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Book review: 'Beyonders' is intense but worth the read

By Kimberly Bennion

For the Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, June 15 2011 2:29 p.m. MDT

Utah author Brandon Mull at his home in Highland, Utah on in February 2011. The author of the popular fantasy Fablehaven series is underway to release the first book of his second series which is titled, Beyonders.

Mike Terry, Deseret News

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"BEYONDERS: A World Without Heroes," by Brandon Mull, Aladdin, $19.99, 454 pages (f)

There are stories where children enter new worlds via rings, doors, pictures, mirrors and dreams, and others where people discover that magic exists in their own world. In Brandon Mull's "Beyonders: A World Without Heroes" a boy discovers a new world when he is swallowed whole by a hippopotamus.

This is how Jason Walker discovers the world of Lyrian, most of which is under the control of the wizard Maldor. He quickly discovers that the surest way of surviving long enough to find a way home is to uncover all the syllables of a secret word that will destroy Maldor if spoken in his presence.

Mull crafts an intriguing story filled with realistic heroes, fascinating world building, a touch of humor and lots of drama.

Jason and Rachel, Mull's teenage protagonists, are portrayed very realistically. They have to play to their strengths while learning how to fight. For example, Jason tries and fails to use a bow, so he throws things instead, since he was a baseball player on Earth.

They also have trouble staying awake on their watches throughout the night. The first time Jason takes a turn on watch, he falls asleep, leading Rachel to chastise him. They then decide that for extra incentive to stay awake, the next person to fall asleep has to smell the others stinky socks.

They also realize the dangers that living in the wild presents. Jason steers clear of drinking water from a brook because he recognizes it could make him very sick.

The Rachel/Jason dynamic is interesting. Both characters are stubborn, and they argue a lot, but it's without any underlying romantic tension that a lot of boy/girl teams in similar stories have. They act more like bickering siblings than anything else, and that's after they've learned to trust each other.

Mull is very creative in his world building. Instead of having typical fantasy world creatures — fairies, elves, dragons, unicorns and the like — he's created his own species, most of which are humanoid and "wizard-born" or created by the wizards of that world. We only see two wizard-born races in this book: the displacers, who can drop their limbs and put them back on at will, and the Amar Kabel, who can grow a new body from the seed in the back of their necks after they die. Other beings are mentioned, however, including the mysterious torivors.

One issue writers face when sending characters from one world to another is how they will communicate with the inhabitants of that world. This can be resolved through having them learn to speak the native language or understand it magically or the writer can have the natives speak English for one reason or another.

Mull has chosen the last option, but with a twist. The people of Lyrian speak English as the common tongue, but they are aware that English comes from "the Beyond," as they call Earth. People have come from Earth before.

Of course, the book does have its faults.

For example, the teen heroes don't seem quite as disturbed as one might expect at having people die for them, and even having to kill in a situation or two. Sure, Jason is upset when a woman's livelihood was destroyed and a man was mutilated because they interacted with him, and it spurs him on to further action.

Also, Rachel has to kill at one point, yet shows no distress at having taken a life. Perhaps this is excusable. It's a book for youths, after all, and to portray war as disturbing as it is in real life complete with post-traumatic stress disorder would be far too horrifying for this age group. Besides, Beyonders has a dark enough tone as it is.

Though it's written by the same author, "Fablehaven" this is not. There are mild descriptions of torture, a book bound in human skin and written in blood, and disembodied heads belonging to displacers. And the villain manages to give the sense of omniscience, tracking Jason's every move.

Still, Mull manages to keep it fairly lighthearted through the use of humor. Jason in particular has a knack for dry wit in dire situations. Rachel doesn't have Jason's sense of humor, but she is brilliant.

All in all, Mull has done an excellent job crafting a young adult fantasy novel, giving it a twist ending that will leave you crying for the sequel.

Kimberly Bennion is a senior majoring in English at Brigham Young University. She loves to read and write in her spare time.

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