Monday, April 18, 2011

Review of A World Without Heroes by Brandon Mull

Mull, Brandon.  A World Without Heroes (Beyonders #1).  Aladdin, 2011.

As so often happens, a couple of regular human kids are sucked from Earth into a magical world where they are immediately enmeshed in a life-or-death struggle against Evil that requires utter commitment and extreme heroism. 

In this case, Jason and Rachel find themselves in Lyrian, which is ruled by a tyrannical wizard emperor named Maldor.  Simply by being "Beyonders" from Earth, the kids have caught Maldor's attention, but after Jason unwittingly gains partial knowledge of a magical Word that could destroy Maldor if spoken in his presence, Jason and Rachel are forced to go on a desperate and dangerous quest to find the rest of the well-hidden syllables of the Word, while Maldor's numerous allies are constantly at their heels.

While the basic premise of the story is a common fantasy trope, the details of this fantasy distinguish it from many similar tales.  The situations and people (a man who lives in a sea cave guarded by a giant man-eating crab; another man whose head and one arm live in a volcano while the rest of him is locked in a cask at the bottom of the sea; a spinning pub - and that's just scratching the surface) that Rachel and Jason come across in their travels are wonderfully bizarre.

Particularly eerie are the "displacers," who can remove their own body parts at will (the volcano man is of course a displacer).  Jason and Rachel, who are befriended by a kind displacer named Ferrin, are outraged at the hostility and prejudice Lyrians have against displacers - until they discover the real reason for it.

The story is told in the 3rd person from Jason's point of view, so we get to know him fairly well, listening in his thoughts as he tries to reconcile his 21st-century Earth instincts with the fantasy world he must now skillfully traverse; most of the book's humor arises from Jason's internal voice.  Rachel, although certainly brave and resourceful, isn't a fully realized character; Ferrin and even Maldor come across as more vivid and complex. In fact, Rachel is the only main female character in the book; only one other even gets a speaking part of more than a few sentences.  This is very much a tale of male rogues, villains, and heroes.

By the end of the book, the situation is far from resolved, and in fact it ends on such an intriguing note that readers will be yearning for the next book in the series.

Although girls will enjoy it, this is a great tale to recommend to boys ages 9 to 13 who enjoy fast-moving and intelligent adventure fantasies.  Show them this book trailer and they'll be hooked.


  1. Do you feel this book would be appropriate for fourth graders? I'm considering purchasing it for my classroom library.

  2. There's some death by violence, but none of it is terribly graphic. I'd definitely recommend you give it a read first to make sure you're comfortable with that. But I do think your 4th-graders would love it!

  3. It sounds like it is right in line with what my boys love. They have finished up the Rick Riordan series and moved on to Haddix. I need to be looking forward for these little guys as they devour books. :) So glad I was told about your blog.