So it’s kind of become my thing to start a review with a single word that expresses my feelings on a book.
And wow pretty much sums up Havenfall by Sara Holland.
I’ll be honest, it didn’t start wow.
It started more like meh.
Not MEH meh, but meh.
Am I making sense?
Let’s dive right into the Book Review of Havenfall and I’ll explain.
Havenfall Book Review
Havenfall starts slow.
Anyone who has been reading my reviews for any length of time knows I hate slow starts.
Chop off someone’s head in the first chapter and color me intrigued. Okay, well, you don’t really need to do that. But I prefer to start with action, with some sort of struggle to get me hooked.
Havenfall starts like a dictionary.
No, really. It could of course just be the ARC that I got, but I waded through a few pages of terms and explanations before even getting to the prologue.
And the prologue was kind of confusing. Maybe that’s the wrong word, perhaps just uninteresting is a better turn of phrase.
Chapter 1 begins with our heroine, Maddie, bemoaning her sad life.
She lives in Sterling, Colorado. At least I think it was Colorado. She just calls it Sterling after the first mention of where Sterling is.
You might be tempted to think that if she lives in Colorado that this must be an Urban fantasy novel, and you’d only be about 10% right.
Because aside from the frequent use of Maddie’s cell phone and references to pizza parlors, a horcrux, and slew of other pop culture references, the whole of this story takes place in Havenfall.
What is Havenfall?
Havenfall is an inn.
An inn built into the side of mountain.
But not just any inn.
It’s a magical inn.
Havenfull is the omphalos. The heart of the world, the crossroads between the Adjacent Realms.
There used to be dozens of Adjacent Realms, but now only four exist, including Earth. The other three are Fiordenkill, Byrn, and Solaria.
These three worlds have gates in the tunnels beneath Havenfall that allow the peoples from these Realms to cross over into Haven, a place of peace between all lands.
The inn is run by the Innkeeper. But that title is not merely his job description, but an honorific signifying that he is the ruler/keeper of the peace. He is human, thereby being unbiased to any of the three Adjacent Realms.
The innkeeper’s name is Marcus, and he’s Maddie’s uncle.
Maddie wants to be Innkeeper someday, but her father wants her to go to college and hold a respectable job.
Maddie’s father doesn’t know about Havenfall’s magic. No human outside of her immediate bloodline knows.
Am I boring you with details yet?
Cause this is the sort of thing that fills the first 5-6 chapters of Havenfall.
Where is the Wow?
Before we get there, I have one last thing to get off my chest.
Without spoiling anything, there are a few spots in Havenfall that knocked off a few points in my book.
The first is a bit of overly dramatic whining from the main character towards the beginning of the book.
She talks about a traumatic experience, and I get it, trauma is a lasting thing. But holy crap, it happened like 15 years ago and this girl is so sensitive about it that literally anything sets her off.
“He’s a boy, just like my brother, I clam up and remember that fateful day.”
“She’s the same age as my brother would have been, I can feel myself being swallowed up in grief.”
Does this happen every time you meet someone that’s 19? Because I don’t see how she copes with the world.
There’s also a moment where Maddie jumps to a conclusion that needed no jumping, and she stubbornly hangs on to said assumption even when logic and reason could at least delay judgement until all the evidence is in.
But that’s not the most offensive thing to happen.
There is a point towards the latter half of Havenfall where the answer is so friggin’ obvious.
It stares her in the face.
You will know it when you see it, because an astronaut in space could have seen it that’s how big the sign was. And yet Maddie is oblivious as if someone stole all her reasoning skills and drowned them in the lake outside Havenfall.
Here comes the Wow
Forget about the slow start, and excuse a few momentary personality quirks and the story of Havenfall is AMAZING.
All caps was totally necessary.
The worldbuilding is second to none. Even though we technically never leave Colorado, you could swear you were in a high fantasy world the entire story.
The characters from the different Realms are so uniquely distinct. The magic in the story, though light, is placed at just the right spot for just the right amount of pizazz.
Mystery bleeds through every single page of this book (after the first 5-6 chapters of course).
I was getting some very strong Clue vibes in the early pages. A dark and stormy night, an attack when the lights were out, somebody dead, somebody else critical, and a search for whodunnit that lasts until very nearly the end of the book.
That’s not to say that Havenfall is anything like Clue. Not in the least. This is fantasy at it’s finest, the mystery is the icing on the cake.
Yes, my predictions rang true about the obvious points, but there were so so many more wows and wonders as Havenfall unfolded that it overshadowed those few lackluster moments.
Havenfall is light on the action, though. Sure, there’s a few scenes of fights and danger, but mostly the excitement lies in the intrigue as Maggie unravels what’s really going on at the inn.
Havenfall does not fail to keep the pages turning and is worth a solid 4 stars out of 5.
Want more reviews?
Check out my review of Scythe by Neal Shusterman