Fablehaven by Brandon Mull

Finally!  A pick for Laura and her daughter!  This has a very different feel from The Girl Who…Fairyland books but it’s of reasonable length and is any interesting story, I think it might be a good fit for a very advanced primary grades reader who love fairy filled adventure!

Fablehaven came recommended to me by fourth graders and a fourth grade teacher who tended to pick very difficult books for her students.  Subsequently, I was anticipating something much different.  Easier and less violent than Riordan’s Percy Jackson series and infinitely less complex and dark than Funke’s Inkheart trilogy, Fablehaven is a fun adventure with enough depth interest readers who aren’t quite ready for the other two series.

Kendra and her younger brother Seth are dreading spending time at their Grandparents’ house.  Their little visit starts off all wrong, with Grandma mysteriously visiting a sick relative and Grandpa running through a list of rules and chores that include taking care of a pet chicken, staying in their yard and out of the barn.  Seth isn’t much of a rule follower though, and soon discovers Grandpa’s got some secrets!  They soon learn they are on a special preserve for magical beings called Fablehaven and that they are in grave danger.  As the book reaches its climax, it’s mainly up to Kendra and Seth to save the day.

I found Seth to be an incredibly annoying character, because he is nothing if not a reckless rule-breaker.  Unsurprisingly, he ends up causing trouble.  Kendra ends up being responsible for most of the important problem-solving, so it’s always a pleasure to see a female character end up as the heroine.  I do think this book will appeal to readers of both genders.

Brandon Mull had a few off moments in the book – there are some weird comments about the housekeeper being half-Asian (she’s not? She’s a naiad?) But even more concerning is when fairies cover a golem (usually made of rocks and earth) with flowers, Seth comments that they “made Hugo look all fruity” which in the context seems very much like Mull is using fruity to mean “relating to homosexuals”.  He shouldn’t have done it and his editor shouldn’t have allowed it to go to print.

Age Recommendation: I would recommend this for Grades 3 and up.  There are definitely some scary parts, but the overall tone is fairly light.  Most of the violence occurs during one final battle, but the actual casualties are minimal as the fairies manage to heal most of those hurt in the fighting.  With some parental supervision and checks, it might be okay for advanced younger readers.  As mentioned above, I would also recommend this as an alternative to the Percy Jackson series which is both more violent and more complex.  It won’t feel like a step down to readers; the cover is cool, the adventure is real, the story has depth, the volume is plenty thick and the series continues.

caveat – I have not read the rest of the series and will not have time to before the end of the month as I have other books for you, so proceed with caution.  We all know by now that a series can get more scary or even harder to read as it progresses.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – A man falls in love with an naiad in a story from the past that is being retold.  A woman worked as a geisha (this seems to be a really, really odd detail to put in a children’s book).  She was always pursued by men.  Grandma gives a massage to a troll.  Strictly speaking, massages aren’t sexual, but she explains to the troll that the only person who has ever received a massage is her husband, “because I am his woman” which is weird.  Fairies kiss imps, but it is to restore them to their proper states.
Profanity – None.
Death, Violence and Gore – The book begins with the children’s grandparents asphyxiation.  They had died in a trailer with a gas leak.  They were shown in open caskets and Kendra was uncomfortable with the fact that they had makeup on.  There’s a sign saying “Beware the .12 gauge” which is a shotgun.  Another sign tells that certain death awaits.  An aunt is dying.  A woman chews on a rope until her mouth bleeds.  There’s a tiny skull.  The woods are supposedly full of deadly animals.  A groundskeeper is poofed into nothingness.   A woman says the day she’s too old to climb on a stool is the day she will throw herself off a roof.  Naiads try to drown people.  Someone is cruel to a fairy and the fairies retaliate by destroying a place where the person is.  The person is cut and bleeding as a result. The person is also partially transformed from human into beast. A woman talks a lot about her own mortality and a girl says she thinks she might die young because she can’t picture growing up.  A man is armed with a shotgun.  A boy looks for the shotgun. An axe is in the attic.  Grandma has a crossbow.  There is a discussion about the consequences that would fall if one were to commit murder, even if it was necessary.  A golem fights with imps.  Someone is shot with a crossbow and bleeds.  Many people are in mortal danger.  A girl is asked to get blood.  She cuts a cow on its udder with a shallow cut and collects the blood.  She uses a pin to prick herself to collect her blood.  Fairies arm them selves with swords, spears, axes.  Beasts and monsters are smashed and bashed.  A troll is armed with knives.  An octopus hybrid creature has its tentacles severed.  A fairy is swallowed whole by a beast, another is cut by its claws. A fairy is turned to ash.  A horn is ripped from a demon’s head.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – The house is wrecked after a meeting, although the children’s grandfather hasn’t been drinking, satyrs probably have.  The satyrs want to trade for booze.  Grandma warns against lotus blossoms which are more dangerous than drugs.
Frightening or Intense Things – A boy meets a witch in the woods.  On the solstice, nightmares and evil entities will hunt for prey.  The children are under attack from all sorts of evil creatures. People are kidnapped and cursed.  There are lots of exotic evil beings.  Some places like Fablehaven have fallen to evil influences and harm has come to the mortals there.  There is an evil three headed, three legged, three tailed beast.


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