Book Review: Beyonders – A World Without Heroes, by Brandon Mull

This is the book that almost didn’t get read. I started reading it to my kids this spring and only got about a third of the way in before sports season got in the way. Then summer was just too much fun. The only reason they decided they wanted to finish it, I think, is because Tyler Whitesides released his second “Janitors” book a few weeks ago, and I told them we had to finish this one first.

Worth the wait. I nearly gave up on the kids and finished reading it myself. I enjoyed Mull’s “Fablehaven” series, or what I’ve read of it so far, but this is a superior series. It’s still a children’s book, though I might push it a little farther up the age range toward YA. Not for anything content-related, mind you. It’s just a more complex story that young children might have difficulty following. Mine don’t, but my children are…well, geniuses, of course (They do read consistently higher than their grade level).

Beyonders is the story of two teenagers from our world who get pulled into the world of Lyrian, a land under the fist of an evil, brilliant tyrant. Seriously, this guy makes Emperor Palpatine look like an amateur. He’s got the land locked down tighter than a drum, and anyone who opposes him gets dealt with in the most effective way he can devise that demoralizes the enemy and won’t make them a martyr. I seriously can’t see how they’re going to bring this guy down.

The story starts out like a typical fantasy quest novel: the kids have to track down the six syllables of a magic word that will destroy Maldor. Much of the book follows that pattern. But it’s not a cliche. It’s a fresh, new approach that I thoroughly enjoyed. Now the position has switched, at least for me: I want to hurry and get through with “Janitors 2” so we can move on to the next Beyonders. (Sorry, Tyler! Though I do expect to thoroughly enjoy your book as well!)

I should probably take my time. The third and final book doesn’t come out until next spring. Mull has promised a really, really good conclusion to the series–he feels it’s his best book yet, and is quite pleased with the ending. That’s saying a lot.

The only problem I could see was that he throws a lot of names at us. Part of of that was self-inflicted. Many of the names we encountered before the long delay might have been remembered if we’d not stopped for several months. But even so, I’ve heard it advised from several different authors not to name characters too much alike–don’t even repeat the first letter if you can help it. Mull has both Jason and Jasher, and I was constantly tripping over them. There are also simply a lot of names to keep straight.

But that’s minor. This is Brandon Mull at his mid-grade best. He’s got believable kids and complicated adults. He’s got bad-guys who aren’t all that bad, and who have decent motivations. He’s got a complex world and plot that could have gone on longer than three books. And even though we’ve not actually encountered the evil overlord all that much, his presence is everywhere, and he’s simply brilliant. It’s like Mull actually read

Of course he’s going to have to lose eventually, but if Mull gives him a case of the stupids I’ll be very, very, very, very disappointed (Got it, Mull?!). So far it looks like the good guys are going to have to really step up their game.

Anyway, this is about as good as I’ve seen it get in children’s literature. This book is deep enough that adults can enjoy it while it’s still entirely appropriate and enjoyable for kids–it’s not even as freakily scary like Fablehaven gets in parts. Mull’s imagination is deep and colorful. He’s created a fascinating setting. It’s well worth the price of admission.

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