Rebellion Falls Short
- Monday, April 16, 2012
Author: Brandon Mull
Title: Seeds of Rebellion
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
In the world of high fantasy, two names loom at the top of the list: Tolkein and Lewis. We have these two Oxford giants to thank for Middle Earth and Narnia, respectively, as well as the countless hundreds of imitators who craft their own visions of alternate worlds, evil wizards, and the heroic exploits of dragon riders, or ring bearers, or whatever the quest at hand requires. Try as many of them might, most fall well short of the masters, pulling off what amounts to homage rather than an original and comparably engrossing story.
But when done right - as in the recent case of George Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series (which hatched the HBO series Game of Thrones), there's nothing quite like entering a fully-imagined world rendered lovingly down to the last detail. And for young readers, fantasy can be a welcome escape from the troubles of the real world, making it both a consistently hot genre, and an important one.
Brandon Mull burst onto the adolescent fantasy scene with the acclaimed Fablehaven series, which closed in 2010. His latest, The Beyonders trilogy, is a more classic high fantasy cycle (in other words, there's an alternate world involved, and we get a map for reference). In the opening installment in the series, A World Without Heroes, teenager Jason Walker crossed over into the mythical land of Lyrian by being swallowed by a hippopotamus at his neighborhood zoo. Once there, he was sucked into the heart of the conflict between the evil emperor Maldor and the subjects of Lyrian, but had to leave the world at the book's close.
The second novel, Seeds of Rebellion, finds Jason returning to Lyrian and continuing in his quest to stop Maldor. As the title suggests, the plot of Rebellion surrounds Jason and various allies attempting to locate the mysterious Blind King and rally the people of Lyrian into a fighting mass. Think Braveheart without the blue face paint. Along the way, he and fellow Beyonder Rachel (what they call people from our world) encounter shrinking giants and worm-riddled zombies, and Rachel discovers she is able to use the ancient language of Edomic to perform magic.
Because of the success of Fablehaven, a lot is expected of Mull, but Rebellion doesn't do much to stand out. The plot features few twists and turns, and the whole second-in-a-trilogy plot suffers a bit from seeming like a setup for the series finale. The prose here is workmanlike, uninspiring and bordering on clunky in spots, and the tone ranges wildly, in some spots featuring advanced vocabulary, and others slang. The banter between Jason and Rachel - likely in an attempt to paint them as average American teenagers, is awkward and out of place alongside the elevated diction.
For a high fantasy novice, Rebellion seems like it would make an acceptable entry point. For anyone else, the events of the book feel repeated, and better enjoyed elsewhere. But even for 12-year olds - the novel's target audience - something new should be brought to the equation. Entries like Cornelia Funke's splendid Inkheart series, Brian Jacques' seminal Redwall books, and, more recently, Andrew Peterson's Wingfeather Saga, all burst with delightful innovation. They gave readers deliciously creative creatures, rich thematic meat to chew on, and lingered long after the final page was turned. In all those respects, Rebellion falls short.
*This Review First Published 4/16/2012
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