Brandon Mull has written a ton of middle-grade books in the last ten years, but the bedrock series of his career is still the Fablehaven novels, which smartly began between books 6 and 7 of Harry Potter. While millions of crazed fans were waiting to find out how Harry would fight Voldemort, thousands of them sated that hunger with a fantastic voyage to a magical creature preserve in Connecticut, USA.
Premise: Kendra and her brother Seth have to spend two weeks with their grandparents in Connecticut. They’re eccentric and somewhat withdrawn. It doesn’t take long for the kids to learn that their grandparents secretly manage a wildlife preserve for magical creatures, and most of them can be remarkably dangerous.
Things naturally go south from there.
Setting: Starts out in the eastern US, but as the series progresses, they go all over the place. There are preserves across the world, and with the help of a teleportation artifact, the characters (and readers!) get to visit many of them.
Lesson: Be brave, use your imagination, and make some spectacularly bad decisions along the way, and who knows? You might end up with magical powers for the rest of your life! (I jest. It’s ultimately a tale about being bold and fearless, using your imagination, and understanding that whether you end up as a villain or a hero is up to you.)
My favorite character: The obvious choice is either Kendra or Seth, right? But I’m gonna play a little inside baseball and say Patton Burgess was my favorite. The dude fought a centaur barehanded.
Why you should read it: There’s no shortage of middle-grade fantasy out there, most of it predictable or at least unable to reach past its target audience. And if I’m being fair, I don’t imagine that I’d get super pulled in to book 1 if I were to read it again now that I’m in my 30s. But I was one of those readers hungry for something fantastical to read while I waited for the next Harry Potter, and it definitely scratched that itch.
Then book 2 happened, and I realized just what I was dealing with: someone who could craft a sleight-of-hand plot twist about as well as Rowling could, and wouldn’t hesitate to pull the rug out from under you right when you got comfortable. Mull put a lot of thought into the potential twists and turns this series could take, and it shows. So read book 1, have fun with it, and then get ready to be tricked from there on out.
Of Note: the spinoff series Dragonwatch launches this month.