Rating: High Three
Who I'd Recommend to: Fans of 13 Treasures, Percy Jackson, the Inheritance Cycle, Wings of Fire, and Magyk.
Synopsis (from Amazon):
For centuries mystical creatures of all description were gathered into a hidden refuge called Fablehaven to prevent their extinction. The sanctuary survives today as one of the last strongholds of true magic. Enchanting? Absolutely. Exciting? You bet. Safe? Well, actually, quite the opposite.
Kendra and her brother, Seth, have no idea that their grandfather is the current caretaker of Fablehaven. Inside the gated woods, ancient laws keep relative order among greedy trolls, mischievous satyrs, plotting witches, spiteful imps, and jealous fairies. However, when the rules get broken -- Seth is a bit too curious and reckless for his own good -- powerful forces of evil are unleashed, and Kendra and her brother face the greatest challenge of their lives. To save their family, Fablehaven, and perhaps even the world, Kendra and Seth must find the courage to do what they fear most.
Setting: The setting immediately appeared, to me, pretty cliche. This wasn't a major issue, it just didn't make the story memorable or stand out in any particular way. I do think the whole idea of an estate provides an instant sense of mystery to kids, but it just didn't work out. Eventually, the setting begins to feel so cliche that the story starts to become rather dull, since much of the book is spent in the said "estate." Once action starts picking up about two-thirds of the way through the book, this becomes less of an issue, but again, this was TWO-THIRDS of the book we're talking about.
Characters: Seth and Kendra were "good" characters, but they weren't very memorable. There's really no main character in specific, although Kendra is assumed to be. However, I feel the story could've been stronger if it had been told through the more boisterous and interesting character of Seth. Kendra didn't strike me as really have a personality, besides getting scared all the time, becoming annoyed at her brother, Seth, and not wanting her family to die. There was some great character growth throughout the story - Seth becomes less careless and more mature, and Kendra learns to be brave and stand up for herself. This was fantastic to watch.
Writing: I'm completely torn over this. In the beginning of the book, I constantly stopped and reread paragraphs because they were written so beautifully, but as the story progressed and it became apparent that the overall level of excitement and emotion were going to be relatively low, I began to have less of an appreciation for the writing. For me, good writing is two parts: the ability to string words together to make clear, well-written sentences, and the ability to create a story the reader actually cares about. Unfortunately, I just didn't seem to care about the story.
Plot/Conflict: THIS is why this story bumped from a high one to a high three for me. The story, although it's not really something we haven't seen before, is engaging and interesting. The idea of magical preserves filled with monsters is immensely intriguing, especially to kids. Brandon Mull takes this a step further when he announces (via Grandpa Sorenson, of course) that there is one night that these monsters can roam wherever they like. This plays a major part in the overall story, but unfortunately, it could've occured about a hundred pages sooner.
So, yes, overall, I WOULD recommend this book. I think most kids would like it more than I did, since the storyline and characters are pretty simple and I'm a stickler for stuff like that. And I'm not usually harsh on books, but for me, I had to force myself through this one. There were too many little issues that I just couldn't ignore, yet at the same time, I can understand how many kids could pass over those and appreciate the thrills and action of this book. So PLEASE do not let this review deter you from reading this book; in fact, I urge you to read FABLEHAVEN.