Book Review: 'Beyonders: A World Without Heroes'
Filed under: Books for Kids
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this fantasy novel is darker than most fantasies targeted to kids. It's also pretty long at 450+ pages. Violence isn't constant but can be jarring, with a character torn to bits by dogs, a dog split in two by a giant crab's claw, and torture of the main character with a venomous snake and a sensory deprivation chamber. The main characters are very brave and earnest, however, as they work together to try to save a world from evil. This is the first installment in a series.
The good stuff
- Educational value: You could say the main characters in this book are on a hero's journey, of which there are many examples in literature. Readers can look for similarities between the heroes in this book and Odysseus in Homer's "Odyssey," Frodo in "Lord of the Rings" ... What others can you name? Check out the listing in Wikipedia on "Monomyth" or books by Joseph Campbell to explore further.
- Messages: This book introduces themes of bravery and opposition to evil. Characters with inner strength are rewarded with friendships that save their lives.
- Role models: Characters seem to help Jason and Rachel on their quest because they represent bravery, earnestness, and determination. In the world they visit, everyone has given up in the face of evil except a few very helpful characters who risk and sometimes lose their lives for the cause.
What to watch out for
- Violence: Characters called Displacers can detach and reattach body parts, so there's quite a bit of that, as well as characters whose eyes and ears were forcibly removed, though that's not described in detail. Dogs devour one character, a giant crab snips another dog in two (described), and another character is stabbed to death with a poison-tipped knife. The main character is tortured with a venomous snake and a sensory deprivation chamber. Giant frogs attack and are hacked to bits. Main characters are attacked often with swords, crossbows, and knives. Characters eat themselves to death in a palace-prison.
- Sex: Not an issue.
- Language: Not an issue.
- Consumerism: Not an issue.
- Drinking, drugs, and smoking: Puffballs in a cave make characters forget who they are. Venom from a snake is a hallucinogenic truth serum. An addictive berry makes minor characters eat and eat while they waste away and die.
Here's yet another reason not to lean too far into zoo enclosures: Falling into a hippo tank took 13-year-old Jason straight into the water horse's mouth and sucked him into another world. And, thanks to a mysterious book covered in human skin he discovers at the first place that takes him in -- a secluded library -- Jason is forced on a quest before he can think about going home again. The book contains the first syllable of a word said to destroy Maldor, the requisite evil wizard ruler. Finding all six syllables guarded by hermits across the land and speaking the word in front of Maldor is said to destroy him. To gain help, the librarian sends Jason to the Blind King who was tortured by Maldor after he obtained the word and remembers only hints of his former quest. Lucky for Jason, the Blind King knows a place he can start looking. But first he introduces Jason to another "Beyonder" like him -- Rachel, who came through an archway the same day he arrived. Together, they set off, hoping the dangerous quest can somehow take them home again.
Is It Any Good?
Sure, when readers look back on "Beyonders" there's a fair amount of action, a fertile imagination at work, and Jason and Rachel are likable enough, as are some of their allies. But there are many reasons this fantasy doesn't hold up to the stiff competition out there. Most importantly, Mull's writing lacks flair. This fantasy world doesn't envelop you and make you feel a part of it like Laini Taylor's Dreamdark Series, for example. And the witty repartee of the boy and girl protagonists won't remind you of a Percy Jackson novel, that's for sure.
Female fantasy fans may get frustrated that Rachel gets left behind so often. And all readers will have a hard time believing that Jason is only 13 -- especially when Lord Jason of Caberton wins a duel, gambles away a fortune while hobnobbing with lords, and speaks eloquently in a battle of wits. Hmmm ... Still, the story will keep readers biting their nails. Nothing gets resolved in the end, but tweens may be drawn in enough by the adventure to look forward to the next installment of the series.
This review of "Beyonders: A World Without Heroes" was written by Carrie R. Wheadon.
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