Fablehaven by Brandon Mull Leaves No Fantasy Stone Unturned

Fablehaven by Brandon Mull is a young adult fantasy novel about every child’s dream and nightmare at the same time.   Siblings Kendra and Seth get dropped off at their grandfather’s house while their parents go on a 17-day cruise and they discover he’s the caretaker of Fablehaven, a mystical land hidden in the forest beyond his yard.  It’s a wildlife preserve for the magical creatures, good and evil, to protect them from extinction.

Brandon Mull’s bestselling series is up to four books and the fifth, Fablehaven: Keys to the Demon Prison, comes out March 23rd, 2010.  The first book in the series establishes the storyline for the whole set.  Fablehaven is one of the last strongholds for magic in the world and it’s being threatened by the Society of the Evening Star.

Kendra and Seth are fascinated by their Grandpa’s house and spend their days exploring within the bounds of Grandpa’s rules.  Unfortunately, the fascination lasted longer for the kids than it did for me.   The book was easy to put down during the first seventy-some pages and I kept wondering when the cool stuff was going to happen.  Luckily, Mull amps up the story just in time to salvage the novel and the rest of the story keeps good pace.  The thing that saved the story through the slow start was a nasty witch named Muriel tied up in the woods by a frayed rope.  She gnaws at a knot in the rope and as soon as she appears, I knew she had to get loose at some point in the story.  It creatsa lot of suspense and anticipation, especially with mischievous rule-breaker Seth running around.

The big theme of the novel is that you reap what you sow.  Kendra is the good girl and her brother Seth is the well-intentioned rascal.  Seth and Kendra are nice foils for the moral lesson–sort of a fantasy version of “Goofus and Gallant”–but at times it seemed like everything wrapped up too tidily for them.

But despite a few flaws (and a slightly off-putting scene involving a giant cow named Viola and her giant udders) Mull created a truly creepy antagonist in Muriel.  The story world and the series concept are engaging and vivid, but it isn’t a knockoff of its predecessors.  There’s a lot of C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, and Rowling inspiration showing through in Fablehaven, and that’s definitely not a bad thing.  This is a great series for anyone who likes fantasy where the magical realm overlaps with the modern world.  I’ll be excited to see how the series wraps up in the final book this March.

–originally posted on http://blogcritics.org/

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