(This review first appeared on StaticMultimedia.com on April 1, 2009)
In Dandelion Fire, N. D. Wilson hits another one out of the ballpark from his fictional town of Henry, Kansas. Henry York, the boy from Boston who found magical doorways to other worlds, is back in this sequel to 100 Cupboards and this time around he might find the answers about where he’s really from.
When Henry was shipped off to spend the summer on his Uncle Frank and aunt Dotty’s farm, he might have anticipated exploring barns, making new friends, and learning to play baseball. He surely never imagined finding small cupboards in his attic bedroom that turned out to be portals to strange lands both wondrous and dangerous. His grandfather’s journals and the key to his grandfather’s old room gained him passage to the halls of FitzFaeran and Badon Hill, but also to Endor where the demonic Nimiane reigns, an evil witch who nearly killed Henry.
As Book 2 of 100 Cupboards begins, Henry has just two weeks left before he has to return to Boston. In that short time he must explore the cupboards again to unravel the mystery of his birth. He has learned that he was born in one of those lands where he has brothers and sisters he’s never met. To get through the portals he needs the key, but unfortunately his cousin Henrietta has hidden it. Convincing her to help him is the least of his troubles. Along with Henry’s discoveries, magic and evil has spilled into Kansas. Nimiane of Endor’s power has grown and she is not alone in her quest to hunt him down.
Henrietta has just as many eye-opening adventures on the other side of the cupboard as her cousin Henry, making Dandelion Fire a double coming-of-age story. They are not the only ones swept along by events. Henry’s aunt and uncle, his other two cousins Penelope and Anastasia, his best friend Zeke, cupboard refugee Richard, and even the town’s chief of police take part in the ultimate battle between good and evil—and those are just the participants who hail from Kansas.
Through the portals wizards, fairies, and other fantastic folk abound, notably Fat-faerie Frank who seems delightfully akin to a very crabby hobbit. Another touch of Tolkien can be found in Caleb and the other Hylfing warriors, reminiscent of the Dunedain or the riders of Rohan. Wilson’s most whimsical creation, the raggant, continues to play it role as the “otherworldy bloodhound” keeping tabs on Henry. This small creature “shaped like a small basset hound but wearing wings and rhino’s face and skin” alone makes this fantasy world memorable, but all the characters, whether they have four or two legs, stick in the reader’s mind.
Wilson’s books may never outsell the Harry Potter series, but they are just as enjoyable to read and his skill as a storyteller is on par with Rowling’s. Suspense builds steadily toward the last third of the book when all the pieces fall into place for a thrilling rollercoaster of a finish. Make space for 100 Cupboards and Dandelion Fire on that special shelf for fantasy books that satisfy both children and adults, then make a wish that Book 3 of the series will be just as entertaining.