Havenfall by Sara Holland was the March pick of Illumicrate, and after seeing the poor rating on Goodreads, I was a bit vary to start it. With my expectations lowered, it was a pleasant surprise, but not an outstanding book by any measure. The main reason for that that it read like an introduction to a book, a prequel novella, rather than a novel in its own right.
At this point I need to address my pet peeve: novels, even fantasy novels, do not need long and boring introductions. A good author will get on with a story and build the world slowly, giving the reader the information as and when they need it. Regardless of adult or YA. Extended worldbuilding intros without story does not make a book more mature, they just signal bad writing.
Havenfall does not suffer from this mistake, and yet it does. There’s a plot, always progressing. It just not enough.
Maddie is the kind of character I felt hard to sympathise with. Her mother has recently been sentenced to death for her brother’s murder she obviously didn’t commit, which stirs up an interesting conflict. But all Maddie seemed to be doing is whining about it. I know, realistically, a girl in this situation has no options, but I felt that if saving her mother from death row was built into the story as a stake, a motivation for the character, both the plot and the character could have benefited from it. Without a connection to the plot, it was just there for drama.
Now, Maddie is just a girl who runs off to her uncle’s magical inn to hide from reality. Her fear of the Solarians was clearly exaggerated thanks to the events of her childhood, so for a reader the plot became predictable.
Now onto the worldbuilding. Yes, there’s a whole world, or rather many worlds beyond Havenfall, the magical inn in the mountains, that serves as a safe haven and meeting point for all those worlds. The idea of them is exciting and enchanting. The people of these worlds all bear different magic, which makes the inn and its inhabitants engrossing. Mixed with an investigation, it becomes almost amazing. Almost.
But Maddie’s choices are questionable at best, her simple blindness to people’s intentions soon becomes infuriating. For the worlds, we only get a teaser, not a real taste, as the story never leaves the inn. The book — while it is complete, and the conflict is resolved — ends on a note that suggests that now you’ve read an intro and finally we can get to the real thing. But the problem is, that’s the end.
The characters other than Maddie are forgettable. Brekken goes missing, so we get no chance to get to know him, even though he is the love interest. Taya, who is supposed to be… I’m not even sure. Is she the love interest no.2? Is this an intro to a love triangle? Maybe. I personally hate them, so I hope not. But Maddie was too fickle for my taste. I mean, yes, it’s fine to find another person attractive when you are with someone, but the way she turns away from Brekken at the first sign of suspicion is just annoying. Like I’ve said: her people judgement skills are lacking to the point where it becomes just pure frustration for the reader.
All in all, Havenfall could be good, but it missed the mark for me. I enjoyed it with lowered expectations, but it was predictable, and too easy to put down. I still feel a curiosity that might make me pick up the second book. I’m enticed by all the worlds and I want to explore them, but the sequel needs bigger stakes and a smarter main character to keep me going.
Looking for more great reviews?
Check out my review of Spin the Dawn here.