Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Chasing the Prophecy

Chasing the Prophecy
by Brandon Mull
Recommended Ages: 13+

I bought this third book in the "Beyonders" trilogy on Kindle when the first two installments, A World Without Heroes and Seeds of Rebellion, were still fresh in my mind. Then I forgot to read it for a couple years. Oops. One of the things one discovers, when reading the conclusion of a fantasy trilogy that has so many moving pieces in play, is that it can be a bit hard to get back up to speed. In the early chapters of this book, I had a bit of trouble finding my footing. It felt like there were too many names, too many main, middling, and less important characters, too many people setting out on two separate quests that, between them, were prophesied to represent the only, vanishingly small possibility of overthrowing an evil sorcerer-emperor before he conquers everybody and condemns the entire magical world of Lyrian to everlasting darkness.

To help other readers who may be in my predicament, or perhaps partly just to impress anyone who is sitting on the fence between deciding to read this trilogy and taking up knitting instead, please bear with me while I describe some of the amazing things the world of Lyrian contains.

First, let's talk about the Beyonders. They are people from other realities who have somehow found their way into Lyrian. Two of them from "our" world are teenagers Jason and Rachel. Rachel turns out to be a natural adept at Edomic, the Lyrian language of creation, which enables her to work powerful magic like very few people alive today - making her a natural rival to the dark lord Maldor. Jason, meanwhile, has no idea why he was singled out by a prophecy, since he doesn't know of anything special about himself, but people around him see it - something to do with his kind heart, his good sense, his sense of humor, his strong will, and his knack for surviving against impossible odds.

Then, there are ordinary Lyrian people - well, maybe "human" would be a better word for these often extraordinary people. One of them is Galloran, the heir to the throne of Trensicourt, who has survived being blinded, tortured, and driven into exile and is now ready to take the throne and fight against Maldor - as the prophecy says he must. But the actual hope of success is pretty slim. The only chance of defeating Maldor, out of billions of possible scenarios, requires Galloran to lead an army against the unassailable fortress of Felrook, while Jason leads a second party in search of the last home of a seer who died thousands of years ago. Unless Jason turns up something unimaginably good, Galloran is leading the last resistance against Maldor to its doom.

Other amazing beings inhabiting this fantasy world include several races who were created by ancient sorcerers even more powerful than Maldor. Among them are:
  • the Amar Kabal, or seed people, who live many lifetimes and can come back from the dead, as long as the seed attached to the back of their head is planted. Several of them are among Jason and Rachel's friends, including one whose latest rebirth will be his last - because he was born without a seed.
  • the Drinlings, whose average lifespan is two years. They grow and mature quickly, adapt and learn with amazing speed, work tirelessly and grow stronger with every effort, and never need to sleep. They live to sacrifice themselves in battle.
  • the Tree People, who have bark, leaves, thorns, etc. They also know all the secrets of surviving in the trackless jungles of the south.
  • the Displacers, who can literally lend you an ear or really keep an eye on you. These often treacherous folks can survive being dismembered and even beheaded, because their body parts are connected by a magical displacement field that defies spacial separation. One of them is also in the questing group, though his motives can never be entirely trusted.
  • the Torivors, or shadowmen, who like the Beyonders come from another reality. These sinister beings are enslaved to Maldor's will, and when they aren't attacking people with almost unbeatable swordplay, they are invading their dreams and thoughts.
  • the Half-giants, who are actually dwarves by night, but during daylight hours they grow to enormous size and strength.

These are only some of the more prevalent types of characters in the Lyrian universe. There is also an order of sisters devoted to studying Edomic; a race of apes who practice martial arts; a sometime scout who survived extreme torture to develop super senses and an insensitivity to pain or fear; a unique giant with the ability to turn his body into any substance he touches; another unique monster who can assume the form of anything he has ever touched; and a certain plague that turns anyone it touches into a monster, and that could literally destroy the world.

Some of these critters are with Jason, Rachel, Galloran, and Co.; some are viciously, violently against them. The two questing parties know setting out they will not all survive. For each person named in the prophecy fulfills his destiny, the possibility of sacrifice becomes urgently real. Both Rachel and Jason suffer uncertainty about what their role may be in Lyrian's one slender path to salvation. Will they be doomed to sacrifice themselves for a world that isn't even their own? Or could the whole prophecy be a ploy by Maldor to destroy the last resistance to his rule? It wouldn't be an unprecedented trick.

While Rachel wrestles with temptation to go over to the dark side, Jason goes through some pretty dark places - including a whirlwind tour of a library that has survived thousands of years without a single visitor, an amazing landscape called the Fuming Waste, and relentless pursuit by unspeakably deadly enemies. Each companion's role is a strand in a perilously thin thread of hope, and so many of them perish in one heartbreaking disaster after another, each new problem that confronts them more discouraging than the last. In the end, only by the persistence of faith can our friends move forward at all, as their attempt to fulfill the impossible prophecy rushes to a devastating climax.

After a while immersed in this book, I forgot that it was hard to keep all those characters straight and started caring about them. Each time a member of the party was hurt or killed, I felt the blow. And when a gleam of hope finally became visible in the murk, I watched it eagerly. The book overcame its own built-in weaknesses by making a virtue of them, by making a convincing case that each character's small part in the adventure was necessary to give Jason and Rachel their one small chance. The fate of each of their friends - sometimes mingling tragedy with redemption - was moving, and the cumulative power of all their storylines was overwhelming.

Writing on a young-adult level, Brandon Mull has achieved too many wonderful things to be ignored. He is also the author of the Fablehaven series, of which a sequel series, Dragonwatch, has now begun; the wonderful book The Candy Shop War and its sequel The Arcade Catastrophe (which I have yet to read), and the Five Kingdoms series, now up to four books, of which I have only read Sky Raiders. As I read further in his books, I confidently expect to find a lot more exciting adventure, world-building wonder, likable characters, snappy dialogue, and thought-provoking, emotionally satisfying fun.

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