This book has been reviewed by Focus on the Family Thriving Family, a marriage and parenting magazine. It is the first book in the “Fablehaven” series.
When their parents take a 17-day cruise, Kendra and her younger brother, Seth, stay with their Grandpa and Grandma Sorenson. Grandma does not make an appearance, and their Grandpa will not explain why. Grandpa warns the children not to enter the woods, which borders his property line, because it’s dangerous. The overly inquisitive Seth ignores the warning. In the woods, he meets a witch named Muriel, who is imprisoned in a shack in the forest.
Kendra follows clues leading her to a journal message that says, “Drink the milk.” She and Seth taste the milk the groundskeeper, Dale, leaves for the animals. They suddenly see fairies and other strange creatures all over the yard. Grandpa explains that he is the caretaker of a preserve called Fablehaven, a sanctuary that helps creatures such as fairies, imps, satyrs and others avoid extinction. Many of the creatures in the outlying woods are particularly dangerous, even deadly. Grandpa hopes the kids will someday take his place as the Fablehaven caretakers, so he allows them to drink the eye-opening milk every day.
A fairy catcher and broker named Maddox warns Grandpa about the heightened activity of a dangerous group called the Society of the Evening Star. Intrigued by what Maddox does, Seth captures a fairy and keeps it in a jar overnight. It turns into a spider-like imp, and the other fairies retaliate by turning Seth into a creature resembling a walrus. Grandpa gets Muriel to reverse the spell, but she requires Grandpa to untie the second to last magical knot that keeps her bound in her shack.
On the night of summer solstice, Grandpa orders the kids to stay in their beds and wear earplugs. Some of the evil creatures that come out on that night trick the kids to open a window. The next morning, the kids see only a statue of Dale and can’t find Grandpa or Lena, the housekeeper. The pet chicken in their room spells out “I M GRAM” in her food. To get Muriel to restore their grandmother, the kids have to untie the last knot and set the witch free. Muriel turns the hen back into Grandma. Grandma orders the witch off of the preserve. As she leaves, Muriel promises revenge.
Grandma and the kids enlist the help of a troll to divine the whereabouts of Grandpa. Muriel is holding him and Lena in an old church called the Forbidden Chapel. Muriel frees a demon named Bahumat to help her overthrow Fablehaven. Kendra is the only one Muriel can’t capture because Kendra has abstained from using magic, so it cannot be used on her. Kendra petitions the Fairy Queen for help, and the Fairy Queen makes all the fairies human-size. They battle Muriel, Bahumat and their minions, and they win.
Soon after, the kids return home with their parents, but they make plans to return to Fablehaven.
Kendra prays silently that she will find Lena and her grandfather without having to face Muriel. Grandpa calls the way Kendra helped save him and the rest of the family “a miracle.”
Muriel, a witch, is imprisoned in Grandpa’s woods. Grandpa says she was once a lovely woman but started visiting the darker parts of the woods and spending time with unsavory beings. When the fairies turn Seth into a walrus-like creature, Grandpa bargains with Muriel to get her to undo the enchantment. Muriel removes the spell by waving her hand over Seth and muttering incantations. A dark aura gathers around Muriel and Grandma as the witch turns Grandma from a chicken to a human. Muriel releases an especially powerful demon named Bahumat.
Maddox informs Grandpa of the increasing activity of the dark Society of the Evening Star. The group dislikes the rules established by preserves and wants to overthrow places like Fablehaven through the use of the black arts and by consorting with demons. Grandpa warns the kids about several nights a year when “nightmares take shape” and prowl around the yard. He also says “ancient entities of supreme evil” roam through the darkness looking for prey. Dale says he once looked out the window to watch part of this activity Grandpa describes, and he’s had many sleepless nights since.
A gigantic, enchanted cow gives magical milk that the fairies and other creatures drink. They worship her by placing daily enchantments on her food and making secret offerings to honor and strengthen her. All of the mortals on the preserve also drink the milk because it “opens their eyes to the unseen world” of mystical inhabitants. Grandpa tells the kids that mortals are non-magical beings who were never meant to use magic, but that he’s had to learn some principles of magic to help him manage Fablehaven. Those who totally abstain from using magic are greatly protected from harm, so Kendra is in less danger than the rest of her family.
Grandpa, Grandma and Lena use special salt, dust and fairy lanterns to keep evil creatures away. They keep a stash of weapons and talismans in the attic, including spell books and ingredients for potions. Grandma has a crossbow with which she can slay anyone who was ever mortal, including the enchanted or undead. The Fairy Queen speaks to Kendra telepathically. A troll named Nero has a magic stone that helps him discern where Grandpa is being held.
Lena tells Kendra that no mythology or religion she knows has all the answers. Most religions are based on truths, she says, but also polluted by human philosophies and imaginations. Lena calls mortality a curse. Seth tells Kendra that her bad luck is rubbing off on him. Grandpa tries to convince the fairies that Seth’s cruelty toward one of them was an unlucky coincidence.
Grandpa makes a number of rules for the kids’ safety concerning where they can go on the property. Even when Seth repeatedly disregards the rules, putting many people in danger, Grandpa’s punishments and reprimands are light. Their housekeeper was a naiad until she became mortal to be with a human man she loved. She patiently entertains the children and shares deep thoughts about mortality with Kendra. Grandma, who is a chicken for the majority of the book, allows the kids to help her set Grandpa free when she is human again. She takes them with her into dangerous situations.
The word heck appears once. Disturbing or nightmarish scenes include descriptions of the evil creatures that Seth inadvertently lets into the house, the pagan drums and piercing screams of the creatures prowling outside, Kendra stabbing the magic cow in the udder to get blood for the Fairy Queen’s spell and the fairies pulling Seth underwater and turning him into a creature resembling a walrus.
Fairies kiss imps on the mouth to restore them to fairyhood. When the fairies make flowers bloom all over a giant dirt monster, Seth complains that they’ve made the monster look “all fruity.”
Lying: Kendra lies to keep Seth out of trouble or keep him away from her stash of candy. Grandpa initially lies about why the kids shouldn’t venture into certain areas of the property.
Alcohol/Drugs: Lena indicates that the satyrs drink and party wildly. The kids meet a satyr who talks about trading something for “booze.” Grandma warns the kids about sniffing the lotus blossoms; smelling will make them want to taste the flowers, which she says are more addictive than most drugs.
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