As an aspiring fantasy writer I feel compelled to read what the “competition” is doing. Call it research. Not only is it a great way to get the creative juices flowing, it is a comfort to see that my writing isn’t too far off from what made the best seller list.
I give the book a rating of 7 out of 10. The book’s best feature was the plot. Mull kept it interesting and engaging without feeling forced or obvious, perfect for children’s literature. His settings are the next strongest feature. Fablehaven and it’s grounds are likable, easy to imagine, and well crafted. Most of the characters were unique and interesting. I particularly liked the character of Lena and how she interacted with the leads.
Now for some more pointed critique. Taken seriously, careful critique offers splendid opportunities for growth to both writer and reviewer. Most of the secondary characters of the book had great histories and felt like solid well-rounded characters. However, the primary characters Seth and Kendra felt underdeveloped and one-dimensional. Seth was the unruly, poorly behaved boy and Kendra was the rule abiding, cautious girl. A no brainer, and a painful one. In the end Kendra is predictably forced to do something out of character and Mull beats the reader over the head with her internal struggle. If a character is well enough developed throughout the book the reader should have a sense of why a certain actions are difficult without being told. I’m not saying that they need to suffer in silence, it is often these moments that capture the thrill of the climax. A few well worded thoughts sprinkled throughout the ordeal is enough to allow the reader to capture the emotions that the character is experiencing without bogging down the action.
Dear Brandon, did you have to milk the giant cow? That, and massaging the cliff troll, was gross. With the way the plot unfolded I can see how they were both necessary. But was there no other equally interesting way that could have accomplished the same thing? I loved the way the magic worked, the knots were brilliant. The way you used fairies and imps, equally fantastic. Turning Seth into a nasty walrus and Grandma into a chicken, pure magic. Giant cow udders and kids, what were you thinking?
The overall message of the book is the power of consequences, especially those resulting from obeying or disobeying rules. Poor Seth, and all around him, fell victim to his bull-headed disregard to rules. I was hoping that in the course of the book he would learn from his mistakes and show more remorse for causing so many problems. Maybe it’s because I have kids and hope one day I will not have to remind them about the rules as often as I do now. I did enjoy the book and in that it achieved its goal. It was entertaining and well constructed. And yes, I will read book #2.
On a personal note, I think I might have been in the same creative writing class as Mull in college. I’ll have to look through my files and see if I still have the anthology. I can’t help but think that I was one of his reviewers for a short story. I’ll let you know.