Connecting the Realms in Sara Holland’s Havenfall

Something about mountains in general has always felt like a perfect magical setting to me. When I went to college in the Blue Ridge mountains, they took my imagination by storm. I spent much of my time writing about witches and wizards, picturing all the ways magic was soaked up by nature all around me. Grandfather, Sugar, and Beech mountain kept my mind fluttering with possibilities. The mountains are the perfect place for a magical community to thrive.

As soon as I heard that Sara Holland’s Havenfall took place in a hidden, magical inn nestled in the Rocky Mountains, I knew I had to read it.

Havenfall starts with Maddie. She’s reeling from the news that her mother, accused of murdering her brother Nate, sits on death row. Every summer, Maddie escapes from her overwhelming reality to Havenfall, an Inn nestled in Colorado mountains. Havenfall connects four ancient realms, protects those seeking refuge within its walls, and bans those who threaten the peace from returning. There, Maddie feels safe and free. She imagines taking over the Inn one day from her uncle, Marcus, and spending time with Brekken, a Fiorden soldier she secretly loves.

Three of the four realms join together each summer for the Annual Peace Summit. At the neutral realm, Omphalos—The Inn at Havenfall—they discuss continued treaties, trade deals, and more. Fiordenkill is full of ice and frost and their inhabitants have healing magic. Maddie’s childhood crush, Brekken, is a soldier from this realm. Another realm, Byrn, was rescued by the Silver Prince, who used his magic to calm the storms and protect the city-state Oasis from harm. One realm is not allowed at the Annual Peace Summit. This is Solaria, full of highly volatile magic and soul-devourers. Their realm was closed off after a deadly incident at Havenfall; Maddie is sure that a Solarian beast is responsible for her brother’s murder. Maddie abandons her father’s plans for her to intern at her Grandma’s insurance company over the summer to sneak away to Havenfall for this summit. Her attachment and love for the Inn is too great to ignore.

But this summer at Havenfall is not like the others. Instead of a refuge, the impossible sneaks its way in: a dead body is found, Marcus is gravely injured, and Brekken goes missing. Maddie becomes in charge of the Inn earlier than she ever planned, and dark secrets start to reveal themselves. On top of this, a mysterious staffer named Taya joins her and keeps poking around the grounds. Maddie continues to uncover secrets about Havenfall while Marcus is unconscious: cracked doorways, deep betrayals, and the revelation that someone at the Inn is selling magical artifacts from other realms to the black market. As she finds herself making more promises than she can keep to herself, to Taya, to Marcus’ partner, and the guests of Havenfall, Maddie struggles with self-doubt and nearly debilitating anxiety. Can she restore the peace before the end of the summer summit, or is Havenfall already doomed?

Holland put in work to make this magical world feel unique. I enjoy the crossover of fantasy and technology featured in Havenfall: the idea that the people from other worlds wouldn’t be familiar with phones, but Maddie uses hers as a flashlight. Holland does a great job showing us the differences between our world and the other realms through Brekken. I found his reaction to horses to be particularly telling and charming. In his realm, soldiers ride on wolves and giant bears into battle. This leads to him being both fascinated and mistrustful of horses, which is a moment that made me smile. I also love the idea that human legends we know and love have likely come from the other magical realms in Havenfall’s universe. At one point, Maddie quips that Narnia had to come from somewhere. It always makes me happy to see authors toying with the idea that fantasies from our past come from another world, so I enjoyed that.

Another trope I enjoy is when a lead character is suddenly taking on a responsibility they’re woefully underprepared for. Faking it till you make it is such a relatable concept that using it in a fantasy setting with high stakes makes it easy for the reader to latch on and understand. Maddie’s cyclical anxiety is also something many readers will understand.

There will definitely be a book two (at least, I hope so, based on the ending!), and I look forward to learning more about the characters and the worlds within Havenfall’s pages. Specifically, I look forward to reading about Taya, a new staffer at Havenfall who catches Maddie’s attention. Seriously, there are twists and turns at the end of the book that promise that this story will reach new heights with its next installment.

Havenfall is available from Bloomsbury YA.

Cassie Schulz is the Events Assistant for Brazos Bookstore. You can find her on Twitter @kerfufflepuff where she tweets about books, musicals, and cats. You can also find her on Instagram, co-managing the page @tag.ur.lit with a fellow queer disaster who loves YA Lit as much as she does.

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