The First Two Fablehaven Books

Fablehaven cover

Brandon Mull – Fablehaven

I have my misgivings about Harry Potter, but I tried out Brandon Mull’s Fablehaven series even though it was recommended to me as being “like Harry Potter“. I’m glad I did. It’s not clear to me how it will keep up the world-building without eventually getting bogged down and inconsistent, but the first two books were worth reading.

The first book, Fablehaven, introduces the central conceit: Magical creatures live in our world, but are almost extinct. A small group of people keep the existence of magic a secret while also running preserves on which these creatures still live. When thirteen-year old Kendra and her younger brother Seth discover this, they get caught up in their grandparents’ efforts to protect the haven, if not the whole world, from evil forces.

This book draws as much inspiration from dark old fairy tales as safer modern stories. The magical creatures are dangerous and inhuman. The intelligent ones are immortal, and can’t bring themselves to focus on, or even comprehend, the concerns of the brief-lived humans who are trying to save them. Most of the danger here comes from a more complex worldview than simply good versus evil.

This book taps into the mix of the innocent and the horrific that gives classic fairy tales their power. The children, especially headstrong Seth, make mistakes with horrible consequences, and the sense of danger is strong. The first hint of magic they discover is grotesque and unique, and described so viscerally that it still sticks with me. It should be said that the plot pacing is uneven, but that also serves to make the disasters and sudden plot shifts much more surprising.

Until the ending, that is. The resolution manages to fix even problems that seemed irreversible, and retroactively makes the world seem safe and fair after all. This is maybe necessary for its target age range, but felt like a betrayal of the story I had come to expect.

Fablehaven: Rise of the Evening Star cover

Brandon Mull – Fablehaven: Rise of the Evening Star

Fablehaven: Rise of the Evening Star shows Mull’s growing skill as a writer. I have no complaints here about uneven pacing, as the length and plot progression fit the book perfectly. He also appears to be managing the series well. Small events from Fablehaven are now growing into a larger story, and events from the first book are logically followed up on here. This avoids Harry Potter’s problem with characters or spells from one book that just seem forgotten when they could be useful in later ones. It helps that in Fablehaven, magic comes from non-human creatures. People rarely understand how or why fantastical items work, and the magical creatures have established motivations to keep them from becoming directly involved. This resolves most questions of “why didn’t someone just solve the problem with this spell?” Even so, there are a lot of powerful items and creatures on display here, given how small their ecosystem is supposed to be. I worry that that will start to seem inconsistent within a few books.

The immediate problem, though, is that between Mull’s cleaner writing and the reassuring ending of the first book, Rise of the Evening Star never finds the sense of danger that impressed me in Fablehaven. The in-book dangers are still great, and the disasters still happen, but the reader can clearly see the path to a happy conclusion.

Mull has a knack for cool ideas. I don’t want to spoil the creatures the kids encounter here or some of the things that happen to the main characters, but if you ask any young fans about this series, they will probably be bursting to tell you about all the crazy, imaginative things that happen here. That’s true in both books, but seems to be even more prominent now that Mull has found his footing in book two.

Overall, these books are fun if flawed, and their best parts are very memorable. I preferred the more chaotic, unpredictable feel of the first book, but I can see why some people think that the series improves as it goes along. Either way, I’m curious to see what happens next. I’m not sure if it will keep working for me, but it’s doing better than Harry Potter was after two books.

Fablehaven: B

Fablehaven: Rise of the Evening Star: B-

  1. December 7th, 2012

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