Author: Sara Holland
Published By: Bloomsbury UK
Expected Publication: 3rd March (sorry!)
BECHDEL TEST: PASS-Maddie and Taya discuss the different worlds.
Content Warnings: Violence and moderate gore, incarcerated mother, loss of a loved one, kidnapping, near drowning.
Thanks to Bloomsbury UK and Netgalley for allowing me to read this book early. This in no way affected my opinion of it.
I read Sara Holland’s debut Everless two years ago, and though I still haven’t got around to the sequel yet, when I saw her new book on Netgalley, it sounded just good enough to request. The premise of this book sounded great, an Inn acting as a neutral ground between three magical worlds, definitely fodder for a good book. Sadly, the execution didn’t live up to the premise, it was largely bland and dull most of the way through, right up until the end when it felt overly rushed. It definitely had potential, but this felt more like a prequel novel than the start of a series, which I think formed a lot of my problems with it. Here is a short synopsis of the book:
A safe haven between four realms. The girl sworn to protect it — at any cost.
Hidden deep in the mountains of Colorado lies the Inn at Havenfall, a sanctuary that connects ancient worlds — each with their own magic — together. For generations, the inn has protected all who seek refuge within its walls, and any who disrupt the peace can never return.
For Maddie Morrow, summers at the inn are more than a chance to experience this magic first-hand. Havenfall is an escape from reality, where her mother sits on death row accused of murdering Maddie’s brother. It’s where Maddie fell in love with handsome Fiorden soldier Brekken. And it’s where one day she hopes to inherit the role of Innkeeper from her beloved uncle.
But this summer, the impossible happens–a dead body is found, shattering everything the inn stands for. With Brekken missing, her uncle gravely injured, and a dangerous creature on the loose, Maddie suddenly finds herself responsible for the safety of everyone in Havenfall. She’ll do anything to uncover the truth, even if it means working together with an alluring new staffer Taya, who seems to know more than she’s letting on. As dark secrets are revealed about the inn itself, one thing becomes clear to Maddie–no one can be trusted, and no one is safe…
So I guess I should start with my biggest issue with this book, which was, once again…..pacing! Why is it always pacing? I swear like 90% of the books I’ve read recently have had pacing issues and it seems to be something that I’m always complaining about. So yeah, this book had some issues in that department as well. Most of it was set up and the actual plot basically happened in the last two or three chapters. This led to the end feeling incredibly rushed, where most of the book was rather plodding. It felt more like a prequel than the first book in a series, setting up the history of the world and the characters rather than having any real plot of its own.
I did think the world building was reasonably good, we get a good idea of Haven and the relationships between the realms and the kind of magic each place can use. However, the crib sheet at the beginning of the book, telling you what each realm was and their relationship to each other felt like rather clumsy info-dumping. It didn’t seem necessary either, since you find out basically everything in the accord through the book anyway. I was also a bit disappointed that the entire book took place solely in Haven. You mean to tell me that we have these cool other magical worlds, with storms and icy tundras and shapeshifters and we only get to see the inn in the human world? Not cool.
I also hated how much internal monologuing there is in this: Maddie seems to love an internal monologue. I have always been way more of a dialogue girl than a monologue one and unfortunately for me, this book was 90% dialogue, maybe 10% monologue.
I did love how many LGBTQ+ characters were in this, Maddie is bisexual, Taya is a lesbian, and Graylin and her uncle Marcus are in a relationship (not confirmed whether they are gay or bi). It was all very casual as well, they just existed, which was lovely.
The characters did feel kind of flat though, there was no real development for any of them throughout the book. Maddie was meant to be our heroine and yet I found her kind of bland. She is also incredibly naive, which makes some of her decisions quite eyerolling at times. I do appreciate that she had been through some trauma, which might explain why she read as younger than 16, she lost both her mother and her brother at a young age. But she still didn’t feel developed enough to make a compelling protagonist, and none of the side characters felt particularly developed either.
The same goes for the villain of the book, as a villain, because they weren’t developed all that well and we didn’t really know their motivations, so they felt very one dimensional.
I feel like this book definitely reads as written for younger teens, which is absolutely fine, there’s definitely a gap for that, but potentially it would have worked better if Maddie had been written as younger, to match her character and the author’s writing style.
It definitely seemed like there was a love triangle incoming, it’s not overdone in this one, but it seems like there’s going to be more of it in the next book. I do tire of love triangles, but at least this one is a girl, with a male and female love interest so it might be a little different than all the others!
It did seem a bit ridiculous than when Marcus has a husband who presumably helps him run the inn, that when he is incapacitated, his traumatised sixteen year old niece takes over rather than his adult husband!
For a fantasy, this is very fantasy-lite, with more mentions of powers rather than much actual demonstration, which is good for people who maybe aren’t as used to fantasy, but for me, I prefer more magic!
There were a few decent twists towards the end, though it was a little too late by that point, my interest had largely been lost.
As for the ending, it felt incredibly abrupt. This is a very short book, under 400 pages, but when the book ends feeling like there should have been more, even in a book that you already know is going to have a sequel, it’s not great.
Overall, this is not a bad book, the concept was good and it had potential, but it just didn’t quite live up to it. The ending meant that I probably will still read the sequel as I want to know what happens next, but I don’t have high expectations.
My Rating: 3/5
My next review will be of my April #RockMyTBR book, The City of Brass, S.A. Chakraborty, which I should have up by the end of the week, as I have almost finished it.