Character review: A World Without Heroes

A few weeks ago, a box from Amazon appeared on my front step. It had Mom's name on it, so I texted her. She told me to open it immediately--valve oil for my brother's trumpet was apparently in there. I followed orders. To my surprise, I found a copy of Brandon Mull's new book Beyonders: A World Without Heroes nestled in the plastic padding with four containers of valve oil. I assumed the book was a gift for another brother's upcoming birthday. Convincing myself that I had to be patient, I stashed the box in Mom's usual gift-hiding spot and waited until the book reemerged.

Imagine my surprise when I woke up Easter morning and found the book in my basket! Needless to say, I was very excited to get reading and to start discussing the book.

The problem: the things I want to say about this book contain spoilers. If you haven't read Beyonders, stop. Go find a copy, read it, and come back, because it's definitely worth it and I would love to talk about it with you!

In keeping with my blog theme, I want to discuss character. Not Jason or Rachel--I want to talk about Maldor. At the beginning of the book, I honestly wasn't very impressed with him. I'm familiar with the notion of words of power--it's not uncommon in fantasy, especially in many of Ursula K. LeGuin's classics--and I couldn't help feeling that Maldor goes about this all wrong. He lets people live who knew about his word. He makes major assumptions about his enemies (especially when he calculates that Jason only knows four syllables of the word). He invites his enemies to meet him, knowing they might have the word, and he doesn't bother to gag them. His every move felt a major oversight to me.

This was all quite calculated, of course. And I fell for it.

Like Maldor's enemies, I was so distracted by obvious way of defeating him that I didn't stop to look at other options. It seemed ludicrous to me that a word was the only way to undo Maldor, but I figured I would keep reading. I suspended my disbelief, and in doing so, I underestimated him. For a character in the story to do so can be fatal. (Or nearly so--Jason and Rachel are still alive.)

Earlier in the book, I (and the characters) probably should have listened to my instincts. This is too easy. Why? Well, if there's only one way to kill him, doesn't he know about it? This could have led to questions about wizardy and keener observations about the worldbuilding. I didn't, of course, and that's the whole idea behind this post.

Sometimes, having a character who knows how to read your cast can shape your entire novel. Maldor's conniving shapes this book, and I look forward to seeing how the other characters will respond!

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