Saturday, March 17, 2012

Fablehaven: Grip of the Shadow Plague (Brandon Mull)

Fablehaven: Grip of the Shadow Plague
(The Fablehaven series, Book 3)
Brandon Mull
Fiction, YA Fantasy
***+ (Okay/Good)

DESCRIPTION: Sometimes, Kendra and Seth can hardly believe how their lives have changed in two short years, ever since that fateful summer when they discovered the secret, magical sanctuary of Fablehaven on their grandparents' wooded estate. Kendra, granted strange powers by the Fairy Queen herself, becomes a potential pawn in the growing power struggle between the Knights of the Dawn and the dark Society of the Evening Star. Her reckless brother Seth has faced down undead revenants and been swallowed by a gluttonous demon... activities which, he soon discovers, have left their own mark upon him. But the summer draws to a close, and their parents are starting to wonder why the kids haven't come home to prepare for the new school year. Firm disbelievers in all things magical, they cannot understand the dangerous forces working to topple Fablehaven... and the dangerous eyes that would fall upon Kendra and Seth as soon as they leave the sanctuary's borders.
Earlier this summer, one of the artifact keys to the demon prison realm of Zzyzx was removed from Fablehaven by the Sphinx, an immortal ally of the Knights since before remembrance - but an unlikely informant has left dark hints that he may in fact be working toward the Society's evil interest, seeking to open the prison gates instead of keeping them closed for eternity. When word comes of a Knight mission to retrieve and relocate another artifact, Kendra and her fairy gifts must be there to help... and to make sure that Society agents - or the potentially-traitorous Sphinx - don't get there first. Meanwhile, at Fablehaven, Seth and his grandparents find a plague spreading through the magical populace, turning beings of light into beings of dark and friends into deadly enemies. Is it the work of the Society of the Evening Star, or the Sphinx - and can they root out the source in time to keep the magical sanctuary from falling into chaos and ruin?

REVIEW: Full of imaginative settings, creatures, and situations, this third installment nevertheless sags under its own weight, with two previous action-filled volumes pressing firmly upon its back. Catch-up notes are few and far between; Mull throws the reader back into the story as though no time had elapsed between reading the first two books and this one. For some readers, that's likely true, but for those of us trying to get back into Fablehaven after some time away it wasn't so easy. The dialog and narrative sometimes feel stilted and forced, pushing the characters and their thoughts where they need to go instead of letting them move freely. Dark undertones continue to add depth and weight to the story, as even the most frivolous-seeming magical being is shown - quite literally - to have a dangerous shadow just beneath the surface. Kendra shows signs of growing up, while Seth, despite some hard lessons learned in previous adventures, still seems prone to backsliding and putting himself in needless danger. The climax requires both of their skills, and even then exacts a greater toll than either one could have anticipated.
Overall, I found this volume less immersive and somewhat more tedious to get through. Still, having come this far, I expect I'll eventually read the final two books of the Fablehaven saga... provided I can find them cheap enough.

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