A World Without Heroes by Brandon Mull
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
A World Without Heroes is a 'grew on me' book. Initially, I was not sure I liked the tone at all. At first, I thought it would read more like a Disney film than a weighty young adult fantasy novel with potential. As I listened, my feelings started to change. The idea is not new, but the in- between steps of the journey proved interesting. While I am not extensively well read, not in the least, in epic fantasy, I appreciate the quest as a foundation for a story. Fairy tales (which I am very well-read in) have a long, extensive history of putting your average, everyday (even if they are just a down on their luck prince or princess) hero in a situation where they have to survive by their wits and a little help, and achieve a certain objective. Quest stories usually make for good reading.
That's what Jason faces. He ends up entering a magical world in the strangest of ways, and I won't say how. Believe me, it's very strange. Initially, he just wants to get home, and he struggles to make sense of this bizarre land he's entered. The thing about this book that makes it worthwhile is the characterization. Without having a main character that drew interest and loyalty, this book wouldn't have worked for me. It might have come off as trite. Although I have to say that Mr. Mull is an inventive fellow, the major pull of this story was hearing about Jason's reactions to the many misfortunes and difficult situations he faces in this novel. I like that Jason is a normal kid. He's not overly brilliant (although he is quite intelligent), athletic (although he does play baseball), perceptive, or magical in the least. But he is determined and brave, and resourceful. And his sense of humor, often verging on ironic and sarcastic, really appealed. More than anything, Jason made this book appealing to me.
The secondary characters are good too. You see a mix of folks. Some of them have very weird characteristics, such as the ability to detach their body parts at will. Others have the gift of immortality due to a cyst-like seed on the back of their necks that can be planted in soil in the event of their demise to allow them to be reborn as adults. Of course, there are plain old humans, all with distinct quirks. There is a tortured, deposed King who reminded me very strongly of King Arthur (post-Camlan). I liked him a lot. There is also an evil wizard to beat the band, truly not a nice man at all. And there is also a fellow Beyonder (from Earth). A young girl--Rache--who also entered this strange world, and who makes a very helpful companion to Jason. She has her own list of skills and a different personality than Jason that complements him as a character. Admittedly, some of these characters show more depth than others, as most of this book is spent passing through various places and on to the next adventure. Some act as allies and friends to the two Beyonders, and some as formidable foes that the two kids must outwit to achieve their goals.
Earlier I mentioned the strange tone. This book is full of weirdness. To me that's not a bad thing. It elevated this book from being okay to being interesting and one I wanted to keep listening to. The narrator's choice of different vocal stylings for various characters added to the strange flavor in a good way.
I've had the discussion with others about how contentious some readers can be towards young adult/juvenile fiction and downright dismissive of its writers. In my opinion, it takes a lot of work to craft a book for younger readers. It takes some restraint and creativity to write a story that will attract their attention without going over the line into unsuitability. I can see that Mr. Mull faced that challenge here. I'm uncertain as to where I would place this book as far as rating it for young readers. The tone seems a bit adult, with some subject matter that is quite violent and intense in parts. On the other hand, some elements are approached on the surface level so as to appeal to a younger reader; this might turn off an older, more exacting reader. This story deals with the themes of tyranny, corrupt leadership and governmental organization. The people of this magical land face an emperor who is wholly evil, one whose evil has tainted the whole land, having destroyed, seduced, or attenuated all of his enemies. Like any country with corrupt leadership, the whole society seems on the brink of ruin in many ways, with injustice fairly rampant. Mr. Mull touches on these aspects in a way that I feel is accessible to a younger reader. An older reader who appreciates young adult/children's literature will likely see this story in a slightly deeper way and still find some resonance. Mull has a character make a statement that a man comes of age at twelve in this world, and I kept reminding myself of that fact as Jason seems to be put into situations that seemed much too mature, and he is expected for the most part to comport himself as a man. And I can say that as a young adventure-loving girl many years ago, I had that wish that I would be called upon to embark on a great quest and find myself in situations that demanded great heroism and fortitude from me (as an adult I now wish I was still a carefree kid with that life that seemed too normal and boring somedays). So I imagine this book would resonate with a pre-teen or a young teen who has those sort of ideals.
As an adult, I found the use of vocabulary impressive. I think this one is good for kids in the sense that it would encourage them to look up a lot of words. I think kids would also like the creepy, crawly, icky parts, and the adventure aspects. Kids will also appreciate the humor and the snark of Jason and Rachel and some of the other characters as they interact with them, particularly the quirky ones; and how they see the world as regular kids from our own world. Kids should be able to easily put themselves in both Jason and Rachel's shoes, and appreciate this story from the standpoint of all the strange situations, often uncomfortable and frightening, that these two Beyonders face. It probably would make for an exciting read for them. Some adult readers, especially those who don't care for literature for younger readers, probably won't find much of interest here. Especially if they consider themselves exacting when it comes to fantasy literature. For myself, I try to take each book as its own entity and appreciate the unique elements therein. In this case, I did like this book, and I found it worthwhile reading, although not spectacular. It has some interesting, funny, and strange bits that worked for me.
This is the first book in a series, and I will need to seek out the next story. I want to see what Jason and Rachel will face in the next installment. And what Mull can come up with to further this story.
Overall rating: 3.5/5.0 stars.
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