Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Door Before

The Door Before
by N.D. Wilson
Recommended Ages: 12+

Hyacinth, the fourth of five Smith children, has looked forward all her life to the day the family finally settles down in a home of its own. After years of moving from place to place on assignments her parents do for a mysterious Order, it finally seems this will happen. But waiting for them in their house on the California seashore is a shady old lady who is trying to achieve something very wrong with a grove full of lightning-struck trees. While the three older siblings head off to a special camp, and their parents are called on the carpet to report their capture of a man-shaped mushroom monster with (count 'em) two mouths, Hy and little brother Lawrence are left alone with Granlea Smith and whatever mischief she is up to.

It turns out she is trying to open doorways to other worlds. She has already let in four mushroom hunters (and not the kind who look for morels in the woods), and the two boys they are hunting. Hyacinth has barely started getting to know the brothers - Caleb, who is an excellent shot with a bow and arrow, and Mordecai Westmore, who can shoot vines out of his hands - before her own little-understood power becomes the key to their survival. For Granlea has foolishly opened a way for Nimiane, the immortal witch-queen of Endor, to enter our world and drain all its life to fuel her evil magic. And though Hyacinth's parents work for people who deem her worthy of death because of a power she hardly understands, the fate of many worlds depends on her - one girl with a knack for communicating with dogs, with trees, and with the invisible force of life.

A reasonable number of authors have tried to achieve something like what C.S. Lewis did with his "Chronicles of Narnia." As far as I can tell, N.D. Wilson is the guy who's doing it. He is writing young-adult fiction full of breathtaking fantasy imagery, big world-building gestures, colossal conflicts between ineffable good and terrifying evil, and characters who hail from multiple dimensions yet all seem to know the same Bible stories (not to mention other literary traditions, such as Arthurian legend). He isn't thrusting religion down anybody's throat, but adding a new layer to a rich background of stories, drawing on their story-shapes, and portraying heroes whose values seem to be formed by the assumption they are true stories. He also writes rich, vivid, economical prose that hooks right into the mind's senses, and never says the expected thing in the expected way. From the overall shape of his stories to the quirky details, he knows his business and does it well.

This review is based on a pre-production proof I received from the publisher's publicity department through the kindness of the author's wife. Nate and Heather have five kids and, according to his about-the-author blurb, an unreasonable number of pets. N.D. Wilson is also the author of the wilderness-survival classic Leepike Ridge, the Beowulf update Boys of Blur, the (so far) two "Outlaws of Time" novels The Legend of Sam Miracle and The Song of Glory and Ghost (which they also sent me; thanks folks!), and several children's picture-books, such as Ninja Boy Goes to School. But he is best known for his mythic "100 Cupboards" and "Ashtown Burials" trilogies. The Door Before is officially a prequel to the former, but in a funky crossover-type way, it is kind of a prequel to both, revealing (in case you never guessed before) that the worlds built around these two series of magical, Christianity-tinged adventures are somehow connected at the ground floor. This new book goes into circulation June 27, 2017.

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