I know Brandon Mull is supposedly a writer of children’s books, but this is far from what most people think of when they hear the term “children’s books”. Not that there is anything unfit for children (okay, the worm zombies are a bit creepy), it’s just that this is not a simple book. The plot is complex. The characters are well-developed. The world is vivid and full of depth. I’ve read “adult” fiction with much less weight to it.
In short, Mull is pushing rapidly into my list of all-time favorite authors. I liked his Fablehaven series, at least what I’ve read of it thus far, and The Candy Shop War grew on me. But with Beyonders he hits a grand-slam home run.
Spoiler Alert (for the previous book). Read no further if you’ve not read Beyonders: A World Without Heroes.
Beyonders began like any typical fantasy novel–the main characters, two kids from our world transported to the novel’s main setting, have to go on a quest. They need to find the syllables of a magical word and say them in the presence of the evil overlord in order to kill him. Any by golly, they do! And they do! And then it turns out that the magical word was just a ruse by the evil overlord to keep his enemies running all over the world accomplishing nothing while he watches and determines just how big a threat they are. If they become too big a threat he finds ways to corrupt them and either neutralize them or sway them to his side.
The first book ends with our male hero discovering the word doesn’t work, but then getting sent back to our world before he can let anyone else know. The female hero is still there, and has no idea what has happened to the male hero.
In the second book they get serious, and the evil overlord gets serious right back. In the process the story takes turns into fairly original territory–at least I’ve never read anything like it. And the second book ends with the heroes and their increasingly large supporting cast having made significant progress in their mission to overthrow the evil overlord. But at the same time it is made clear that they’re up against pretty stiff odds. We’re also left with a passel of sub-plots and characters as interesting as the main story.
March 2013 can’t come fast enough for my liking. Mull has dropped hints that he feels the third book is the best writing he’s ever done, and he’s extremely pleased with it. If so, we’re in for one heck of a ride. While he keeps everything in moderation, he’s not afraid to kill characters, take us frightening places, and put his characters through the wringer.
It took me a long time to read this book, but only because I was reading it to my kids. We had a hard time finding time to read there for awhile, and the kids kept forgetting to remind me it was time to read. But had I been reading it to myself I would have finished it long ago. It was all I could do not to read ahead and finish the book on my own. It’s a great story, and I couldn’t wait to see where it took us.
Of course where it took us is, while not a cliffhanger, per se, is exciting enough. If you’ve made it that far you’ll have to keep reading when the third book comes out. Be warned.