Author Sara Holland’s latest offering, Havenfall, a YA fantasy set in the mountains of the Colorado, breathes new life to the portal fantasy subgenre by bringing the fantastical worlds to us through the magical inn of Havenfall— a peaceful sanctuary that serves as neutral grounds for delegates of adjacent realms to meet and trade.
It has been a hot minute since I have read a piece of portal fantasy, which seems to be a neglected YA subgenre in recent years. I am very pleased to say that this book delivered on everything I wanted in a portal fantasy, a gorgeous setting, intriguing magical races, a cozy inn to call home, and a good ole murder mystery. I love stories that take place in inns or taverns, and follow a character that would normally be in the background, or a side character. In the case of Havenfall, we get to follow along with the innkeeper’s niece.
Maddie Morrow loves to spend her summers at Havenfall, an old inn up high in the mountains of Colorado, that barely anyone knows exists. This inn harbors portals to the magical realms that sit adjacent to earth and has stood as a pillar of peace for generations, serving as a neutral ground for people of all realms to meet and trade. Havenfall also serves as an escape from reality for Maddie, as her mom sits on death row, accused of killing Maddie’s brother, and her father continues to refuse to believe such a place as Havenfall exists. It’s also where she gets to see Brekken, her icy, Fiordian boyfriend. Someday, Maddie hopes to take over the inn, once her Uncle retires. Havenfall is her home.
However, when a dead body is found on the inn’s grounds, Brekken goes missing, Maddie’s Uncle is found in a coma, and a door to a dangerous realm that has been closed off for a hundred years is cracked open, the peace of Havenfall is quickly shattered. As Maddie searches for the truth behind the murder, Maddie finds herself in charge and responsible for everyone’s safety at the inn, and she realizes those who she thought she could trust, have betrayed her, and everyone is hiding something.
Sara Holland has done a phenomenal job with this setting. I could clearly picture the rustic, glam of Havenfall and the sleepy town of Haven. I want to stay there. The realms all have different settings, their own culture, and own magic. While we don’t get to go to the realms themselves, we do get to learn about through the people that come through the portals. We get to be with the Innkeeper’s niece, and learn about the realms like she does (also, if you are not from the realm, you will suffocate after a short time being in it).
The addition of the classic whodunit murder mystery was delightful, especially in the setting of the old inn and the forest grounds around it. There is sneaking through guest bedrooms, hunting a monster in the forest, and all kinds of investigation that makes my Nancy Drew loving heart squeal. I was able to guess many of the plot twists, but I was happy that I was correct. I do think that the culprit is foreshadowed pretty heavily.
Finally, I do think Maddie as a main character is quite relatable, albeit a little “Mary Sue-ish” at times. I appreciated her ability to rise to the occasion of taking care of the inn in the time of crisis, without complaining or wallowing in self-pity. Of course she still got stressed and made mistakes, but she’s human, and humans do that under extreme pressure. I do think it is kind of ridiculous how unhelpful the other staff members were acting, but I’ll let it slide.
The ending is satisfying, but allows enough unanswered questions for the sequel. Also, I sense a love triangle in the next installment. I am interested to see where the story heads next.
So, if you love murder mysteries, charming old inns with secrets, and sleepy mountain towns, then Havenfall is the perfect story for you.