Fablehaven by Brandon Mull is the first in a series of fantasy books aimed towards kids. It follows the adventures of siblings, Kendra and Seth, who visit their grandparents at a nature reserve named Fablehaven. Their parents go away on a cruise and leave them with their grandparents, neither of whom they know well. Through a series of mishaps and excessive curiosity the children discover that Fablehaven is not just a nature preserve; it is a special safe haven for magical creatures both good and bad. There are other preserves like Fablehaven throughout the world, and many magical creatures turn out to be more than myth.
The beginning of the story started off slowly. It was setting the scene for the action in the latter half of the book and the rest of the series. Mull spends a bit of time describing the fantastic location and amazing creatures. Fairies, naiads, imps, witches, and a golem all show up in the book. Minor incidents with some bad repercussions occur mostly to show the dire consequences of taking this world too lightly. The real conflict happens towards the end of the book when the adults are taken hostage by evil forces in Fablehaven and the children have to figure out what to do.
Kendra is the oldest of the two. She is more cautious and inclined to follow the rules. Seth is younger and very curious. He is willing to test the limits and try things that end up hurting him. Much of the conflict of this story is a result of Seth’s actions. At one point, he turns into a walrus-like creature, and another time he disobeys a direct order from his grandpa.
I didn’t like this book, and I don’t think I’ll look for other books in the series. Seth’s actions and his inability to learn from his mistakes annoyed me so much. The kid gets turned into a walrus creature and STILL does things that are naughty. And Grandpa’s actions didn’t seem consistent either. I was frustrated that he tried to keep the nature of Fablehaven hidden from the kids. When the kids found out, grandpa’s reasoning about keeping it secret was weak: “I wanted to challenge you to figure it out. Only the curious are worthy of inheriting Fablehaven.” [sic] This type of reason just sets the kids up for disaster because if they were rewarded with the knowledge of Fablehaven after they broke rules to figure out what was going on, why would they ever obey rules there? And they don’t, which is partly to cause for the major conflict. In addition, the ending is too pat. Everyone has a happy ending and without too much fuss either. It seems to reward the children, one of whom definitely didn’t deserve it.
It’s a shame that poor characterization mentioned above was allowed to ruin an intriguing premise. I think this book would appeal to readers who liked Harry Potter or the Fairy Haven books by Gail Carson Levine. The idea of a haven for magical creatures is good. I liked that drinking milk from a magical cow allowed everyone to see the creatures clearly, and the variety of creatures was exciting. However, illogical actions by characters and an ending that wrapped up too quickly and tidily soured this book for me.