Book Review: Dandelion Fire by N. D. Wilson

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Book 2 of the 100 Cupboards unleashes another storm of breathtaking energy. In Book 1, a Kansas farm became the doorway to one of the most fascinating new fantasy worlds grown on American soil since Oz, a complex and threatening world that seems to exist to test the courage of a lonely, self-doubting misfit named Henry York. In the sequel, Henry and his Kansas cousins, aunt, uncle, best friend, and even the local sheriff get pulled right into this world during the build-up to a battle that may end it all.

They face terrifying enemies, confront mortal danger, and stumble bewildered from one strange encounter to another while they learn the lay of the land and the ways of its magic. And Henry continues his amazing transformation from the boy who was afraid of everything to the one who smiles when his cousin tells him, “Now you’re scary.” So it’s more than just a heady fantasy filled with clever invention. It is a powerful, spiritually moving story about a young man finding his identity, his powers, his family, and his home – just in time to defend them from that which he fears the most.

It begins when Henry learns that his adoptive parents have been rescued from a South American hostage situation. Now they’re splitting up and wrangling over who gets custody of him. He doesn’t feel much closeness to the Yorks; he would rather stay in Henry, Kansas, with his Uncle Frank, Aunt Dotty, and three girl cousins, play baseball with Zeke Johnson, explore the 100 cupboards in his bedroom and the magical worlds they lead to, and perhaps find the place and people he originally came from. But Henry’s plans take a backseat to the demands of the magic growing within him.

In one moment of awe and glory, Henry is blinded by a shaft of lightning and has the shape of a dandelion burnt into the palm of his hand. This is the beginning of a transformation that could kill him or drive him mad, or that could gift him with a powerful and healing magic. Before Henry’s crisis awakens, an evil wizard named Darius snatches him from his Kansas bedroom, planning to enslave the boy and absorb his power. Darius, in turn, serves the witch Nimiane, who has just been freed from her imprisonment, and who could drain all the life out of the land Henry comes from – a land that may be destroyed before he gets to know it.

Stopping Nimiane and Darius will mean fleeing, hunted, from one end of the world to the other; joining forces with faeries whose governing council has sworn to betray Henry and his missing father; risking his own life and the lives of others to reach a besieged city before it falls beneath a storm of evil magic; and finally being named with his own name so that he can stand against the enemy with full command of the power hidden within him.

I gasped at the emotional impact of Frank Fat-Faerie’s final instructions to Henry, from “You get into the city” to “Write my name on a bit of stone.” Knowing that Nate Wilson also writes for something cryptically described as a “trinitarian journal,” I was also bowled over by his description of the christening ritual, which includes the words “The true Gods shall be the God before him” – a statement that begs for theological analysis that, alas, I cannot give it in this space. I took great pleasure in seeing the shape of Henry’s homeworld come gradually into focus, for him as well as myself, and in recognizing the deep roots of classic story beneath the green and gold profusion of this tale.

It is old and new at the same time. It is a thrilling adventure with a spiritual journey at its heart. It is touched with a gift for vivid and original words, words that richly paint scenes never seen before. And though the ending is as satisfying as anyone could desire, it leaves you wishing for more. So you’ll be encouraged to know that the series isn’t finished yet. A third book, The Chestnut King, is still to come.