I have just finished reading A World Without Heroes, the first book in Brandon Mull's Beyonders trilogy (Simon and Schuster, 2011, 454 pages). On the one hand, I can safely say that this is an action-packed adventure that should delight its target audience; on the hand, I am filled with a poignant (?) awareness that I am not that audience.
This is the story of two young teenagers (Jason and Rachel) who find themselves in a fantasy world that needs saving from an evil dictator wizard (it's a world whose own heroes have been thoroughly squelched -- hence the title). In order to save this world, they must go on a Quest, during the course of which they meet interesting warriors/magical creatures/savage beings of evilness/helpful people with Pasts/giant frogs and many more things of this ilk! This being a trilogy, the reader knows there won't be a successful resolution to the central problem at the end of book 1; although there's an interesting twist to end this chapter of the saga, one is left with much more adventure to come...
The assorted creatures/difficulties/encounters are all nicely imaginative, adding interest to the journey. The pace is fast--once things get going, there are few dull moments as encounter after encounter unfolds during the quest. The characterization could have been richer, I think--since we experience the story from Jason's point of view, he becomes more three-dimensional than Rachel, who never becomes much more than the female sidekick trying to prove herself. But with the rapid sequence of events demanding that the characters (and the reader) stay focused on what's happening, there really isn't much occasion for quiet introspection and concomittent character relevations! And this might well add, rather than detract, from its appeal to 10 to 11 year old kids, boys in particular.
I think I myself would have enjoyed A World Without Heroes lots more if I hadn't read so many similar books already (I think, in particular, that I am tired of long over-land journeys). To the middle grade target audience, I bet it all seems infinitely more fresh and exciting. But I myself never experienced the sort of emotional intensity that makes me crossly reluctant to put the book down when my children, as is their wont, interrupt me (I can tell how much I love a book by how shrill my voice becomes when I'm interrupted).
In a nutshell--fine adventure for the middle grade reader, but not so much a book for me
(disclaimer: my copy received from the publisher, via a book giveaway hosted by One Librarian's Book Reviews)