Book Review: Beyonders: A World Without Heroes by Brandon Mull

8306745Title: Beyonders: A World Without Heroes
Author: Brandon Mull
Genre: Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Young Adult
Publication Date: March 15th 2011
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Rating: 4 stars
Review copy provided by Simon & Schuster.

Jason Walker has often wished his life could be less predictable—until a routine day at the zoo ends with Jason suddenly transporting from the hippo tank into a strange, imperiled world. Lyrian holds dangers and challenges unlike anyplace Jason has ever known. The people all live in fear of their malicious wizard emperor, Maldor. The brave resistors who once opposed the emperor have been bought off or broken, leaving a realm where fear and suspicion prevail.

In his search for a way home, Jason meets Rachel, who was also mysteriously drawn to Lyrian from our world. With the help of a few scattered rebels, Jason and Rachel become entangled in a quest to piece together the word of power that can destroy the emperor and learn that their best hope to find a way home will be to save this world without heroes.

Beyonders: A World Without Heroes is the first in a trilogy of novels set in the magical world of Lyrian. This world is truly without heroes, for everyone who tries to oppose The Emperor, Maldor, is either dead, too scared to speak or locked away by choice in his Eternal Feast. The latter could be compared with a drink-and-eat-all-you-can fest, leaving the former heroes to either get addiction to something as vicious as hunger berries, or become so fat they can no longer leave their bed. A young boy called Jason is thrown into this world by accident or by calling, through the mouth of a hippopetamus. It might not be the most fashionable way to go, but at least he’s original. When Jason first sets foot in the world of Lyrian, he stumbles upon a group of musicians, The Giddy Nine, who are willing to sacrifice their lives in a feeble attempt to summon a hero. Because of his interference, the ritual goes horribly wrong, upon which Jason flees. Eventually, he discovers a cabin in the woods which is inhabited by no other than the Loremaster. It’s been years since anyone stumbled upon the enchanted cabin, and by a chance of good fortune, Jason walks right into the man who can probably tell him more about this strange new world than anyone else on the planet.

But what the loremaster tells him, and what Jason discovers by account of his own wit and curiousity, is highly disturbing. The Emperor, Maldor, rules the land quite unfairly, like a tyrant even. However, no one dares to rebel them, for there was only ever one who succeeded, and even he is now known as The Blind King. A weak excuse for the man he once was. But curiousity killed the cat, and it killed Jason as well: because now he knows one of the syllables of the Word that can destroy the evil monarch. The only downside is that The Emperor is aware of Jason’s knowledge as well, and will now do everything in his power to fight and destroy the young man. Aided by The Blind King, his new-found friend and fellow-Beyonder Rachel, a surviving musician of The Giddy Nine named Tark, a displacer called Feddrin and a lot of other interesting creatures, Jason goes on a quest of his own: to find all syllables of the Word, to destroy Maldor, and to free the kingdom. If he, by some magical fortune or insane amount of luck, survives, that is.

I must say that I haven’t read a lot of epic fantasy aimed at a young adult audience yet, so this novel was a nice change to that. Brandon Mull really brings his characters to life on the very pages of this book, and the world he creates may sound very foreign and strange, but at the same time it sounds oddly familiar. Because in the make-believe fantasy world created by this author, people hold the same fears and perils as they do in our every-day world. It was nice to see ordinary people in a fantasy world once, because some of those world are just overpopulated by heroes, and that gets boring too after a while. The fears that the inhabitants of Lyrian held towards their tyrant Emperor were very real, raw and honest, and practically pulsing from the pages. I was intrigued. Very intrigued.

Let me start by the only two small things I thought were a bit off in this novel, and the two reasons why I didn’t rate it a 5. First of all, the writing style seemed a bit odd to me at first, as if sometimes the author was jumping from sentence to sentence, without actually interlinking it. I got used to this at about page fifty, but it was hard to keep reading at first when I didn’t really enjoy the writing. Truthfully, I enjoyed it more and more towards the middle and end part of the novel, and maybe it was just something I had to get used to. Secondly, this novel very much reads like the old, standard ‘youngsters go on a quest, meet different people, there are perils everywhere which they must face, and then move on’ kind of epic fantasy novel. For instance: after Jason arrives in Lyrian, the first place he comes across is The Loremaster’s House, in which he must find the lock to open a secret door that leads him to a book made of human skin. A book that holds the first syllable of the Word. Later on, Jason learns that he must find the remaining syllables: one of them is hidden in a cave under the sea, another on an island in the middle of an enchanted lake, yet another is on the inside of the vault of the Chancellor, then there’s one that’s hidden in a cursed swamp, and the latter can be found on a guy named Kimp. To find and discover each of these syllables, Jason and his friends must travel somewhere, perform some hideous task – like jumping off a cliff, slaying a giant crab, or running over an enchanted lake – before they can get the syllable. And then it’s hit the road again. Entertaining, but a bit obvious.

