I may be a 34-year-old man, but I don’t mind getting childish now and then — especially when it comes to literature. I’ve always loved and appreciated young adult novels, feeling that they’re somehow more free to be imaginative than some of the adult stuff out there. As such, over the last month or so I’ve been digging into two YA fantasy series that have come highly recommended: Brandon Mull’s Fablehaven series (5 books in all) and Henry H. Neff’s Tapestry series (3 books so far).
With the absence of any more Harry Potter novels, it seems as though there’s this worldwide talent search to crown a new fantasy series as “the next Harry Potter”. I guess that speaks to a void in some folks’ lives, although personally, I don’t see why there’s a desperate need for more Harry Potterness. Both Fablehaven and The Tapestry are brought up as Harry Potter heirs, but that’s kind of a disservice to the authors. I don’t think they wrote these books trying to out-Potter J.K. Rowling, but just to have fun in the field of fantasy, as many YA authors have done before and since.
Still, I can see why some people try to make the Potter connection, as they share themes (themes, I might add, that often pop up in YA fantasy). There’s the young child (or children) from the regular world who discover that there’s a whole ‘nother world hidden around us — in the case of Fablehaven, it’s magical creatures hidden in preserves; in the case of the Tapestry, it’s the remnants of Old Magic that still course through pockets of the world. The children come to a special place to learn about this fantastic world, and in so doing develop magical powers and special abilities of their own. Then there’s a huge overarching enemy that threatens the safety of the whole world, and for some reason, only the kids are able to stop it.
But really, neither Fablehaven nor The Tapestry follow the Potter template, but instead choose to forge their own paths. Fablehaven is more concerned with fantastic creatures from classic mythology — fairies, dragons, ogres, demons, etc. — while The Tapestry dabbles in dozens of fantasy tropes, from inner magic to cool gadgets (namely, the struggle between magic and technology, or nature and technology). Only The Tapestry features a school for gifted kids like Harry Potter, although this school isn’t the focus of the series, and in the second book is abandoned for a good chunk.
I grew to love three things about Fablehaven. The first is that Mull is pretty imaginative, and keeps coming up with cool new twists and locations and secrets to spill, tying all sorts of things together over the course of five books. The second is that by having two main protagonists with two wildly different personalities and focuses — the girl has “light” magic and often is seen with fairies and other girly creatures, the boy has “shadow” magic and consorts with monsters — it markets itself to both genders fairly well. The third is that Mull finishes each book with a series of discussion questions for parents to ask to their kids, often revolving around morality and tough choices.
I’m still trying to get a handle on The Tapestry. As a story, it moves rapidly fast at points, throwing in gobs of new locations and events with little to no immediate follow-up. You begin the books expecting it to be about a group of kids who get the Harry Potter schooling experience, but that’s quickly abandoned for larger happenings. By the end of the second book, everything’s progressed so fast and far that I felt like it was the end of a seven-book series, and it gets really dark, really fast.
Both series have their darker moments, mind you, and don’t shy away from deaths and torture and hard questions. But The Tapestry is actually a little frightening and gory — although I am starting to like it more than Fablehaven (the characters have more personality, for one thing), and am really interested to see where they go with the third installment.
Anyway, both series get a thumbs-up, and I think I’ll be moving on to read The Passage after this.