Book Review: Beyonders – Chasing the Prophecy, by Brandon Mull

For my kids and I, this was the most highly-anticipated book of 2013. We weren’t disappointed. Brandon Mull has written not just one of the best mid-grade fantasy books I’ve read, but one of the best fantasy books I’ve read, period.

The series has been fantastic, as I’ve mentioned before. In Lord Maldor, Mull has created one of the most devious, competent villains I’ve ever read. The first book introduces our two main characters, Jason and Rachel, who get drawn into the magical world of Lyrian and wrapped up in its woes. Book two ups the stakes when Jason and Rachel join in a rebellion against our evil overlord. Book Three deals with the their desperate attempt to fulfill a prophecy gained at great cost that offers them the only, however slight, chance for success.

Maldor will not make it easy. While you know they’ve got to succeed…somehow…you know there also will be a cost to be paid. But it’s a kids book. Maybe a character or two might die, right? Especially since at least one character has been set up to be an obvious sacrifice. There’s a fairly large cast, and you expect nearly all of them to survive.

Well, no. Without giving too much away, Mull doesn’t hesitate to kill characters, and the trail to the end of the book is paved with bodies (though very little gore). Many things happen that I expected, but not in the way I imagined. Others were a complete surprise. Even the expected deaths were much more poignant and painful than I expected. There is indeed a heavy cost to the war to free Lyrian.

There is still plenty of wonder; fascinating settings, interesting characters, and vivid descriptions. Just make sure you reread the previous book before reading this one, because seldom does Mull refresh your memory. Mull also doesn’t take the easy road, either, and give Maldor a major case of the stupids at the end like so many other writers do. His pride is certainly his downfall, and he does make a few mistakes that were not entirely wise, but even those would not have been fatal by themselves. I knew early on that bringing down Maldor was not going to be easy, and the novel did not disappoint. Everything remained up in the air to the very last, and every character had a role to play.

This was one of the most satisfying conclusions to a series I’ve read in a while. My kids didn’t have to beg very hard to get me to read some more to them. If anything I was fighting the urge to keep reading without them once they’d gone to bed–I was that into it. Suspense? Action? Noble sacrifices? The book is crammed to the gills with all of it. I haven’t been so choked up over an ending since…well, maybe Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. If even then. It was a marvelous conclusion, and I’m pleased that Mull left a few opportunities to revisit Lyrian in the future.

I really, really hope he does. I’d be one of the first in line to cheerfully fork over my money. In the mean time I’ll just have to keep my fingers crossed that his upcoming “The Five Kingdoms” series is as good.

If there is anything negative to say it would be that Mull has a tendency to break up the action with the mental operations of his characters. We’re often mere milliseconds away from death and then suddenly spend several paragraphs examining the character’s deepest thoughts. Perhaps if I had read the book to myself it wouldn’t have stood out so much, but in reading it aloud to my children, those passages seemed interminable at times. It never quite qualified as “navel-gazing”, but I did find it annoying.

The other negative is minor. While the novel largely follows two separate POV/plot-lines, toward the end we’re given a third. Ultimately it serves no purpose other than to show that the author did not forget about that character. While somewhat interesting, it could just as easily been covered in a couple of paragraphs of exposition after the fact.

But these were minor, and I mainly bring it up lest anyone think I’m too biased toward Mull to be trustworthy. I may be anyway. He’s a solid writer, a really nice guy, and he refuses to take shortcuts that other writers might, simply because they’re writing for children. He doesn’t dumb things down, nor pull punches. I’ve enjoyed his Fablehaven series, but Beyonders proves that he’s only getting better. I was hoping he wouldn’t drop the ball with the series ending. Not only did he not drop it, he carried it in for a 104-yard, game-winning touchdown.

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