Book Review: Fablehaven: Grip of the Shadow Plague – Brandon Mull

This is the third of the Fablehaven series by Brandon Mull, and he hasn’t slowed down. If anything he keeps getting better, building a more complex plot, continuing to expand the reach of the story, and adding in more and more characters. The series is supposedly mid-grade children’s fiction (ca. 8-14 years), but the sheer depth and frankness of the writing is beginning to push the limits, much like Harry Potter did.

From an adult standpoint I don’t mind. My kids are getting mature enough to handle it (even the seven year old), and Mull doesn’t go overboard. The story may still be somewhat predictable to an adult, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. Mull does a good job of keeping it fairly fresh rather than resorting to cliche just because he can get away with it. His imagination is as sharp as ever, and a concept that could have been so much less continues to develop in scope.

The book begins with the heroes starting to find evidence that something is turning the creatures of Fablehaven evil. At the same time Kendra, the main protagonist, is called to a secret meeting of an elite group committed to protecting the magical preserves, but since in the last book they became suspicious of someone they believe may be the leader of that group, it may not be a good idea for her to go. But go she does, with protection, and winds up on a separate adventure to retrieve an artifact from another preserve while her brother Seth and the rest of the Fablehaven team try to deal with ever-growing “shadow plague”.

Things continue to go from bad to worse, and soon the very existence of Fablehaven is threatened. Kendra and Seth once more have to save the day, though this time with unexpected help.

If there is one trope in the series that starts to get tired it’s that inevitably Kendra and Seth’s grandparents and the other members of the team always seem to get captured or otherwise rendered unable to help, leaving the two teens to solve the problem. At least this time they do end up with more adult help t han usual, but it would be nice to see at least one book where the adults don’t get taken down first. I know it’s a kids book, but there must be ways to simply create a big enough problem that they all have to work in concert to win.

Still, I enjoy the series, and I’m looking forward to the next book. We’re taking a bit of detour first, with the first book in Mull’s Beyonders series, but we’ll be back for more Fablehaven before long.

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