by Brandon Mull
Review by Sam Lubell
Shadow Mountain Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 1590385810
Date: August, 2006 List Price $16.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Soon however, the two discover the truth. The estate is really Fablehaven, a secret sanctuary for supernatural creatures and what seemed to be butterflies and insects were really fairies once you learn how to see the truth. The housekeeper is a former naiad – a type of mermaid who drowns people. The old woman in the woods is really a witch, imprisoned in the shack by the power of a knotted rope. A man who visits their grandfather turns out to be a fairy broker who transports fairies between the various preserves. This gives Seth the idea for capturing a fairy. After he does, he learns too late that fairies kept in the house turn into evil imps. The other fairies get revenge by turning him into a deformed walrus, forcing the grandfather to unfasten the second-to-last knot on the witch's rope so that she can turn him back. Then on the summer solstice, Seth again disobeys his grandfather's warnings about the dangers of the night, opening a window when he thinks he hears a baby crying. This lets evil spirits in the house and by morning all the adults have disappeared. Seth and Kendra decide that they must figure out the mysteries of Fablehaven in order to rescue their grandparents.
Seth and Kendra are both believable characters in very different ways. Seth frequently causes problems because he is impatient, rash, careless, and disobedient; but he also is brave and occasionally clever. Kendra is more cautious and obedient. She too is smart, figuring out the secret of the keys far faster than her grandfather had expected. In many ways the book is the story about how she learned to be brave, ultimately risking her own life to try to save her brother and grandparents. The golem is essentially a clay robot without personality but the inclusion of naiads, not frequently in adult fantasy novels, let alone children's fantasy, is a nice touch.
The cover of Fablehaven, a scary picture of the witch backlit in glowing green, makes the book seem more like horror than the light fantasy inside, although there are a few scary scenes no worse than the witch scenes in the Disney version of Snow White. The book says it is for ages 10 and up, though I'd peg the age range at 9 - 14. Since Kendra is the main character and Seth creates as many problems as he solves, the book will most likely be of more interest to girls than to boys. But the book does not have the layers that allow the best children's fantasy, such as The Wind in the Willows, The Hobbit, Alice in Wonderland, and yes, Harry Potter to be enjoyed by adults on a different level from the younger readers.
Appropriately aged readers will find Fablehaven a fun, exciting adventure. It is well written with a plain style suitable for this audience. Although a brand new author, Mull has a sure touch. The concept of wildlife preserves for supernatural creatures is a wonderfully fresh idea (although reminiscent of Simak's Goblin Reservation). I'll be holding onto this book to give to my nieces when they become old enough; hopefully by then there will be several further adventures. I recommend it for children, but not for adults.