ARC Review – ‘Havenfall’ by Sara Holland

Title: Havenfall
Author: Sara Holland
Genre: YA Fantasy
Word/Page Count: 320 (paperback)
Publication Details: by Bloomsbury Australia on March 3rd, 2020
RRP: $16.99 AUD (paperback)


Blurb from Goodreads:

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 . . .

This is my first time reading Sara Holland’s work and it certainly won’t be the last! I’ve heard her name in YA fantasy circles, but haven’t had the chance to pick up a book of hers until Bloomsbury kindly sent me an ARC for Havenfall.

This is a brilliantly imagined story that takes place in our modern world, but is set in the remote town of Haven where an inn safeguards a series of magical doors beneath the Rocky Mountains that leads to other realms. The Inn at Havenfall has traditionally been a neutral meeting ground that hosts gatherings for citizens from the other realms to negotiate treaties, conduct trade and celebrate peace between their worlds during the summer solstice every year. Our heroine Maddie is the Innkeeper’s niece who has spent her summers at Havenfall, soaking up the magical atmosphere, learning to interact with the visiting nobles, soldiers and staff from foreign worlds and gaining knowledge to hopefully help her take on the role of Innkeeper once her uncle retires.

Unfortunately this summer, a shocking incursion from a hostile realm occurs when a Solarian manages to break through the sealed-off door and gain access to Havenfall. Maddie’s uncle is incapacitated and she learns to be careful what you wish for when she is required to take up his mantle and do her best to lead the peace summit with the Byrnisian and Fiorden delegates while trying to locate the dangerous beast on the loose and prevent the possibility of further Solarians slipping into Havenfall. She’s also thrown into personal turmoil at the suspicious disappearance of her love interest Brekken just as her keys were stolen and he was seen entering the tunnels leading to the magical doors.

Maddie is an excellent protagonist; she’s ambitious and driven, dedicated to protecting the sanctity of Havenfall and looking after its residents, wanting to believe the best in people but also accepting unpleasant facts when they arise and suggest her loved ones may be concealing sinister secrets. While this is clearly a fantasy tale, the plotline is often reminiscent of an Agatha Christie murder mystery, which is a fun storytelling choice that sets this apart from other fantasy novels. There are so many twists and turns as Maddie struggles to cope with surprising revelations and shocking bombshells that alter not only her worldview but cast a traumatic childhood incident in a new and different light.

I loved that Maddie is very casually bisexual without any fanfare or angst, and while her main love interest is a male Fiorden soldier who’s been her friend since childhood, there is the introduction of Taya, a mysterious girl on a motorcycle who insists that she’s at Havenfall to forget about her ex-girlfriend and not to be distracted by other girls. Normally I’m not a fan of love triangles, but the triangle isn’t overt here as Maddie and Taya slowly build a growing trust and appreciation for each other, with the hint that it could develop into more down the track. I’ll be rooting for the f/f pairing if the author decides to take it in that direction, fingers crossed!


Politics in fantasy can sometimes be very convoluted and lead to glazed over eyes, but the author did a great job at establishing the different races, plus basing the existing tension on a shocking murder that took place years ago is a clever tactic that helps to anchor the various alliances in the reader’s head. If you simply say Fiordenkill-Byrn good, Solaria-bad, these foreign names get jumbled about easily, but elaborating that the door to Solaria was sealed off due to a murder committed by a visiting Solarian gives it more weight and context.

I found the anti-Solarian sentiment to be very interesting because on one hand, history has a habit of favoring the victors and it’s common to depersonalize one’s enemies as savage beasts, which makes you wonder whether the opinions we’re presented with are entirely true or not. But on the other hand, Maddie’s traumatic history with a Solarian in her childhood seems to confirm that what you see is what you get. The present-day crisis with a Solarian on the loose stirs up horrifying memories to add to the burden on Maddie’s shoulders, as if she doesn’t already have enough to deal with! While the villain of the story is quite obvious from perhaps a third of the way in, the Solarian arc in both past and present is much more opaque and very satisfying to unravel with Maddie throughout her investigation.

While I enjoyed reading this very much, the main issue that I have with Havenfall is that Maddie is frequently in a reactive position and it’s frustrating at times to be reading from the perspective of a passive protagonist instead of one who is propelling the plot themselves. It makes sense because Maddie is only a teenager without any real training or special skills, and her loved ones all keep her in the dark instead of letting her in on the truth about what’s really going on, but this is the rare book where I wish there could have been multiple narrators because there were some really interesting arcs taking place in the background that we barely witness. I realize that would’ve lessened a bit of the suspense to see what was happening with Brekken, for instance, but in a book built on recurring blindsides that send our heroine reeling, I think developing his character further would’ve been more beneficial to the story instead of drawing out the mystery. As it is, I’m unmoved by the romance between him and Maddie since it’s based on a history we don’t witness and springs into place fully formed with no chance to get invested.

A fast-paced, action-packed fantasy with a fascinating mystery plot that will surprise and enthrall readers. Featuring a smart, level-headed heroine who is very relatable as she tries to keep her head above water in a situation way above her pay grade, with original and irresistible world-building. This is a book that encourages binge-reading and will leave you desperate for book 2!

Personal Rating: 4 out of 5 kitties recommend this book.


Disclaimer: Physical copy provided by publisher free for an unbiased review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

4 thoughts on “ARC Review – ‘Havenfall’ by Sara Holland

    • aww, I appreciate the lovely comment! ❤ and I'm always looking for something a bit different as reading a bunch of YA fantasy can result in them melding together, so this was just what I was looking for, something quite different and very addictive with the mystery storyline!

      Liked by 1 person

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