Monday, June 02, 2008

Fablehaven by Brandon Mull

I'm taking a little break from mysteries to work my way through my juvenile fiction pile. I didn't have extremely high hopes for Fablehaven, to be honest. It sounded like a Harry Potter knockoff, and I was only expecting a reasonably competent one. I was very glad to be wrong! Thirteen-year-old Kendra and her eleven-year-old brother, Seth, are dropped off at their seldom-seen grandparents' house (can you tell that seldom-seen modifies 'grandparents' instead of 'house'? I might re-write that sentence if I have time) when their parents can't find other child care during their upcoming 17-day cruise. No one is happy with the arrangement at first, but Kendra and Seth soon learn that her grandfather is caretaker of Fablehaven, a preserve for mystical creatures that is guided by ancient laws. When Seth breaks one of the laws, chaos ensues, and after Midsummer Night's Eve, a crazy time at Fablehaven under normal circumstances, the kids awake to find their grandfather missing and the house in ruins. They must save their grandfather and Fablehaven itself from the evil trapped within the preserve. There are some minor annoyances that (for me) were overcome by exuberant storytelling, believable characters, and imaginative plotting. Kendra never breaks rules, and it's pretty obvious that she'll have to learn to judiciously break some rules in order to help save Fablehaven. Seth ignores rules (and the insistence of Kendra that he follow them), causing mayhem. With fewer than a hundred pages left, the action stops for some pretty heavy exposition. I also found the buying and selling of fairies, characterized as human-like (at least in appearance) and the treatment of the cow a bit disturbing. But these are minor quibbles with a magical story told by a capable, earnest storyteller. I'm looking forward to reading the next in the series, and I may not be able to hold out for #3 to come out in paperback.

I started Leven Thumps and the Gateway to Foo immediately following Fablehaven, and it's suffering in comparison. While Fablehaven is a fun story of siblings, family, and the otherworldly told by an enthusiastic author, Leven Thumps is methodical and overwritten, more a Lord of the Rings style of fantasy (and I love Lord of the Rings) where every aspect of the world has been planned out. It's slow going after the exuberance and sheer joy of Fablehaven, but I hope I get into it and enjoy it.

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