FABLEHAVEN: GRIP OF THE SHADOW PLAGUE, by Brandon Mull, Shadow Mountain, 487 pages, $18.95

Locally based author Brandon Mull has finally hit his stride with his third foray into the world of magical creatures in "Fablehaven: Grip of the Shadow Plague." Like J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" books, the characters have evolved, the action picks up and the overall story is more enticing.

The new book comes to bookstores Monday.

"Shadow Plague" picks up nearly two months after siblings Kendra and Seth Sorenson returned to their grandparents' farm. The future of Fablehaven, which is actually one of five disguised preserves for fairies, satyrs and other magical creatures, is uncertain.

Something mysterious is making its way into the preserve. This invisible force sucks the light from everything, transforming creatures into dark beings with no sense of right or wrong. Though this darkness is discovered early, it soon becomes clear that it will overrun the preserve and everything in it.

The Sorensons desperately need help, but questions have arisen about an ally's loyalty and there are few places to turn. The traitor Vanessa is locked in the dungeon's Quiet Box and could have important information, but is it worth the risk of letting her out?

On top of the problems at Fablehaven, Kendra is called upon to join the Knights of Dawn on a dangerous journey to the Lost Mesa preserve in search of another hidden artifact. The Knights must get to the artifact before the Society of the Evening Star, a dangerous group that's been causing havoc throughout the magical world.

As with his other books, Mull's prose is fast-paced and easily accessible. Kendra and Seth continue to mature, and Seth's antics are not nearly as annoying as in the first "Fablehaven."

Seth has grown to care for the preserve and its creatures, which shows in his actions. He's also developed some new skills that come as a welcome surprise when it seems all hope is lost.

Kendra is still the responsible sibling, but she's beginning to feel the weight of being fairykind. As she learns the gifts bestowed upon her by the Fairy Queen go far beyond what she originally thought, Kendra must make a life-altering decision.

The one drawback to "Shadow Plague" is that unlike the second "Fablehaven" book, there's not a lot of back story. Mull jumps right into the action, and without prior knowledge, readers could get lost. In fact, rereading the first two novels before diving into "Shadow Plague" helps answer questions that otherwise arise.

As with the previous "Fablehaven" books, there are fantasy elements throughout "Shadow Plague," including magical spells, toxic floating pods, dragons and other evil creatures. And death, laced throughout the story, plays an important role in its final outcome.

Mull offers up an exciting romp with more than a few questions left unanswered, setting the stage for Kendra and Seth's adventures to continue in Mull's next "Fablehaven" book, "Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary."

If you go . . .

What: Launch party, including book signing, for Brandon Mull's new book, Fablehaven: Grip of the Shadow Plague

When: Friday, 6 p.m.

Where: Cottonwood High School, 5715 S. 1300 East, Murray

How much: Free

E-mail: [email protected]/I>