I loved Mull’s Fablehaven series, so when I heard that he had another book, I pre-ordered a copy immediately. It’s always strange when starting a new series from an author you love because you can’t help but compare the two and look for the elements that you loved about the previous story.
Beyonders follows Jason when he finds himself suddenly in a strange world run by a tyrant of a wizard, Maldor. Together with Rachel, a girl also from his world, he sets out to save the people by collecting syllables that, when put together, form a magic word that will destroy the wizard.
Where Fablehaven was a bit more of a light fairytale, this tale is darker. If you were to draw a picture, Fablehaven would have bright pinks and purples and greens while Beyonders would be more dark blues and greys and blacks. (I know it’s a strange thing to say, but that’s really what pops into my mind when I compare them.) They both deal with issues of trust and betrayal, but the Beyonders is much more complicated. It isn’t a simple matters of characters being under cover, but a complex mind game played by Maldor.
At first I wasn’t loving the new book. The idea of a single word being able to destroy someone seemed a little too convenient and strange a concept. Of course, this was explained better later in the book, making it less frustrating to think about it. It also took me a little while to warm up to Jason as a character. But as he began to grow and became more self-aware (seeing that stubbornness has value but not in every situation, for example), he became more interesting. Rachel, meanwhile, was in the frustrating position of being a girl in a medieval type world where girls were considered less able. Therefore, there were a number of instances where she was forced to take a back seat or sit out altogether. While I understood this from a technical, realistic standpoint, it was still frustrating. I would have much preferred to see her step up and prove them wrong about her strength and abilities.
Some of the magical creatures, known as “wizardborn” were particularly interesting. There are the seed people, who die and are reborn with all their memories, thanks to a seed that they carry around during their life that, upon death, detaches and regrows. There are also the displacers, who can detach and reattach their limbs at will without any permanent damage and with the ability to maintain control of those detached limbs. Some other creatures, such as the manglers, are less clearly defined and could have used a bit more description. Even without it, we were able to get the sense of terror they induced, which was the most important thing about them.
One of the strengths with this series is the random twists and turns he manages to bring in. Just when you think you’ve figured everything and everyone out, he manages to surprise you. The twists are even stronger than in Fablehaven, where the main issue came down to who do you trust. With Beyonders, there is even more to keep you guessing.
While I missed the whimsy of Fablehaven, I found that Mull’s new series stood up just as well. I can’t wait to read book two when it is ready.