A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this fantasy novel is darker than most fantasies targeted to kids. It's also pretty long at 450+ pages. Violence isn't constant but can be jarring, with a character torn to bits by dogs, a dog split in two by a giant crab's claw, and torture of the main character with a venomous snake and a sensory deprivation chamber. The main characters are very brave and earnest, however, as they work together to try to save a world from evil. This is the first installment in a series.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Here's yet another reason not to lean too far into zoo enclosures: Falling into a hippo tank took 13-year-old Jason straight into the water horse's mouth and sucked him into another world. And, thanks to a mysterious book covered in human skin he discovers at the first place that takes him in -- a secluded library -- Jason is forced on a quest before he can think about going home again. The book contains the first syllable of a word said to destroy Maldor, the requisite evil wizard ruler. Finding all six syllables guarded by hermits across the land and speaking the word in front of Maldor is said to destroy him. To gain help, the librarian sends Jason to the Blind King who was tortured by Maldor after he obtained the word and remembers only hints of his former quest. Lucky for Jason, the Blind King knows a place he can start looking. But first he introduces Jason to another \"Beyonder\" like him -- Rachel, who came through an archway the same day he arrived. Together, they set off, hoping the dangerous quest can somehow take them home again.
Is it any good?
There's a fair amount of action here, a fertile imagination at work, and the characters are likable enough, but there are many reasons this fantasy doesn't hold up to the stiff competition. Most importantly, Mull's writing lacks flair. This fantasy world doesn't envelop you and make you feel a part of it like Laini Taylor's Dreamdark Series, for example. And the witty repartee of the boy and girl protagonists won't remind you of a Percy Jackson novel, that's for sure.
Female fantasy fans may get frustrated that Rachel gets left behind so often. And all readers will have a hard time believing that Jason is only 13 -- especially when Lord Jason of Caberton wins a duel, gambles away a fortune while hobnobbing with lords, and speaks eloquently in a battle of wits. Hmmm... Still, the story will keep readers biting their nails. Nothing gets resolved in the end, but tweens may be drawn in enough by the adventure to look forward to the next installment of the series.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the idea of a hero's journey. Why is this a popular theme in books and movies? What characteristics does this book share with classics like The Odyssey and Lord of the Rings? How is it different?
This book contains a lot of violence, including torture. Does the book's fantasy context make this easier to handle, or is it too much for a book targeting tweens?
Our editors recommend
For kids who love fantasy and adventure
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.