Friday, June 09, 2023

Read What You Love, Part 2 by Karen S. Wiesner

Read What You Love, Part 2

by Karen S. Wiesner

In this three-part article, I talk about what conditions, if any, cultivate or discourage a love of the written word as well as about the importance of reading what you love, regardless of your age, the genre or content appropriateness, your gender, or what's considered your "level". In the last two segments, I'll also review two of my favorite Young Adult book series that any fan of the supernatural should love as I much as I do.

In the first part of this article, I talked about how, in the general sense, people should read what they're interested in. It doesn't matter if someone else dubs it above or below your proper reading level, too mature or immature, if it's in a genre that social convention says adults or kids shouldn't be reading, or if it's something most people think of as gender specific. A love of the written word transcends any boundaries. And don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Read what you love!

In this next part, I'll review a phenomenal Young Adult series I discovered as a 30-something year old adult and would have missed (and been the worse for it) if I cared anything about maturity, appropriateness, genre, and level classifications. Fablehaven is a Young Adult Fantasy series with five books in the first set with another five in the spinoff Dragonwatch.

In the very first installment that shares the same name as the series, the main characters of the series, young adults Kendra and Seth Sorenson, are spending the summer with grandparents they've barely met up to this point in their lives. Never could they have imagined that Stan and Ruth are the current caretakers of Fablehaven, a centuries' old hidden refuge for all sorts of mythical creatures they're protecting from extinction. This sanctuary survives as one of the last strongholds of magic in the real world. In the restricted woods around the property, ancient laws dictate order among a wide selection of supernatural creatures that run the gamut between good and evil and sometimes a little of both at once. The kids meet witches, fairies, satyrs, trolls, imps, mermaids, and--hoo-ya!--dragons. And that's not even close to all that crop up as the first saga is spun. Each volume introduces new additions to the creatures that inhabit this fascinating secret world along with compelling characters in various organizations on the outside pursuing the incredible wealth and power controlling the magical preserves and the arcane magic hidden in each that could be theirs.

Being the older of the two, Kendra (12-13) is more sensible and mature (if a bit too perfect), almost always working to do the altruistic thing and/or to right the wrongs--frequently those caused by her own brother. In contrast, Seth (11) is immature, reckless, impulsive, a bit greedy, and far too curious for his own good. In large part, the problems that take place in both of the connected series are due to Seth's consistent failure to think things through to the inevitable conclusion instead of the one he optimistically envisions. However, lest you think these are clich├ęd or what-you-see-on-the-surface-is-what-you-get characters, let me assure you, they're not. Seth is fun and fun-loving, and you can't help but love and root for him, even as you're rolling your eyes, going "Seth, Seth, have you learned nothing from the last time you tried something stupid like this?!" His boundless enthusiasm pulls you along despite yourself. Kendra is also a multifaceted character with strengths and weaknesses, though she begins and often is very typical of what you'd expect. She serves as a good role model to anyone else who's had their vision of what life and reality are turned completely upside down. The siblings discover their own sort of magic power within the course of the series that can help or hinder their efforts to keep the magical refuges unharmed and intact.

The grandparents Stan and Ruth running Fablehaven are well-drawn and complex, as you'd expect, as are those associated with the sanctuary--Lena, the housekeeper, Dale, the groundskeeper, and his brother Warren; and Hugo the golem; the mystical world at large; and secret organizations, each in their capacities of helping or harming. There are many other intriguing characters that readers will enjoy having join the cast. The parents of Kendra and Seth are nearly non-existent. In Book 1, I accepted that they were going on a 17-day cruise and so basically dropped off the kids and had no reason to really worry anything could go wrong. But their continued absence and/or lack of involvement through the other four books in the series were the only aspect I found a little bit unsettling and unrealistic.

Starting in the second book in the series, Rise of the Evening Star (an archaic society seeking to grab control of the magic preserves around the globe), five artifacts of immense power become the focus of this story and Books 3-5 (titled respectively The Grip of the Shadow Plague, Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary, and Keys to the Demon Prison) as those protecting the sanctuary and the other four like it all over the globe try to keep these talismans from falling into the hands of those who wish to subvert and unleash what could destroy the world--magic and human alike--as they know it.

Though Book 5 ends on an optimistic, if a little unresolved (purposely, I believe) note, it's not the end. Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary introduced Wyrmroost, a hidden dragon sanctuary, that becomes the focus of the spinoff series, Dragonwatch. In the first book of the same name as the series, four months have passed since the events of Keys of the Demon Prison. Kendra and Seth are a little older, a little wiser, and both are equipped with powers that will prove vital to fighting an all-new threat. Their cousins Knox and Tess are also visiting Fablehaven for the summer, which is bound to cause endless issues and conflicts.

In Dragonwatch, a fearless dragon named Celebrant, King of Dragons, wants to reign without borders by returning the world to the Age of Dragons, when dragons, not humans, ruled. Celebrant was actually one of the many heroes of the previous series instrumental in its satisfactory, if not ideal, conclusion. Dragonwatch was an ancient order of wizards, sorceresses, and dragon slayers that subdued the dragons in the past, but nearly all of the former guardians are gone. 

Once again, in the course of the five books (Dragonwatch, Wrath of the Dragon King, Master of the Phantom Isle, Champion of the Titan Games, and Return of the Dragon Slayers), we're treated to a host of compelling creatures including the dragons (both good, evil, and those who could go either way), of course, but also unicorns, giants, fairies, demons, and the king of the undead. Kendra and Seth are unfathomably made co-caretakers of the Wyrmroost dragon prison (along with a wizard). The two main characters we rooted for all through the first series retain the traits we either loved or decried then in this new series. Incidentally, Kendra and Seth's all but missing parents in Fablehaven do put in an appearance this time, eventually, as I wanted them to in the previous series.

In Dragonwatch, the humans, wizards, the characters we've come to love in Fablehaven as well as new ones (Knox and Tess, in particular), and even some previous enemies become allies in this "enemy of my enemy is my friend" plotline. Those assembled in the course of the series form another intriguing cast. Kendra and Seth are separated for most of the stories, as they work to prevent the seven dragon sanctuaries around the globe from falling. But only together can they become the comingled dragon slayer that can end the threat of draconic domination.

As the Fablehaven volumes did, each book starts where the previous one left off, so there's solid conflict from start to finish, and you're immediately plunged into tense scenarios at the beginning while also unable to keep yourself from grabbing the next when one ends.

I've read Fablehaven a number of times, Dragonwatch only once (so far). The creatures pull me in each and every time while the characters keep me on my toes, following them from one (mis)adventures to the next. The suspense is incredible, with each book impossibly better than the previous. I couldn't set any of the stories aside to read something else altogether. I was too enthralled with both series. I read them back to back, barely sleeping until I'd finished them from start to finish. These are keepers worth every penny I spent on them. I expect to read them indefinitely for the rest of my life. Incidentally, while there has been talk of a Fablehaven movie, which would be amazing beyond belief, so far nothing has come of it. Fingers crossed for the future!

In the final installment of this article next week, I'll review Joseph Delaney's Spooksworld, what is, in my opinion, the most fantastic Young Adult fantasy multi-series in existence.

Karen Wiesner is an award-winning, multi-genre author of over 150 titles and 16 series.

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