This is book 2 in Brandon Mull's Beyonder's trilogy (Brandon Mull of Fablehaven fame). I think it's so strange... I loved all five Fablehaven books. LOVED them. But for several reasons, the first book in this trilogy (A World Without Heroes) - and now this book - fell short of my expectations.
First off, the characters just didn't quite click with me. Jason is supposed to be a young teenage boy, but he acts, reacts, thinks, and in general behaves like a young adult. I feel the same way about Rachel. If Brandon wants to write a YA novel, that's fine with me, but he's not going to convince me that these two are typical 14 year-olds. And on the subject of characters, the whole book is so fast-paced and plot-driven that there's very little character development. That goes for both the main characters and the side characters. There are so many characters that I had a hard time keeping track of half of them because Brandon doesn't spend any time letting me get to know them. He frequently kills off characters and every time it happened I went, what? who was that again? I sometimes wonder if he purposely fills his book with less-important characters so people won't be sad about all the deaths. I don't know, but in my opinion, a death is only moving and plot-enhancing if a) I care about the character or b) it enhances a theme in the story, like injustice. Here the deaths just felt random and unimportant. Which bothers me because then we're just desensitizing kids to violence. This is a children's book, after all.
Beef #2: The writing is unnecessarily verbose (because I just used that word does that make me unnecessarily verbose?). Here's a sample sentence: "His Herculean torso bulged gratuitously." Occasionally I enjoyed Brandon's wordy concoctions, but it just started feeling bulky. And the other thing is that his characters talk like that too. All of them. What this did is made it even harder for me to tell characters apart and constantly confused me. There's no individual voice for individual characters.
And I have more complaints. I feel like Brandon overuses a particular literary device called "deus ex machina". Sudden solutions to impossible problems just swoop in out of nowhere and save the day. If you've read the book, here are a couple examples: (SO DON'T READ THIS NEXT SENTENCE IF YOU HAVEN'T READ THE BOOK YET!) think of how Jason gets back in Lyrian (really? He's all sad and then he just goes straight back to the same hippo, hops on in, and problem solved?), how they all escape from the zombies (seriously??? zombies???) the Amar Kabal rescuing them from Maldor's troops, Rachel's miraculous use of Edomite magic on several occasions, Galloran showing up exactly when needed with more sword-prowess than is possibly believable. And really, why is everyone so very good at their specific talents? Nobody seems to have to work to learn or grow or become better which makes everything all that more unrelatable and difficult to get into.
I've complained enough. I still enjoyed reading this book, despite my issues. Brandon Mull's world is detailed and imaginative. I like the various races of people. I thought the plot was much more interesting than the story from the first book - far less formulaic and more surprising and clever. I thought it ended rather spectacularly, actually, with promises for the future that I'm looking forward to seeing fulfilled in the third book, Chasing the Prophecy. Which I will definitely be reading. I'll keep reading Brandon Mull, waiting for the magic to happen again.