“Stories are soul food. Stories are catechisms. Catechisms for the imagination. Catechisms for loyalty. Catechisms to shape the character you want to be yourself.” (N.D. Wilson, Above The Paygrade)
N. D. Wilson is one of my (Sara) favorite living authors. His creativity is matched only by his clear vision of what life is really about. In his stories, we know that we are going to be scared, but we also know that we are in the hands of an author who loves life (and its Creator) as much as we do. In the tradition of a true sub-creator, all of Wilson’s characters have intrinsic value. When he moves them in and out of perilous situations, and allows some to permanently fall down, we have a sense that their sacrifices are necessary for the true good to come about. Or, rather, that their willingness to respond to the need for sacrifice is part of what makes the good truly true.
Rather prolific, Wilson has several books for adults, a board book for very young children, some satire pieces, some stand alone middle grade reader books, and three really excellent fantasy series. To top it off, this summer he released a book which shocked us, delighted us, and married the three fantasy series together. The Door Before is my favorite of Wilson’s books, in part because of how it gives readers eyes to see everything else! Needless to say, we cannot wait for more!
Wilson is a bit quiet about recommending the order in which we should read his books. Other reviewers have stated that The Door Before can be read as a stand-alone, as an entry book, or anywhere else in the journey. I disagree. I am nearly always a “publication order” kind of girl (see my comments about Narnia here) and think that prejudice applies to Wilson’s books too.
Each of the series draws on different kinds of fear. In the 100 Cupboards books, Wilson writes some of his most ghostly and ghoulish characters. Some readers find the creepiness too much to stomach. In that case, know that the other series have a different feel.
The Ashtown Burials series (my favorite of the three) is less creepy and more dark. There still are some strange, evil, and unsettling characters, but their grotesqueness is not a key feature in the story. The fear factor in the Ashtown books is more consistent with coming-of-age hero stories in which the characters have to make life and death decisions, not just for themselves, but for others as well.
The Outlaws of Time books have a big bad scary guy, a hero with rattlesnakes in his arms, and a lot of unresolved questions. Because darkness is supposed to be unsettling, the characters here are mythical, but the most unsettling parts are featured in the lack of answers. Several in my book club have suggested, and I agree, that the third book answers so many questions only to ask new ones. This series intellectually satisfying because of its complexity.
The Door Before is a game changer. It is strange, beautiful, exciting, and left me giddy. This book can be read first (chronologically) but I think doing so takes the beauty of surprise away from the other books. Not to say that this one answers all of our questions. In fact, it poses more questions. But, it does reveal connective tissue that we did not know was there.
So, my recommendation is to read in publication order. Until Wilson releases the next Ashtown book, that means that you can read the 100 Cupboards books, then the Ashtown books, then the Outlaws of Time books, and then The Door Before.
Ashtown Burials Books (book trailer here)
Empire of Bones