 Cupboards has a similar concept to Jim’s treasure map. For those of you uninitiated, I’ll explain:
Jim’s super-awesome, high-tech map gizmo thingy (technical term right there) projects an interactive, room-sized hologram of the solar system when NOT connected to the planet itself. When connected to Treasure Planet (which is an amazing self-sustaining machine), it projects a much smaller version of the interactive star/planet map and a ginormous door. Each planet, if touched, can activate a door to said planet’s airspace. It’s pretty freaking awesome.
Now, take the same concept and apply it to a wall of cupboards. The wall is the planet, acting as both power source and main gateway hub. Cupboard Prime (as I like to call it, as it is the only cupboard unnumbered) is the interactive map controlling the door, with two dials creating combinations to unlock the doorways. The door is in another room. Unsurprisingly, it is also a cupboard. The reason the cupboard wall is so much cooler than an interactive holographic star map is that the wall offers previews to each world through the cupboards. That is, if you can get them open. Most are locked. Those that aren’t probably should be (creepy voyeuristic letter-sending cretins).
Part of me could spend all day thinking about the physics off this. But, of course, it’s all very undetermined as of the end of the book. I cannot tell if these cupboard portals are supposed to be portals to different worlds, parallel worlds, worlds hidden in ours, or a mixture of all three. I think the last case would be sloppy, if a little more interesting than the first option. Once I feel more confident in the worlds, I’ll contemplate the physics. Because I like doing that sort of thing.
One of the things I liked best was, despite all those worlds to discover, the sheer amount of time spent in this world. I love fantasy adventures that require the characters and the reader to keep one foot in this world. The crazy uncle (and cousins, to some extent) put me strongly in mind of a crazy character named Joe from The Jimmy Fincher Saga by James Dashner. Since Joe was my favorite character, that made me glad. There’s just something charming about a man who sells tumbleweeds on Ebay. Henry, the main character, spends quite a bit of time learning simple things like baseball, the taste of soda (as well as the after-effects of caffeine), and what it is to be in a family.
This is because Henry’s parents seem to know nothing but “the real world” and expect the same of their child. Cupboards feels less like a fantasy adventure novel and more like a plain ol’ adventure novel. With the sheltered and, frankly, soul-killing boring existence he lived in before, this kid was liable to find any trouble possible.
There was a journal that guided and gave directions on the operating of the cupboards that had labels and illustrations. Thankfully, said illustration was included as the cover piece. As I have said before, I LOVE maps and appendices and all those wonderful things that make up the visual of the book. I just wish this one was a little more accurate. The map in the book is dated 1691 (this is not at all accurate with the timeline of the novel) and is clearly a pencil drawing. Before you get in a huff, I know graphite and pencils have been around in art for a long time–this is not that kind of graphite drawing, the lines are waaaaaaayyy too neat. If the drawing had simply been inked, I would not have a word against it … other than the weird date.
I did like the cousins. Henry’s cousins are all females, all complete conundrums, and only one is clearly frivolous (and that has more to do with age than innate light-mindedness). I like sibling relationships and seeing Henry fall into one is nice, since even surrounded by company he still acts like a lonely boy. Henrietta is especially wonderful, but then again, she is the one we see the most of. I have to believe that Penelope and Anastasia would be similarly good if given some book-time.
Unfortunately, there were some parts that just felt contrived. There’s nothing to be done for it, they just did. I appreciate how hard it must be to create so many distinct worlds in such a short time, but there is something to be said for setting up far-fetched situations believeably. Certainly, I was disappointed that finding the wall of cupboards had less to do with natural curiosity at an uneven wall or a loose patch of plaster and more to do with the fact that the knobs of Cupboard Prime POPPED out of the plaster while Henry slept. What kind of schlep is that? It’s lazy schlep, that’s what. (I know I complain about lazy authors and editors here plenty. I might mention now that I am also guilty of this at times and it’s something I castigate myself for frequently. I hate lazy writing from any quarter.)
I think I’d rather read further into the series before I make a recommendation or judgement. I did read this book in the course of one night. Part of not knowing whether I liked it or not very well could be how fast I gobbled this book down added with the amount of times I fell asleep (from exhaustion, no comment on the book’s quality there) in the middle of it that night. I will say that it’s worth looking at to see if it’s something you’d like.
Reasons this is challenging for me:
- Dealing with world creation that felt against the norm. Normal’s hard enough for me.
- The amount of real-world crossover, which makes it simultaneously harder to follow, but also better.