Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Fablehaven: Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary

by Brandon Mull

In fantasy literature, few things are as cool as dragons. It’s just one of those things. It’s universal, and it’s cross-culture.

I started reading Fablehaven about three years ago. I was waiting at the pharmacy at Smiths, and picked book one off the shelf. Five pages later it still hadn't lost my attention, so I went home and ordered it off of Amazon and have stuck with the series ever since. My favorite books in the series a toss-up between books two and three. My favorite artifact is the Quite Box (just the name gives me goosebumps). Don't know if I have a favorite villain, really. I didn't like Seth in book one. I thought he behaved unnaturally stupid; you would think being turned into a mutant walrus by a swarm angry pixies would teach him a lesson. In book two he was much-improved and in my mind more believable. I have to admit, though, I sort of like his devil-may-care attitude and his penchant for taking risks. Seth follows the trickster archetype to a T. I like Kendra, too. I like the way she is stable and careful about what she does, and I always root for her. Both characters are resourceful.

I’ll also point out, that by having two protagonists, a brother and a sister, Mull has managed to make a story with a very broad appeal.

Did I finish the book? I usually have no trouble getting distracted away from Mull's books. I remember reading book two and three inside a week. Full star.

Will I read the sequel? Oh, absolutely. I was a little worried at the end of book one. I picked up book two wondering if it would go anywhere, and if Seth was still an idiot I was resolved to quit the series. I was very much impressed, and have purchased all four books. I don't bother buying books when I can check them out at the library. These days, the only time I will add a book to my collection is when I think I'd like to refer back to it in the future.

Was the writing good? I didn't think it was very good. Either I've gotten more picky as my own writing has improved, or the author got sloppy on this one. For a good sample, here is the opening line:

Kendra Sorenson briskly scraped the head of a wooden match against the rough strip on the side of a rectangular matchbox. Cupping her hand to shield the new flame, she held the burning match against the blackened wick of a candle stub. Once the flame spread to the wick, she shook out the match, thin strands of smoke winding upward.

I'll leave it as an exercise for the reader to pick out all the repeated words, extra adverbs, unnecessary adjectives, and all-around bad economy of words.

The dialog throughout the novel was unnatural and wooden, with characters using wordy language and stilted, formal phrases. I would have to say the writing felt rather amateurish in some ways, and in other ways it felt sloppy and hastily done.

In spite of it all, I've actually read far worse, so I'll give it a quarter star. Mull is such a good story-teller. I wish he would take his time and apply more attention to his prose, or hire an editor (or get a better one).

Was the story idea interesting? Like I said before, Mull does a good job with story-telling, which is really what keeps me going, and why I buy his books instead of getting them from the library. He is very imaginative with the magical places that the characters have to go through. I really liked the shrine where the centuars hid the unicorn horn, and I really liked the secret dragon sanctuary, and I really liked the dragon temple. I'll have to add the knapsack with an extra-dimensional room inside that was large enough to store supplies, and for a bit of extra spice it is inhabited by a small troll. ROFL. Very, very nicely done!

Was the ending satisfying? There was a twist near the end, that I thought felt a little cheap. I won't spoil it for you. Also, there was an abrupt cliffhanger at the end, which I also found a little cheap. Half star.

Final verdict: 3.75 stars. The story was memorable, which is saying a lot. I continue to love the main characters. The book was well worth a read, and I had no trouble staying interested. However, I really felt that Mull (or Shadow Mountain Publishing) ought to have taken a little more time on this one. Enough said.

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