Thursday, December 30, 2010

Beyonders: A World Without Heroes - Brandon Mull

I have become a Brandon Mull fan with blazing speed, meeting him on October 31st, and finishing all of his books by Christmas. Mull is a great story teller, and without that I would have not rushed through everything he had to offer so quickly. One thing I am happy I got to read was the first book of his new series Beyonders. I was lucky enough to get it in ebook format from Simon and Schuster's Galley Grab of about a month back. A World Without Heroes officially releases march 15th of 2011, but I have chosen to wrap up Brandon Mull month with an early review of the book.

I have said it many times, but it bears repeating if you are going to dig into A World Without Heroes: Mull is a slow starter, plain and simple. I realized it while reading the Candy Shop War, and when I tuned into a local talk radio station last week I caught them right in the middle of discussing Fablehaven, before long the speaker stated "the first book starts out kinda slow" a sentiment I share. The good thing about Mull is once he gets over the initial drudgery of setting up his tale they usually take off on a rip roaring pace and finish strong.

I do not like to follow the old "talk about all the bad stuff first then give a good review" line that I see so often (but yes I do it), however, I am definitely going to do that with this post. Why? because the book starts bad. There was a moment around a third of the way through that I almost decided to put it down and forget about it. The writing is solid as always with Mull but the narrative for the first 200 pages borders on boring. It takes him a long time to get to the meat of the story, and even then it takes more pages to get into something that feels like a fantasy adventure.

The first part of the book jumps from chapter to chapter each named after some inconsequential character that the protags meet on their quest. A lot of the early stage of the novel feels phoned in, or a mad libbed version of a fantasy book. They meet _________ on the road, he is a _______ and has the power to _________. Then that character fades away as they continue the journey down the road to meat another similar character. The early part of the story is extremely linear, I felt like I was reading a choose your own adventure that only had one choice. I got frustrated many times with the lack of any narrative twist or sense of real threat or danger. Mull employs a trope early in the book that drove me nuts for many pages. An all powerful antagonist who can crush the protags any time he chooses, but lets them continue their quest just for his own amusement, oh yeah and their quest is to destroy him. I groaned every time I heard another excuse why these little nobodies were not being ground to dust under the boot of the evil emperor. BUT, Mull proves his ability later in the book. He turns a groan inducing plot device into a really interesting and unique aspect to the book. It is the twist ending that Mull does so well, it was set up perfectly early on to give the reader a facepalm moment, but still reading through it initially was a bummer.

Almost directly in the middle of the book A World Without Heroes gets good, no great. It takes Mull's introduction of political intrigue and scheming, the imminent threat of death and a spectacular invitation to a wondrous place to make the story come to life. That along with the introduction of some truly awesome supporting characters and finally a sense that the protags have a mind of their own and we begin to see where this story will grow. There is more payoff later in the book as some of the toss away characters return in different capacities. Mull employs some great techniques to paint a dark world covered with a flimsy facade of whimsy. While the protags are on the move it seems like the world is of little consequence, lacking richness or depth, once they stop somewhere Mull takes the time to detail the setting of each of the episodes that take place within the book. It left me feeling like I was looking at a tiny world filled with blandness but peppered with a few points of great interest.

As the narrative picks up in the second half A World Without Heroes becomes a strong and enjoyable fantasy novel. Along with being a slow starter Mull has a thing for one dimensional main characters. In every one of his books I have found the supporting cast to be more interesting, more detailed and more fleshed out than his main characters. The same goes for this book The female protag, at times, seems like she merely represents an outlet for the male character to vent his frustrations. However, from the ending it seems like this may change in the second book. It should also be said this is definitely a story from a boys perspective, whereas I felt Fablehaven was more balanced, but leaning toward a girls point of view, A World Without Heroes is told more through the eyes of a male protag. While Fablehaven made a point to complete each book with its own conclusion, A World Without Heroes does not have a solid ending point, and the story is left unresolved to be picked up with the next book.

readers should rejoice, though you will have to slog through a couple hundred pages of mediocre narrative you will dive into the deep end of a fantastic fantasy adventure, and in the style of Mull's previous series, the action should not die down in the beginning of each subsequent book, it feels like he has shaken out the cobwebs, laid the cards on the table and with the first book in the Beyonders series has prepared the reader for two more books stacked with fast paced fantasy adventure. We can only hope!


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