Maria Gil reviews Sara Holland’s Havenfall, which was released today.
Havenfall is a fun fantasy novel to devour over a lazy weekend. It follows the story of Maddie Morrow, a short-haired, Doc Martens-wearing bisexual, whose uncle owns the magical inn, Haven. Haven is the neutral zone between four magical realms which use the Earth as a place of negotiation since it is devoid of magic. Maddie desperately wants to prove to her uncle that she is ready to begin her training to become the next innkeeper. But after a mysterious murder in the inn by creatures from a land long sealed off, Maddie finds herself having to fill the shoes of her injured uncle while trying to solve the murder mystery, seal the recently opened portal, and figure out where her best friend has disappeared to.
The novel is told through the present first-person point of view of Maddie, which is interesting because Maddie suffers from PTSD. Many times during the book, the memories of her past drown her mind and make her incapable of making decisions. However, the novel was never about her PTSD: her mental illness was part of her and was never mocked or made the critical element of her personality (nor was her bisexuality). It was refreshing to see representation casually being part of a novel rather than being its focal point. Sometimes her PTSD made her scared or emotionally weak but those factors are what made Maddie a more realistic character. Maddie is a badass female protagonist without needing to be physically or emotionally strong, and literature needs more Maddies. And she was not the only character audiences could fall in love with; the characters that Maddie finds intriguing and holds meaningful connections with were also compelling. When her uncle is incapacitated, the relationship between the two characters is so genuine that Maddie’s pain becomes the reader’s.
Havenfall was a perfect palate cleanser after reading too many intense fantasy or sci-fi stories. The fast-paced plot is easy to get lost in but it was also very predictable, making it easy to pinpoint the antagonist and everyone’s underlying role in the story. Consequently, Sara Holland’s world-building, particularly of the other realms, is what kept the novel from being a flop. There was Fiordenkill, a world covered in ice and frost with breathtaking auroras of magic and stars, where animals that were massive, colourful and beautiful roamed. Then there was Byrn, a world ruined by sweltering heat and unstoppable storms due to misused magical powers, surviving only because their king built an oasis behind magical walls to keep the population safe from the storms. Finally, there was Solaria, a realm shut off over a hundred years ago which no one remembers much about except that it was filled with powerful shapeshifters with fearsome advanced technology. I hope the sequel explores these worlds in more detail.
Havenfall is worth the read if you don’t want to invest too much time and effort in a fantasy world. It leans towards the younger demographic of YA readers, but it is still enjoyable for older readers and has a great cast of LGBTQIA+ characters who have actual personalities and purpose rather than simply being queer. Elements of mystery, fantasy, magic, and well-written relationships mean this 300-pager is perfect for your next weekend binge-read.
Publisher: Bloomsbury YA
Publication Date: 3rd March 2020
RRP: $16.99 AUD
Personal Rating: 4/5
GoodReads Rating: 3.8/5