Welcome to "Batty About Books"- a series of posts where Kathy (aka The Brain Lair) and I share our thoughts about books. We recently finished up Graceling (spoiler - we loved it!) and decided to take on A World Without Heroes. What follows is our conversation about the first part of the book- through page 98. My thoughts are in purple with Kathy's responses in blue. Her blog hosts her thoughts with my responses. Yes, there are spoilers... but come along for the ride!
A World Without Heroes by Brandon Mull – part one
Maria: I was completely hooked by the prologue. This is the kind of set up that makes me sit up and take notice. A mysterious prince, held captive by a powerful force. A mysterious magical word, which he’s waiting until just the right moment to release. The whole section just reeks of mysteries, and gives me tantalizing glimpses of the fantasy world and rules that I’m about to become immersed in.
Kathy: OMG - I said the same thing! I was totally in! Have you read The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner? The prince and the story sort of reminded me of Eugene in that book.
Maria: Haven’t read that! Guess I need to add it to my TBR pile.
Maria: Once I left the prologue, I was less impressed for the start of this section. Yes, I understand that we need to know some of the backstory of this world. Yes, going to a library and reading it in a book is one possible solution to this problem. It just fell flat for me. I slogged through this part and hoped for the best. I’m still only about halfway through this first 100 pages, so I’m hoping that it’s just a blip on the radar.
Kathy: Gah! We are, literally, on the same page! I also thought the writing was laborious. That Mull was telling me too much instead of delivering on the promise of the prologue. Like you said, we want the backstory but we needed a better way to get it!
Maria: Okay, I’m a bit farther into the story now, and I am happier with the way the information about the world is being shared. Still, though, it’s leading me to think about the fantasy worlds I love the most. The books I’ve really adored haven’t been a “drop a modern human into an alternate world” style books. In this “transplant” style novel, we tend to be sat down alongside the main characters to be given the information about the world. It feels, frankly, slightly patronizing. No, what I really enjoy are the ones where the main character is a part of that world from the start. The ones where we, as readers, have to puzzle out the world from the dribs and drabs that are parceled out as the main character goes about their lives. Even so, it’s still early in the book, and it’s improving…
Kathy: Things are starting to get better. Hopefully we are on an upswing! I still don’t know how things are going to come together. I don’t mind books where the mc is transferred, it can be done well, I liked Summerland by Chabon and I love the chronicles of Narnia. I think the problem here is Mull’s fascination with reminded us about all of the differences instead of just giving us a good story. He’s relying too much on the “modern human in alternate world” trope to be the way his plot moves forward. You need to have an actual story, a reason for the character to be in the new world, and we don’t have that yet.
Maria: Agreed. Yes, I’m a huge Narnia fan... so clearly it can be done well. Good example :)
Maria: Here’s a “style” thought about this book. I’m a big word user. I love language, and I adore authors who deftly weave beautiful language into their prose. (Talk to me about Jane Yolen sometime – or come back to my blog May 6th for a post about her that I’m currently writing.) Anyway, this book feels like it’s very language heavy. I really NOTICED the “big words”, and not in a lyrical way. Once I got toward the end of this section, it didn’t seem to jump out at me as much. Maybe I've gotten used to the style? Either way, I’m keeping my eye on it.
Kathy: Man, I truly feel like you are my reading match in this book! In my kindle notes I put “he’s trying too hard with the language”. I think that’s one of the reasons the story has been dragging so far!
Maria: It’s funny, because I do LOVE beautiful language. He just feels like he keeps pulling out his thesaurus.
Maria: It also –as you noted on Twitter – feels like a much “younger” book. In spite of the high level of vocabulary, it definitely has a tone that feels like it was written for middle graders instead of young adult. I’m not quite sure how to put my finger on why, though. Maybe it’s the lack of romance? Maybe it’s just the lack of nuance. It feels like a very straightforward story so far, even though there is the mystery surrounding the Blind King.
Kathy: Which should lead us into a discussion about what makes a fantasy more suitable for middle grade than young adult. Can there be intrigue in middle grade fantasy? What level of romance is acceptable? Have you read The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann? Would you consider that middle grade fantasy? This is a topic we should revisit throughout and see if we can figure it out!
Maria: Agreed. I keep putting this idea for a blog post on the back burner as I think about it. What things in a book make me nervous to hand it to fifth graders? Is it violence? How much violence? Romance is fine (as long as it doesn’t get too “lovey dovey” because I don’t think they’d enjoy that), but once they step over the line into a sexual relationship I won’t put it on my shelf. The Hero and the Crown was an exception. It was obvious to ME (as an adult) that she had taken that step with her sweetheart, but it was a simple line in the text that was NOT obvious,and I know it would go over the heads of those younger readers. Graceling crossed that line clearly - tastefully, I believe - but clearly enough that I wouldn’t give it to fifth graders.
Maria: As a female reader, I’m happy to finally be introduced to a female character. Rachel just entered the scene, so I don’t yet know how I feel about her. She seems inquisitive and interesting… I hope she stays that way.
Kathy: Agreed. I like that she’s smart and homeschooled and well-traveled and speaks many languages! I want to read on to see just what she will bring to the table.
Maria: Overall, I’m enjoying the book but it doesn’t have the same shine for me that Graceling had. The text isn’t as lyrical, and the characters don’t yet seem as rich.
Kathy: Honestly, I’m NOT enjoying it! In the real world, I would have abandoned this long ago. As I did back in April 2011 when I first bought it and couldn’t get past him falling into the hippo’s mouth!! I’m only reading it because we are doing so together. I’m happy that it’s picked up and only hope it continues to deliver.
Maria: Good point. This book is reminding me of the Pendragon series. My students insisted it was awesome, so I gave the first book an honest try - but abandoned it. I think I would have abandoned this one about page 50 if we weren’t reading it together - but my son LOVED it and just devoured the second book. So I guess I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt. It picked up, so hopefully we’re past the bulk of the “bleh” part.
Check back next week to see what we think about the next section.
Have you read it? What do you think? Any other thoughts about what makes a fantasy "cross the line" into young adult?