Review: Havenfall by Sara Holland

Review: Havenfall by Sara Holland

‘Maddie loves spending summers at her uncle’s Inn at Havenfall. But the Inn is much more than a Maddie’s safe haven, and life in Havenfall isn’t without its secrets. Beneath the beautiful, sprawling manor in Colorado lie hidden gateways to other worlds, some long-sealed by ancient magic.

When a body is found on the grounds, the volatile peace brokered between these worlds is irrevocably compromised. What’s worse is that Maddie’s friend Brekken stands accused of the murder. With everything she loves at stake, Maddie must confront shocking truths about the dangers lurking beneath Havenfall – and discover who she really is.’

Havenfall starts with the protagonist, Maddie, telling a few half-truths to ensure that she gets to spend the summer with her uncle at the Inn at Havenfall, which is where she’s spent many summers before, becoming acquainted with how the Inn runs and its importance to Haven (our world) and those worlds that stand beyond the gates. The Inn serves as neutral ground and as the place where people of Fiordenkill, Byrn and Haven hold the annual peace summit on the longest day of the year. The gateway to Solaria has been sealed, its land one of volatile magic and its people said to be violent and dangerous. The other realms view Solarians as a threat and have signed a treaty that forbids any contact or trade with Solaria, branding any communication with it as treasonous. It is Maddie’s dearest wish to be named as her uncle’s heir and one day become the Innkeeper, something that has become all the more important to her as the reality of her mother’s situation has become almost unbearable.

Life at the Inn introduces us to the denizens of Byrn and Fiordenkill, the latter of which is where Brekken, the boy Maddie believes herself in love with, hails from. I’d be lying if the description of the jewels the Fiordens wear in their ears didn’t make me want to get a couple more piercings and have gems running along the edge of my own (but I think five piercings per ear is quite enough for now). Brekken’s actions over the course of the novel have Maddie doubting everything she has ever known about him, which particularly stings after their having grown up together during what time they’ve spent at the Inn, and the whole thing also has her doubting her judgements and ability to make good decisions, both of which she needs to be secure in if she’s to inherit the position of Innkeeper. Though Maddie does her best, her decisions aren’t always made with consideration of all the evidence available or the more calculating natures of those around her, which demonstrates that she still has a lot to learn if she truly wants to maintain Havenfall’s status as neutral and manage to navigate the different political situations likely to unfold and need diplomatic handling.

Havenfall contains some good representation, and while it’s primarily set in our world, people’s preferences aren’t commented on in a judgemental way and it would seem that the same goes for Fiordenkill and Byrn. It’s nice to see more and more YA books where people’s sexuality is simply accepted and prejudice isn’t something that creeps into the narrative. From my reading, I believe it’s implied that Maddie is bisexual, though whether this is something that she’s acknowledged isn’t entirely clear and I’m curious to see whether what could be inferred as a romantic connection actually is one. A moment that made me smile was when the matter of Marcus’ husband is brought up, yet it’s not to comment on their marriage, but on the fact that his being Fiorden could imply he’s not politically neutral.

For me, the book’s pacing wasn’t quite right. I felt that it kept building towards something, but whatever that something was, it didn’t happen in this instalment. I’m assuming that there is the intention to move beyond the human world and Havenfall in future books, as this appears to be what the story is setting up, and while I can’t say that I was disappointed that we didn’t see much, if anything, of the other worlds, keeping it so fixed to the one location felt a little limiting. However, the novel’s title is Havenfall, and if we had spent too long in one world or another and not at the Inn itself, I feel it would have not been as effective in setting up the importance of its traditions and its history, nor in establishing who Maddie is and how she ticks. I’m the kind of reader who loves going over cultural and political details and I genuinely did enjoy every minute of the story, but it was a little too easy to put down, which is not what I found with Holland’s previous novels. This said, I’m really looking forward to seeing whether we go beyond any of the gates in the books to come, though would be just as happy if it’s reported information. As you can tell, I’m quite conflicted about the whole thing!

Havenfall is out on March 3rd! Thank you, Bloomsbury, for sending me a copy to review! I look forward to seeing where Maddie’s story leads and what further truths come to light!

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