By Brandon Mull
$19.99, ages 8-12, 512 pages
Teens Jason and Rachel brave a deadly swamp and swarm of zombies as they continue an epic quest to save a parallel world, in Brandon Mull's exciting second book in the Beyonders trilogy.
At the end of the first book A World Without Heroes, Jason discovered that a magical word he'd spoken to destroy an evil wizard was a sham. But before he could tell Rachel or their allies, he was forced into a portal that took him home.
Now as Jason finds a way to get back to the imperiled world of Lyrian, he, Rachel and their band of heroes realize that the only way to defeat Lyrian's maniacal ruler, the wizard Maldor, is to take him on in battle.
But to have a chance at winning, they must convince the last remaining free people of Lyrian to join their army. And to do that, they'll have to prove to them that a rebellion could succeed -- in spite of mounting odds against it.
How can a ragtag group of rebels topple a wizard who already has the resources of twenty kingdoms at his disposal -- not to mention an army of displacers, manglers and torivors? And what other treachery might await these fearless heroes?
In this captivating second novel, Jason once more dives down the throat of a hippopotamus on a quest to save Lyrian -- this time more prepared for danger, yet unaware of just how treacherous his quest will become.
Along the way, he, Rachel and their crew will taken on a swamp creature with daggerlike teeth, soldier crawl through a deadly gap between mountains and race across a forbidden kingdom where a plague has turned people into walking dead.
In the first book A World Without Heroes, Jason, a volunteer at a Colorado zoo, accidentally fell into a hippo's mouth while cleaning its tank and was jettisoned through a portal into Lyrian. There, he learned that he and another Beyonder, Rachel, had been summoned by an oracle to help Lyrian's rightful king, a blind man, defeat Maldor.
After Jason and Rachel were brought together in a secret meeting with the blind king Galloran, they were sent on a quest to recover six syllables of the magic word, which when spoken to Maldor was supposed to destroy him. But upon using the Word, Jason discovered that it was a hoax created by Maldor to distract his enemies.
Before Jason could warn Rachel and Galloran that the Word was a powerless, a displacer named Ferrin pushed Jason into a portal that took him -- and part of Ferrin -- back to Colorado. As the two wrestled, Jason pulled loose one of Ferrin's hands. Displacers are a wizard-born race with removable body parts that live independent of their bodies.
Back home, Jason discovers that he can communicate with Ferrin through his severed hand. He also realizes he has to get back and be the hero he's been called on to become. First he'll need to warn Galloran of Maldor's deceit and find Rachel, who got separated from him during a chase by Maldor's soldiers.
But as Jason dives back into hippopotamus and returns to Lyrian, the task to defeat Maldor grows more dangerous. Maldor's been on rampage to slay the good people who guarded the syllables of the Word and now, it appears, the only way to defeat this ruthless wizard is to start a war that will result in widespread bloodshed.
With no time to waste, he reunites with Galloran, Rachel and his band of allies, and they enter a tenuous truce with Ferrin to be a scout. Ferrin now claims that he has turned against Maldor and is devoted to the rebel cause, though Galloran is weary and has taken a piece of his throat as leverage.
Also in the band of heroes are Galloran's bodyguard, the last living member of a suicidal band known as the Giddy Nine, an exiled seedman from the Amar Kabal, a smuggler who transforms into a giant and Galloran's daughter, one of the people who'd guarded the syllables.
Their first task is to convince the reclusive people of the Amar Kabal to join the rebellion before Maldor's armies realize what they're up to. To do this, they must embark on a dangerous trek to the living oracle in the Temple of Mianamon, in the hope that she will foresee that they have a chance of winning.
If they can convince the Amar Kabal that an offensive could succeed, the Amar Kabal could persuade other kingdoms of free people to join them. But would it be enough and what success could a small band of heroes really have in leading them?
Brandon Mull quickens the pace and packs in so many imaginative roadblocks on the quest that readers may feel as if they're catching their breath at every turn.
I loved this book even more than the first, especially now that the allies have pulled together and formed their fearless group, though I wouldn't recommend reading it before the first. There's just too much to piece together.
Mull, who also wrote the wildly popular Fablehaven series and is about to release his sequel to The Candy Shop War, is like a wizard pulling ideas from air -- with each new book and series, he seems to summon a host of new and fantastic creatures and strategies from his imagination.
Among my many favorites, Maldor's ability to secretly graft eyes and other body parts onto prisoners so that he can spy on his enemies and cannibalistic dwarves who swell in size when the sun goes down.
This is an outstanding fantasy series that even book-shy teens won't want to put down. Right now I'm reading the first book to my eight-year-old and he can hardly stand it when I have to stop for the night.
Please, please, please? Ok, maybe one more chapter…