Middle Reader Fantasy
Lots of kids go on vacation and visit nature preserves for endangered species. But only Kendra and Seth visit one for endangered mythological creatures.
At first it looks like Kendra and Seth are in for 3 weeks of strict rules when their parents leave them with Grandpa Sorenson. Until they break the rules and discover the fairies in the backyard. And the rope-chewing witch.
There are several delights in Brandon Mull’s book. The first is the sheer joy he takes in the world-building. How would Grandpa Sorenson handle the details of managing such a place? What if a golem mowed the lawn? What if brownies (not the chocolate kind) fixed the furniture? How do you acquire new species and keep the place hidden from the world?
Wonder is one of the first words I’d use to describe the book. Kendra and Seth marvel at every new discovery. And they behave like believable kids. They can handle the startling newness of Fablehaven because they are at an age when expanding their worldview is a necessary part of life anyway. For example, Kendra balks at finding an “uncooked” piece of meat on her plate at a family dinner, but when she works up the courage to taste it, discovers how tasty rare steak is. Trying a new food and meeting satyrs are both adventures, ones that may be horrible or wonderful. And both take a kind of courage.
In some ways, I’d compare the tone of this book to Jurassic Park. The creatures are wondrous, rare, and dangerous. Can—and should—humans try to manage and protect them? Are some creatures too alien and powerful to be captured?
Another major delight of the book is irrepressibility of Seth. He’s a great archetype of the children in Victorian morality tales, the ones of youngsters who just can’t follow the rules, and so horrible things happen to them. No matter how many times Grandpa Sorenson warns Seth of impending doom should he misbehave, Kendra and the reader know the moment Grandpa’s back is turned Seth is going to do it anyway. We love Seth’s bravery, but like Kendra, we want to wrestle him to the ground to stop him from leading us into danger.
A scene on Midsummer’s Night, when the mythological creatures try to break into the children’s bedroom, is absolutely horrifying. And it works due to the simple suspense of mysterious noises and the temptation to look out a window despite Grandpa’s warnings.
I haven’t been so scared since Roald Dahl’s The Witches, when our young hero peeks on a forbidden scene and sees a convention of ladies take off their boxy shoes, revealing they are indeed witches.
Into the fun and excitement of the book, Mull weaves two opposing ideas that readers of all ages can consider. If you live life always following the rules, there is no adventure. But if you break the rules, you may harm yourself and others.
The book starts out a little slow, and branches off a bit into tangents, but the merits of the marvelous new world more than make up for any flaws. I give it 4 out of 5 stars.