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Book Four in the awesome Fablehaven series is — do I need to say it? — awesome. It begins with Kendra Sorenson being kidnapped by a magical creature whose nature is so fiendish, the thought of it could keep you awake all night. How can you trust anybody in a world with stingbulbs in it? A stingbulb is a rare fruit covered in venomous spines. Once it pricks you, it turns into an exact clone of you, including most of your memories, and then it follows the first instructions given it until the bitter end.
Kendra being kidnapped is bad enough news for the good guys in the war to keep or destroy the world’s magical preserves. But with a stingbulb spying for the enemy, they don’t even know she’s gone until a crucial secret has already been betrayed — one that could enable the bad guys to open the demon prison of Zzyzx. Fortunately there are traitors on both sides, giving Kendra a chance to escape (though after her family thinks she is dead). But the joy of her return to Fablehaven is brief. For now the Sphinx knows where to find the key to unlock another secret preserve. It’s only a matter of time before he and his very resourceful allies collect all five unique relics that, together, will unlock Zzyzx. And so Kendra and a crack team of magical tomb raiders must beat them to it.
It’s like Mission: Impossible, only with dragons, centaurs, giants, and things that go bump in the night. The key they seek is hidden somewhere in a dragon sanctuary in the snowy north. Kendra has to be part of the team to find it, because only someone with her fairykind abilities can see through the enchantments that conceal the sanctuary and read the runes their next clue will be written in. Other obvious choices include Kendra’s crush, a teenaged dragon-whisperer named Gavin; the potion expert Tanu; an animated wooden limberjack named Mendigo; and other Knights of the Dawn who are good with weapons and/or dragons. Coming along uninvited, in a wonderful knapsack that has a full-sized storeroom inside it, are a grumpy goblin and — you guessed it — Kendra’s always mischievous brother Seth.
And it’s a good thing, too. Seth’s immunity to magical fear has saved the day before, but now he has come out as a full-fledged Shadow Charmer: someone with special powers to communicate with dark creatures, to resist emotional manipulation, and to see through concealment. With these skills, Seth could make even more trouble than he has before. But he could also do some good with them, as he immediately shows in his daring theft of a unicorn’s horn that his sister will need for her mission. As always in this series, whenever the danger and intrigue threaten to grow too serious for comfort, Seth is always there to provide a laugh or an eye-popping exploit.
The current quest is at least as dangerous as any of those in the previous books. The dragons are ruthless, scary, and powerful, and they don’t want their temple to be robbed. The giant Thronis, the only person who can help our friends, seems rather inclined to bake them in a pie. A demon prince in league with the Sphinx is closing in, making their mission all the more urgent. And that doesn’t even begin to describe the barriers, traps, enemies, and betrayals that will endanger Kendra and Seth — all so they can keep the world safe from demon hordes.
Do they succeed or fail? Do they survive or perish? Here’s a clue: the series isn’t over yet. It will conclude in Book Five, Keys to the Demon Prison. As much as I have enjoyed this series, I am not sure whether to be glad or sad that the end is in sight. I am glad to see it building so swiftly to a well-timed conclusion. But I will be sad to leave behind this excellent, kid-friendly series, packed as it is with action and mystery and a unique brand of magic. I can only trust that young Mr. Mull has only begun to create fantasy worlds to fascinate us.