A World Without Heroes: Appealing characters, imaginative world

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewschildren's fantasy book reviews A World Without Heroes by Brandon MullA World Without Heroes by Brandon Mull

Jason Walker, an eighth grader, was having a fairly normal day — playing baseball with his friends and working at the zoo — until he heard music coming from the hippopotamus tank. When he leaned over the rail to listen more closely, he fell in and was swallowed by the hippo. Instead of ending up in the hippo’s digestive tract, though, he ended up in a parallel universe named Lyrian. Rachel Woodford, a smart home-schooled girl around Jason’s age, was on vacation with her parents in Bryce Canyon when she followed a strange butterfly through a stone arch and ended up in Lyrian, too.

Jason and Rachel quickly meet up in this strange world and discover that they are not the first “Beyonders” to visit the place, but Beyonders have been rare since the evil emperor Maldor came to the throne. Maldor has horded all magic knowledge and is using it to terrorize his citizens. For Jason and Rachel to be able to use magic to get back to their own world, they’ll need to defeat Maldor. In order to defeat him, they must go on a quest to find the six syllables of a word that will destroy him. They’ll be hunted all the way, but fortunately they’ll get some help from some rebels who are eager to see Maldor dethroned.

A World Without Heroes is the first book in Brandon Mull’s BEYONDERS series and it features two children, a boy and a girl, who are likeable heroes. Because they are kids from our time who end up in a medieval-style world, they have modern voices and sensibilities. It’s fun to hear Jason good-naturedly accusing Rachel of not being well socialized because she’s homeschooled and it’s endearing that Rachel is a little feminist who gets annoyed when the server at a Lyrian tavern expects Jason to order Rachel’s dinner for her. The two children tease each other, but it’s clear that Brandon Mull is aware that too much of this will annoy us — he does it just right.

Mull creates some imaginative races to populate Lyrian. I was totally creeped out by his displacers — human-like creatures who can lop off their body parts and stick them back on at will. This is a handy skill. (… handy… yeah.) Then there are the seed folk who can regrow themselves from a seed after they die. These weird characters make interesting companions for Jason and Rachel. Some of the other secondary characters who don’t have odd skills are indistinguishable from each other, though.

During their quest, Jason and Rachel have lots of adventures. They dive from high cliffs, fight giant man-eating crabs and frogs, discover a severed head in a bag, spend the night in a slimy snake-filled swamp, and learn a lot about loyalty and treachery. Mull uses his platform to teach, without being preachy, the importance of heroism and the folly of self-indulgence. These ideas are not dealt with in a superficial or condescending way, but are related thoughtfully enough for an adult to appreciate.

Even so, I think Mull’s story will be most appealing to the audience it’s being marketed to (ages 8 and up). While I enjoyed the story, I found the plot just a little too simple and linear to satisfy me completely and I found myself mostly admiring the book for Mull’s imaginative elements and his thoughtful messages about heroic behavior. At the same time, I fear that some of Brandon Mull’s vocabulary and sentence structures may be a little difficult for the target audience. Most children will need to consult a dictionary regularly. Brandon Mull uses words such as enmity, alleviate, machinations, subjugation, discernment, trivialities, ascent, accommodate, reminisce… (those are just random words I picked by flipping through several pages). I’m all for not dumbing it down, and I certainly believe that reading is how children build their vocabularies, but I just want to point this out so that parents and children will know what to expect. If your eight year old is easily frustrated by having to ask or look up definitions, you might want to wait on this one until middle school, or perhaps you could read the book with your child, helping them with the unknown words.

Readers who enjoy A World Without Heroes will want to have book two, Seeds of Rebellion on hand. The story is not wrapped up at the end of A World Without Heroes and there’s a big twist that I didn’t see coming. I’m reading the audio version which is wonderfully narrated by Jeremy Bobb. I’ve already downloaded Seeds of Rebellion.

Beyonders — (2011-2013) Ages 9-12. Publisher: Jason Walker has often wished his life could be a bit less predictable — until a routine day at the zoo ends with Jason suddenly transporting from the hippo tank to a place unlike anything he’s ever seen. In the past, the people of Lyrian welcomed visitors from the Beyond, but attitudes have changed since the wizard emperor Maldor rose to power. The brave resistors who 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.

Brandon Mull children's fantasy book reviews 1. Fablehaven 2. Rise of the Evening Star 3. Grip of the Shadow Plague 4. Secrets of the Dragon SanctuaryBrandon Mull children's fantasy book reviews 1. Fablehaven 2. Rise of the Evening Star 3. Grip of the Shadow Plague 4. Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary 2. Seeds of RebellionBrandon Mull children's fantasy book reviews 1. Fablehaven 2. Rise of the Evening Star 3. Grip of the Shadow Plague 4. Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary 2. Seeds of Rebellion 3. Chasing the Prophecy


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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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