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DoorQ.Com | Review: Beyonders: A World Without Heroes by Brandon Mull
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Review: Beyonders: A World Without Heroes by Brandon Mull

I had not read Brandon Mull’s Fablehaven series of fantasy books for young readers, but like much that has come out since the rise of Harry Potter, you knew it was going to fall somewhere between that series and the more adult fantasy of say J.R.R. Tolkien. I mean, as a reader of this genre over the decades, I’ve become pretty critical of writers attempts at World Building this genre demands. Only a few authors have succeed in creating interesting Universes to pay homage to the granddaddy of all fantasy, The Lord of the Rings, but most are ignored, like David Eddings,  Stephen R. Donaldson (two mainstays of the 1980s), Tad Williams and Raymond E. Feist.  While Terry Brooks (another 80s writer) remains popular, his multi-volume Shannara series (along with Piers Anthony’s Xanth series) have become over bloated with prequels and sequels that dilute the franchise to nothing more than “this is the only thing I can write, because the fans don’t care about anything else.” Then there is the late Robert Jordan, who 20 years ago started (what was at the time) his seven-part Wheel of Time series. All too soon, Jordan’s series got away from him, and when the last book gets released in early 2012, it will be 14 books (which does not include the prequel) long -and finished by up and coming Brandon Sanderson, due to the death of Jordan in 2007. It also had been reported at the time of Jordan’s death, he had planned two additional prequels to the Wheel in Time series.

This is why fantasy genre has lost some its glow. Instead of sticking to trilogies, which is usually the best way to retain and get new fans, publishers are seeking series that can go four, five, six (or 14) volumes. By the 7th or 8th book, the only ones reading it are the fans. With so much being published today, who has time to delve into a book series that spans volume upon volume with out ever ending? Its about the franchise and not about something different. Not to say that the fantasy genre has anything new to offer, but sometimes its more the voice of the writer than the actual structure that makes fantasy work today. But there are always exception to this rule, as in point, J.K. Rowling, who was able to create a universe that was interesting, fun for all ages, and tinged with a bit of darkness, something not seen in children’s literature. I think she was also very smart to start the series as innocently as she did (though it contained elements of horror), and as it progressed, it became darker, more adult.

As I read Beyonders, and it has all the usual fantasy tropes, and it does have a bit of darkness to it, especially if this is designed for readers 10 and up. While the violence is spread out over its (somewhat overlong) 446 pages, it does contain passages that you don’t usually see for this age group, such as characters torn to bits by dogs, or the torture of Jason, the main character, with a venomous snake along with a sensory deprivation chamber (and clad in only a slim sort of loin cloth. Kind of creepy).

Jason Walker, our hero, is earnest, brave to the point (at times I felt) of stupidity, but charming none the less. The story revolves around him stumbling into a parallel universe of Lyrian, where he encounters a land devoid of no heroes, as the evil Maldor rules here. As he tries to find his way home, he becomes involved with Galloran, the last man who attempted to destroy Maldor (and Maldor’s way of dealing with his enemies is unique here) with the Word, an ancient phrase that will undo him. Seeing potential in Jason, Galloran convinces the earnest teen to journey through the lands in search of all the syllables that make up the Word -which are hidden (much like the Key to Time from Doctor Who). He also encounters Rachel, a girl who is also from his world. Together, they head out on a perilous journey to find a way home and defeat Maldor.

So then, while Mull hits all the right fantasy buttons, why does Beyonders not work? First, perhaps, he borrows so much from other works like The Lord of the Rings, The Wizard of Oz, Homer’s The Odyssey, Harry Potter, Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant and even Percy Jackson (I was reminded so much of how Jason and Rachel’s repartee were like Percy and Annabeth’s) that the story falls flat. And companion Rachel, a much more interesting character, gets side-lined a lot, left behind in the action department for some reason that is not fully explained (though you get the sense that women in this universe are second-class citizens as much as they are in our world) and I never believed that Jason, at age 13, spoke or acted like a new tween. His actions, his thoughts, his speech pattern clearly dictate that there is an adult dictating his dialogue.

In the end, perhaps, because I’ve read so much of this genre, I’ve come to expect a lot from these new and upcoming writers. Granted this new series, like Harry Potter, are geared more to kids -something that was not done in the 1980s when fantasy authors were trying to sit on the same shelf as Tolkien. Still, Rowling tapped into something the genre had lost since the 1980s, a sense of wonder. Maybe that’s what’s missing here for me.

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