Havenfall: A Review

Havenfall by Sara HollandHavenfall is a world unto itself–an inn situated at the gateways between worlds offering neutral ground for the Last Remaining Adjacent Realms. It’s also the one place where people believe Maddie Marrow when she tells them what really happened to her brother all those years ago.

Maddie knows that this summer is her last chance to prove herself to her uncle Marcus and earn her spot as his successor running the inn. She’s up to the challenge. But when Maddie gets to Havenfall she realizes that things have started changing. Her best friend Brekken is a Fiordenkill soldier, Marcus is keeping secrets, and then there’s the new girl–Taya–who is supposed to be temporary help for the summer but draws Maddie’s attention more than she cares to admit.

When a body is found on the grounds and Marcus is attacked, Maddie is left to pick up the pieces and figure out the truth before Havenfall and the tenuous peace it represents is ruines in Havenfall (2020) by Sara Holland.

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As the start of a new series, Havenfall lays a lot of groundwork introducing readers to Maddie’s world at the inn and the adjacent realms Fiordenkill and Byrn as well as Solaria, a rogue realm whose portal was sealed off years ago. While the premise is interesting and offers a unique spin on traditional portal fantasies, the world building is one of the bigger problems with this book.

One of the tenets of the story is that that the porous nature of the portals between realms is part of why we have myths with magic even though Earth does not have magic of its own. Solarians–the main villain for a significant part of Havenfall–come from a world that is associated with mythology including djinn, vampires, demons, and soulstealers. This choice is problematic because djinn are also the only non-white/non-western mythology named in the entire story. It’s also the only mythos associated with a specific religion/culture which, again, here is being coded as villainous.

I won’t get into spoilers explaining Maddie’s history with Solaria but suffice to say that her hatred of the entire Solarian race informs a lot of her character. Does Maddie eventually see the error or her ways? Yes. Are reparations being made? Kind of. Did we need to spend an entire book vilifying an entire race (which although presented as white in the novel is the only group in the book associated with a nonwhite culture)? Absolutely not. What’s worst, the only notable person of color in the entire cast of characters is Marcus’s husband who is from one of the other “good” worlds.

Holland’s ambitious world building never gels enough to transcend this messy foundation. Similarly, the plot never quite comes together despite ample time spent setting up the story with an incredibly slow beginning. Maddie is bisexual–a fact that is refreshingly a nonissue for her family and friends but which also hints at a love triangle that frustratingly never leads anywhere interesting.

Havenfall is a mystery wrapped in a portal fantasy setting that centers an ambitious if often naive heroine. Recommended for readers who prefer slow building suspense to quick action and are willing to overlook messy world building entirely.

Possible Pairings: Once Upon a Broken Heart by Stephanie Garber, A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer, Last of Her Name by Jessica Khoury, Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen M. McManus, Mister Monday by Garth Nix, Stealing Snow by Danielle Paige, The Archived by Victoria Schwab

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Everless: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

cover art for Everless by Sara HollandIn the kingdom of Sempera time can be bled out of a person and bound to iron making it the literal currency of the kingdom. In Crofton there’s never enough. Desperate to save her father before he sells what little time he has left, Jules returns to Everless—the family estate that was home to her fondest childhood memories as well as the haunting nightmare that forced her and her father to flee ten years ago.

No one seems to remember Jules but she remembers enough about cruel Liam Gerling and his handsome and kind brother Roan to know she’d best keep a low profile in her new position as a maid at the estate.

The entire estate is bustling with preparations for Roan’s wedding to Ina Gold, the Queen’s official heir. Raised up from humble beginnings as an orphan, Ina is beloved throughout Sempera and granted unguarded access to Everless and the Queen. Working as Ina’s maid at the estate might also be Jules’ best chance to unlock the mysteries of her own past.  Secrets abound at Everless but with danger looming Jules isn’t certain she’ll have enough time to uncover them all in Everless (2018) by Sara Holland.

Everless is Holland’s debut novel and the start of a series.

Everless starts with an inventive and surprising premise: what if time could be measured and sold? From this tantalizing question Holland builds the rich and strongly developed world of Sempera. Although the mythology and world building is initially muddy, many questions are answered by the end of the novel as various pieces of Sempera’s past begin to fall into place.

Jules is an impulsive and often frustrating heroine. She doesn’t think or consider. Instead she spends most of the book reacting first as she sneaks her way into a job at Everless and then when she realizes she can’t safely remain at the estate. While that makes for an incredibly exciting and nail-biting read it is also infuriating to watch Jules repeatedly rush into things that could easily be avoided if only she would listen.

Everless is a sprawling, grand estate and the novel itself is suitably well-populated with fascinating characters. Roan and Liam, the two Gerling sons who will one day inherit Everless and its wealth, serve as a point of infatuation for Jules–Roan as the object of her childhood affections and Liam as the reason she and her father had to leave the estate’s comfort and shelter when she was seven. Despite getting far less page time, Liam is by far the more interesting of the two and a character I look forward to seeing in the sequel.

Everless is a strong series starter filled with action and intrigue. This story starts small focusing on Jules’s own survival and revenge only to gain momentum as Jules finds herself at the center of a story that could change the entire forever. Highly recommended for fantasy readers and sci-fi fans who like their science with a heavy dose of alchemy.

Possible Pairings: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, Wither by Lauren DeStefano, Crown of Oblivion by Julie Eshbaugh, The Jewel by Amy Ewing, The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig, The Glittering Court by Richelle Mead, Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan, Birthmarked by Caragh M. O’Brien, The Queen’s Rising by Rebecca Ross, Ash Princess by Laura Sebastian, Shimmer and Burn by Mary Taranta