Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Chestnut King (N. D. Wilson)

The Chestnut King
(The 100 Cupboards trilogy, Book 3)
N. D. Wilson
Fiction, YA Fantasy
**+ (Bad/Okay)

DESCRIPTION: Henry York Maccabee, reunitied with his family in one of the magical realms beyond the cupboard doors, survived his second confrontation with the deathless witch Nimiane... but at a cost. A drop of her blood touched his cheek, leaving a spreading scar of death that threatens to consume his sanity, and his life. His dandelion magic fights the growing chill, but the bond remains, a gray thread by which Nimiane's foul fingerling slaves can track him across any world, through any cupboard door. His father Mordecai and uncle Caleb travel to the dead realm of Endor, formerly Nimiane's prison, to search for a cure - hopefully tied to a way to end the immortal witch's life - but time is against them. When the ships of the distant Emperor attack his family's home, capturing his relatives as bait for the missing Mordecai, Henry realizes that he's sick of running away. He was the one who inadvertently freed Nimiane from Endor. He is the one who draws danger to his friends and family. So he is the one who must bear his dandelion fire into the darkness and end her evil... even if it ends his own life.

REVIEW: N. D. Wilson weaves a magical tale full of poetic beauty, ancient lore, and grand destinies. Unfortunately, he weaves it into a knot so tangled it took me most of the book to work my way back into the universe, full of obscure references and actions dependent on an inpenetrable internal logic that made most of the dangers and their solutions burst forth seemingly from the blue. The dialog, much like the overall narrative, didn't help by crafting itself almost exclusively in metaphor. At about the halfway point, I was ready to kill for someone to just spit out what they wanted to say, without dancing about in Shakespearean obfuscation. Most of the bloated cast never did pull their own weight, and female characters see their roles degenerate into mere objects that sentimentalize, feel vulnerable, need protection, and - if they're feeling particulary bold - cheer on the boys doing the real work. Richard, whose presence dropped from an intrigue into a disappointing puzzle in Book 2, proves about as useless as the girls this time out, never coming through or pulling weight or having any real purpose except to tag along behind Henry like a forgotten footnote stuck to the author's shoe. Having foundered along in the sinking ship, I was finally rewarded with an ending... but then came an epilogue so pointless that it drug the whole book down another half-star. (Yes, I was feeling that irked.)
I think I would've rated this book higher had I read it closer to the other two volumes, or had it included a recap - either a summary of the first two books, or in-story refreshers to help remind me who was who and doing what in which corner of the world - to reorient me. As it was, despite the undeniable beauty of Wilson's prose, I just could not immerse myself to enjoy this book properly. (And he never does explain why so many names are recycled...)

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