No matter what genre or style you prefer, no one expects every book to be perfect. But there are those books that come along that remind you – yes, this is why I keep reading.
I remember noting this book, and the positive reviews, at the time it was released – and I think I even added it to my Amazon Wish List – but never got around to reading it.
But when The Chestnut King: Book 3 of the 100 Cupboards came out this year it reminded me I wanted to read this author and figured I would start at the beginning before moving on the 100 Cupboards books.
I am glad I did as it turned out to be a great adventure with great characters and a unique author’s voice. A great read for any age.
Here is the basic plot stolen shamlessly from the School Library Journal:
Eleven-year-old Tom Hammond lives with his widowed mother in a windblown old house chained to the top of a gigantic rock. One night, unable to sleep, he heads down to the stream that borders their property, where he has left a heavy piece of refrigerator packing foam. What starts out as aimless drifting down quiet water turns deadly when Tom’s foam slab feeds into the rougher mountain water and he is pulled under a rock, ending up in an underwater cavern.
More of my thoughts below.
I am not sure why but at first this book has the feel of magical realism or a fantasy type story. Perhaps it was knowing that the 100 Cupboards books are in that vein that gave me that impression.
But it also comes from the glint in Wilson’s eye as he tells the story. The house chained to the rock, the historical mystery at the bottom of the story and the mythic type qualities of the adventure all give it that nearly supernatural feel despite the lack of actual supernatural events.
The story is also full of great characters: Thomas Hammond; his mother; Reg (the man he meets underground); Jeffrey (schoolteacher and suitor to Mrs. Hammond); Nestor the cranky but good nature neighbor; and the gang of thugs and treasure seekers that become involved.
In a couple of hundred pages Wilson paints this great picture of a family and a community interacting around this mountain and the treasures that may lie underneath. The adventure is exciting, and there are plenty of twists and turns, but the people – even the more outlandish ones – are so realistic and well drawn that it seems like a true story.
Wilson balances everything remarkably well. The adventure never gets too outlandish and the mystery never seems too implausible. Tom never loses his childlike nature. The story never gets too dark and while it covers some rather serious issues (losing a parent, facing death, etc.) it never gets preachy or didactic. And he manages to wrap it all up at the end.
The publisher described this as “An original mix of Robinson Crusoe, King Solomon’s Mines, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and The Odyssey” and it seems like hyperbole but it really isn’t – well, much – as the story really does blend those elements and styles into a captivating adventure story.
I recommend this one for fans of good stories no matter what their age.