Fablehaven by Brandon Mull
Final Verdict: 3.0 out of 4.0
3 – Plot/Story is interesting & believable.
Fablehaven is book One in a 5-book series by the same name. After a death in the family, Kendra and Seth’s parents agree to go on a long cruise, in order to satisfy the dying wishes of their relative. The kids are going to stay with their reclusive grandparents for the same time. Certain mystery has always shrouded the kids’ relationship with their grandparents – why do they never want visitors? Why do they only visit the family one at a time, but never together? How come it is always so long between visits? And where has Grandma really been for the past few months? On their visit to Fablehaven, they soon find the answers to all these questions and more, much, much more. Soon, Kendra and Seth are immersed in a world of dangerous fantasy – where magical creatures really do exist, but where the laws protecting mortals from certain doom are fiercely enforced and dizzyingly easy to break, mistakenly or on purpose. When Midsummer’s Eve comes around, the mystical world comes alive and Seth and Kendra find themselves in a rapid quest to save Fablehaven, and their grandparents, from destruction.
3 – Characters well-developed.
There are two primary characters in Fablehaven, Kendra and Seth. Ultimately, Kendra is allotted more page time than Seth and it is her quest near the end of the story which becomes the falling action and resolution of the story – so it is safe to say that she is the primary character, though it is hard at times to tell. While Seth and Kendra have clearly distinct personalities and while the reader is clearly guided as to who is speaking or whose journey is being witnessed at the time, having two main characters is ultimately a bit distracting and detracts from the possibility of forming a strong bond between the reader and either of them. Minor characters, though, such as the grandparents and the magical creatures (particularly the Witch, the Satyrs, the fairies, and the Golem) are interesting creations. The kids, too, have recognizable characteristics: Seth is bold, rash, and eager to break the rules; Kendra is cautious, patient, and studious. These characters could be the kind one might grow attached to, with a bit more development.
3 – Satisfactory Prose/Style, conducive to the Story.
For most of the book, the prose and construction are very well done. The chapters are a bit longer than expected in a Middle Grade (MG) book, but they read fast, so younger readers probably won’t have an issue with the length. The vocabulary is an added bonus – as it is relatively comparable to the level, but with some great and appropriate inclusions of more advanced words which help make the prose more interesting for older readers and which provide a learning opportunity for younger ones. At times, description is somehow simultaneously over-and-underdone. There are moments, particularly where the end, where much is being described at the same time (a plethora of magical creatures in a battle, for instance) and these descriptions are spouted-off in rapid fire, to create a sense of thrill/danger which echoes the battle, but the descriptions are ultimately many in number, but without much depth (the Bear-Octopus hybrid creature, for instance, just seemed like something thrown in because another creature had to be thrown in – not because it had an actual or believable place). Overall, the language is enjoyable and the story is fast-paced, though a bit too thinly constructed and over-reaching near the end.
Additional Elements: Setting, Symbols/Motifs, Resolution, etc.
3 – Additional elements are present and cohesive to the Story.
The best part of fantasy books tends to be what they say about real life, when they are immersing their readers in a fantasy world. This particular book is primarily about growing up, learning to be responsible, and coming to terms with the fact that actions truly do have consequences. Seth, who is adventurous to the point of being thoughtless, makes grave mistakes which put the family in peril and force him to become reflective and cautious for the first time. Kendra, the toe-the-line loner, is left on her own to save them all after great evil is released. She must learn to be confident and to sometimes break the rules, when its necessary, or Fablehaven will fall. Other interesting elements include sibling relationships, discussions of good and evil, empathy/consideration of others, and family. Death/dying and loss is also a theme, however mourning was not approached so the primary theme is muted.
Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: Middle Grade
Interest: Fantasy, Child heroes, Adventure, MG Series, Siblings.
“In their youth, mortals behave more like nymphs. Adulthood seems impossibly distant, let alone the enfeeblement of old age. But ponderously, inevitably, it overtakes you.”