Bookish Matters

The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.

—Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey

Saturday, December 1, 2012

On the Bookshelf—Review of Fablehaven

Brandon Mull
Middlegrade fiction, fantasy

I've just finished reading the fifth and final book in the Fablehaven series. I loved the enchanting and colorful world of Fablehaven, and I'm sad to see it end, but I look forward to reading the series again some years down the road.

When I think of the first book in the series, I think of a lush fragrant garden, the heat of summer, a green and verdant forest, and the richest most delicious hot chocolate.

A sister and brother—Kendra, 13, and Seth, 11—must stay with their grandparents for a few weeks. They don't look forward to this tedious visit. Grandpa Sorenson lives on some sort of nature preserve, but he won't let the kids stray beyond the yard into the forest. Grandma Sorenson is mysteriously absent. There are some odd things about this place—like what's in that ginormous barn, and why do they put pans of milk out in the garden?

What Kendra and Seth will discover is that this isn't a normal nature preserve. It's a refuge for magical creatures: fairies, golems, satyrs, trolls. But Fablehaven isn't home to just the beautiful and wondrous—it is also home to dangerous beasts and dark magic. And if Kendra and Seth aren't careful, they just might release a powerful evil, and the two siblings will have to save their family and Fablehaven—and maybe the world.

The more of Fablehaven I read, the more I thought of it as a new Harry Potter. There's a secret magical world. Our protagonists run into magical creatures and beasts, learn about potions and magical objects, meet a host of intriguing adults who inhabit this magical world and have a wide range of interesting talents, some of whom may be traitors and spies. There are even a couple satyrs to provide the comic relief and humorous antics of the Weasley twins. But it's not just this fantasy basis that makes me think of Harry Potter, it's also the pacing of the plot, the level of suspense, the quest for objects like the sorcerer's stone or having to work through magical mazes Ă  la the Goblet of Fire.

But Fablehaven isn't just a Harry Potter knock-off, it's its own unique entity. I even think it improves upon Harry Potter in some ways, explains plotholes that annoyed the hell out of me in Rowling's work.

And instead of the patriarchal chosen one for a protagonist, we've got a refreshingly female protagonist in Kendra; she's not even the masculine Katniss Everdeen.

In the first Fablehaven, Kendra is fairly solidly the protagonist, with her brother Seth as a sort of uppity sidekick. But the further into the series we get the more the brother and sister become dual protagonists, and I love this balance. I loved watching Seth develop. At first he's just a courageous and curious youth lacking caution and common sense (good god, that sentence was alliterative!). Slowly he must learn how to distinguish from taking risks for the good of the cause and taking risks just for the thrill, slowly he must learn responsibility. Kendra, on the other hand, must find her courage and discover her own inner resources.

Make yourself a cup of rich hot chocolate, and curl up with this engrossing and enchanting series.

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