What if you lived in a world with no heroes? What if everyone who had tried to stand up for good in the world had been broken or had given up — not killed and turned into a martyr, but simply rendered useless? What if a truly malicious and manipulative man was in control of this world, leaving it without much hope?
What if, through no fault of your own, you ended up in this place? You would find yourself a "Beyonder" — but would you stay? Would you help?
This is the premise and world created by Brandon Mull, in a new series that is launching this week. Published by Simon & Schuster, "A World Without Heroes," the first volume in the "Beyonders" trilogy, takes readers on a journey that is every bit as exciting — but very different — from Mull's best-selling "Fablehaven" experience.
Jason Walker falls into the world of Lyrian through a hippopotamus tank. His search for a way back home leads to the discovery of a secret vulnerability of the evil emperor Maldor: There is a magical, ancient word that holds the power to destroy him. But its syllables are scattered far and wide across Lyrian. To collect them, Jason and fellow Beyonder Rachel must tangle with displacers (who can remove body parts at will), deal with manglers (the name pretty much says it all), escape from unimagined terrors, books that look back, a ginormous crab, a lake of boiling water, an eternal feast of perfection and more.
And the fun is just beginning, Mull says of Volume 1. "The best stuff is coming," he says enthusiastically. "Almost everything you encounter in Volume 1 will come back full circle in volumes 2 and 3."
Mull has been planning this series for 10 years, so he has it pretty well-thought-out. "I've been doing a lot of little setups in my head over the years, working out all the details."
The book comes out Tuesday. A launch party for "Beyonders: A World Without Heroes" will be held at Cottonwood High that evening. Even though this series is published by Simon & Schuster, they are following the tradition established by Shadow Mountain for his Fablehaven series, Mull says. The evening will feature music, entertainment, talks, book signings and more.
What's fun for him — and for readers, he hopes — is that "Beyonders" is all new. "Fablehaven was drawn largely from mythology. Lyrian is like nowhere else. It is peopled with races that share some human-like characteristics, but they are also very different, like the manglers and the displacers, and the Amar, who grow a seed at the back of the neck. If they get killed and the seed gets planted, they grow back again. I wanted readers to know they had truly gone somewhere else."
Among those who have already discovered the world of Lyrian is Rick Riordan, author of the Percy Jackson series, who notes that "Brandon Mull is a wizard with words. With 'Beyonders,' he had conjured one of the most original fantasies I've read in years — an irresistible mix of adventure, humor and magic."
The book has already been picked up as a Book of the fMonth by Amazon; Barnes & Noble is coming out with an exclusive edition that has a holographic cover ("very cool," Mull says); and Simon & Schuster has created an online trailer that is "just amazing. I didn't know they did that for books.
It also shows visual potential for the story, something that, of course, has appeal for Mull. But don't get too excited yet, he says. "Movie deals always seem to take longer than you think. There is still interest in Hollywood in both 'Fablehaven' and in 'Candy Shop Wars.' Lots of authors say there are always a lot of starts and stops in the movie process, so we'll see."
For Mull, being able to create such worlds is quite literally a dream come true. Growing up, he says, "I was a massive daydreamer. I lived in my head." The Narnia books, he says, "were the ones that broke my brain." He remembers in particular a scene from "The Magician's Nephew" where there were lots of different ponds, and each one was a gateway to a different world. "I started to daydream about crossing to those other worlds." And fantasy was a gateway to reading. "I don't know if I would have learned to love reading without fantasy."
After a while, he began to feel that "the stories in my head were cooler than many of the books I was reading. So, I quietly tried to find a way to turn those scenes into books."
He says "quietly," because he didn't tell anyone about his dream. He didn't want all the sympathy if it never happened. But while he was studying such things as business and communication, he also took some classes in creative writing.
"I knew that it might never be anything more than my hobby," he says. But his hobby became his job. A few books into the "Fablehaven" series, he was able to quit his day job. "Now, people ask me what my hobbies are, and I don't know," he jokes. He gets to write the books he likes, and he gets to spend time with his family (now four children), and he thinks life doesn't get much better than that.
That's what he tells kids as he speaks to school groups around the country. He tells them there are no limits to where imagination can take you — figuratively and literally.
He loves to get out and interact with fans. "When you write, you write alone, so that is the social side of the job. When I'm home, I treat writing like a full-time job. I'm flexible, so I can play with the kids, but I've never worked more hours at any job. The compensation is that I've never enjoyed another job as much."
And his own hero? His grandfather, known as Cyclone Davis. "We was a fighter pilot in World War II, one of the few who got off the ground at Pearl Harbor, and he flew escort at the Japanese surrender, so he saw the full spectrum. He did not want to go to war, but he thought it was something worth doing. I've always respected people who do hard things because they think they are right."
Even if they are "Beyonders."
If you go
What: Launch party for "Beyonders: A World Without Heroes"
Where: Cottonwood High School, 5715 S. 1300 East, Murray
When: Tuesday, March 15; doors open at 6:30 p.m.; show begins at 7
How much: Free