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A "Beyond" Amazing Fantasy

There are, in my opinion, far too many children’s fantasy books. It is an oversaturated genre, so it’s easy for them to all blur together. Thankfully, “oversaturation” does not always mean “bad” or “boring”, and there is no better example of this than the Beyonders series, by Brandon Mull, a beloved childhood author of mine. This review will cover the first book, A World Without Heroes.

Jason Maxwell is a normal kid. All he wants to do is get through middle school and play baseball with his friends. After tumbling into the open mouth of a hippopotamus, he finds himself in a strange new world called Lyrian instead of the digestive tract of the great pachyderm. This fantasy world is under the control of Maldor, a powerful wizard who uses fear, ignorance, and manipulation to control the land with an iron fist. But there is one thing that can defeat him — a magic Word.

If this one word is spoken in his presence, Maldor will die. Jason stumbles upon the first syllable of the Word in an attempt to find out how to get home, putting a target on his back and sending him to the home of the Blind King – a former hero who had failed to take down Maldor – for safety. There, he meets another child who came from Earth, Rachel. Maldor does not take kindly to travelers of any kind, especially travelers from other worlds. This, along with the meeting of Jason, puts a target on Rachel’s back as well. Left with no way home and hunted night and day by Maldor’s agents, Jason and Rachel strike off into the world of Lyrian to find the rest of the syllables. Along the way, they make friends and enemies in unexpected places, and learn that being a hero doesn’t come from strength or smarts. It comes from having the courage to do the right thing — even in the face of hopelessness.

As someone who grew up on Brandon Mull’s Fablehaven, reading this book was such a nostalgic treat. Mull has a magic touch when it comes to writing. He is able to write fantasy worlds that are entertaining for kids and teens alike, because he never treats his young audience like babies, even though it is primarily children he writes for. Mull makes no bones about how perilous the situation is. Jason and Rachel are two small children, hounded and hunted by a ruthless dictator. Lyrian is a medieval world, where it is much more dangerous to travel and make a living than it would be in our convenient, modernized culture. Battles are fought. People die. In a war like this, death is swift and unexpected when the foe is an all-powerful emperor. I’m not saying the book is dark and depressing. Beyonders just takes its story seriously. When you’re a kid who loves to read, finding a kids’ book that doesn’t treat you like an idiot while still being super fun to read is a glorious find.

Another nice thing about Mull is that he takes children's book ideas that have been done to death — such as children's fantasy — and focuses on writing it very, very well. Every book I have read by him has the same sort of formula, “Modern Children Stumbling Upon A World Of Magic”, but each one is uniquely set apart from each other in its magic system, setting, and cast of characters. Boy, did I miss Mull’s characters! I fell completely in love with Mull’s Fablehaven cast as a kid, so I was thrilled to fall in love all over again with Beyonders. Jason and Rachel are wonderful protagonists with some great rapport. They hit that sweet spot of acting like children realistically would if they were suddenly forced to survive on their own, and not being whiny brats about it. Scared, yet still competent and determined — the best kind of children’s book protagonist. Maldor is a fantastically terrifying villain. He has such a vast amount of might and control over the region that the only reason the kids are not immediately captured is because Maldor enjoys testing his enemies. He doesn’t watch his enemies struggle just for fun. He observes them to figure out the perfect way to break them. There have been many versions of the “Looming Dark Lord" trope, but Maldor has to be one of the best.

My favorite thing about Mull, however, is that he is good at tricking his audience. Since he uses such conventional story formulas, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking you know exactly where the story is going, until BAM – he surprises you with a shocking plot twist or revelation that causes your jaw to drop, making you turn the pages even faster to see what happens next. I think I just talked myself into reading Brandon Mull again, so I hope I talked you into it too. Beyonders: A World Without Heroes is a thrilling, fantastic fantasy that I recommend for all ages. I extend the same statement to any of Mull’s works – he’s provided my childhood with magic and wonder, as he has with thousands of others. This one gets ⅘ stars. I am going to go read the rest of the Beyonders series now. May all of our future quests for good books be fruitful.

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