It was hard to remember all the names in this book – there are just so many. Each and every person we meet has a name, and some randomly dissapear for 100 pages only to resurface later in the novel. That’s fine, of course, if it weren’t for the fact that when Tark showed up again later on, I had to go back to where our heroes first met Tark to actually remember who exactly he was. At first, I thought he was one of the bad guys, which didn’t make sense, and I only remembered he was the surviving musician when I reread that part of the novel. So the names might be a bit tacky to recoil, and the questline might be a bit straight-forward and predictable, but don’t let this hold you back to read Beyonders: A World Without Heroes, because the characters and the imagination of Brandon Mull make up for a lot of that.

For starters, Lyrian really is an interesting world. It’s inhabited by the strangest of creatures, ranging from Displacers (whose body parts tend to be all over the place) to Manglers, Corrupters and frogs the size of an adult man. The descriptions the author gives of the small towns, underground caves, swamps and other peculiar places visited by our protagonists are truly mesmerizing, and I often felt like I was in the middle of the action as well. Brandon Mull’s imagination really knows no boundaries, as he makes up things as the story goes along, and lets his reader meet up with creatures that sound stranger and stranger. And when he isn’t busy incorporating a giant crab that likes to attack people, or a lake that heats up as you walk over it in this novel, than the author is introducing the reader to places that are equally original. This story is so packed with action, adventure, new places to visit and new friends or enemies to encounter, that it’s incredibly hard to put down.

I liked the characters, although they presented some flaws at first. Their development is incredible. Jason grows from a young man with little self-confidence into a trustworthy and loyal hero of sorts, whereas his fellow Beyonder Rachel starts out as a stubborn, somewhat egocentric and self-absorbed girl, but then develops several qualities that equal Jasons. I only wish we saw more of Rachel in this story, because it gets clear somewhat half-way that this novel is focused on Jason in particular, and we see less and less of Rachel, which I thought was a shame, since I did like her, and I would have liked to see her friendship with Jason evolve – hopefully into something more. I also really like Feddrin, the displacer Jason and Rachel run into on one of their quests. He had a very open, outgoing and social personality, which made it especially easy for me to like him. I wasn’t too fond of Jasher, and I thought it was actually somewhat silly to introduce him, for the few chapters he appeared. It was hard for me to accept yet another person come to rescue our heroes, and the way they trusted him so easily, especially after what happened in the past, I found peculiar and highly unlikely. It just didn’t strike me as a very believable way to act.

The passages I loved most were the ones concerning the syllable in the vault, and Jason who had to outsmart the Chancellor. I thought these chapters were very well-written, tense, suspenseful and very original. Then again, with an author like Brandon Mull, originality and imagination, really isn’t a problem. Beyonders: A World Without Heroes has more twist and turns than a mountain road, more entertaining creatures to come across than even in Alice in Wonderland, and a more fact-pased, original and enjoyable storyline than you can even think possible. If you’re a fan of Young Adult novels, or Epic Fantasy in general, or just want to read a trully enjoyable, breathtakingly exciting and highly adventurous novel, then this book definately is the way to go.

I must admit that I loved the ending. Throughout the novel, I had often sighed and although releived for my heroes, was somewhat dissapointed that they didn’t fail in at least one quest. However, when the most was at stake, and the Word failed…that was golden. It was a plot twist I had not dreamed to anticipate, and it was novel-crafting at its best.

I’m really looking forward to read the next book in this series now, although I’ll have to wait till Spring 2012.


  1. I just got this as an ARC. I haven’t been sure where to fit it in on my TBR pile, but your review has me placing it higher up than it previously was. I love the concept of this book!

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