There are a lot of good things in the Fablehaven story, many exciting–even thrilling–moments. The main characters are Kendra and Seth, a brother and sister who are sent to stay with their grandparents while their parents take a cruise. Unbeknownst to the children, their grandparents are the current caretakers of the Fablehaven Preserve. Fablehaven is a special preserve for magical creatures (both good and evil).
When they arrive only their grandfather is present and he is evasive in answering questions regarding the whereabouts of their grandmother. (Their grandmother’s location is revealed later in the story in a totally unexpected way.) Predictably, Grandpa Stan has very specific rules about what the children may and may not do, where they may and may not go as well as specific consequences if those rules are broken. Also predictably, the temptation to question and break the rules prove too much for the children–particularly Seth. Seth’s discovery of the intriguingly evil human-turned-witch, Muriel, knawing on the magical knots in the rope that restrains her and his ghastly, fairy-fueled transformation into a deformed walrus-like being are two of the most riveting moments in the story.
The consequences for the children’s disobedience of Grandpa Stan’s rules range from their discovery of the true nature of Fablehaven to enchantments both horrifying and beautiful, to a near-fatal battle with a demon and a witch of unspeakable evil.
I have to admit that I really had to force myself to continue reading through the first six chapters or so because it did not hold my interest. There were a lot of descriptions that seemed to go for an unnecessarily long time. (Even after reading the entire book, I am still of that opinion in several spots.) But there were obviously enough small moments that intrigued me enough to continue and I am glad that I did. I would say that the roughly the first half to two-thirds of the books read in fits and starts for me. That is to say, the pace and plot would be terrifically engaging and exciting and I couldn’t put it down, and then the story would seem to just stop and drag for several pages. Fully the last third of the book is incredibly well paced and is both a fitting and completely satisfying conclusion.
One of the biggest strengths I found in the book is that it doesn’t exclusively relate magical events and circumstances. Mr. Mull interweaves universal truths about acceptance of all individuals and the likely absence of true good or evil, leaving most of us in a place where we can encompass and choose either in a given situation. The story seamlessly carries the thread of human kindness and respect throughout the narrative and even manages to create a conclusion which cannot exist without these things.
For all of these reasons I recommend Fablehaven for young individual readers who are somewhat advanced in story structure and insight and able to press on through some “dead spots” in a story. I think it could work as a read-aloud as long as the reader is aware of some of the slower spots and compensates for those with his or her vocal presentation. I truly believe the underlying elements of unconditional love and acceptance take the “magic” of Fablehaven to a higher level than many other fantasy stories about magic and magical beings and existence.