Brandon Mull, Shadow Mountain, 2006, 351 pages.
Summary (from Goodreads):
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.
I loved Fablehaven - the story had me captivated and I raced through the book. I love the imagination and the dark side of the mystical creatures involved - this is not a fantasy book with nice mystical creatures. At best, they are indifferent and at worst, they are quite dangerous.
I also love that Fablehaven existed but only a few people knew it was there. It is fun to think that there is a whole mystical world close by but not in our awareness. It is an intriguing concept and one that Brandon Mull pulled off really well.
Like Brandon Mull's other books, I found his use of vocabulary to be fabulous. He is not afraid to use challenging words, even with middle school kids, and this keeps his writing interesting, diverse, and rich.
The description in Fablehaven is also outstanding. The world that Brandon Mull creates is vividly clear - it feels like Fablehaven could really exist. And the mystical creatures are interesting, fun, and scary.
The characters of Kendra and Seth were authentic feeling, a typical sister and brother pair who bicker and squabble. They are each a bit of a stereotype, with Kendra as the older, academically inclined, follows the rules sister and Seth as the younger, spontaneous, active, adventures, doesn't do as he is told brother. Seth did get annoying at times because he never did seem to learn his lesson. However, both characters are very likable and show growth in the book.
I recently read this to my eight year old son and he loved it. There were parts that were a bit slow for him, but overall, he was entranced. And by the end, he would not let me stop reading - we had a two hour marathon at the end because he couldn't stand not knowing how it ended. He says he found it hard that the creatures were a mystery at the beginning, but he absolutely loved the excitement at the end.
I would highly recommend this book to middle school kids and older, especially those who are okay with darker fantasy.