Friday, June 3, 2011

A Tale of Two Brandons: Mull

Given how long it took me to finish writing the first blog post on Brandon Sanderson, I might as well start writing the second now too.

This blog first got started when Joy left for a couple months to take care of my grandmother, be pampered by my family in her first pregnancy, and give me more time to write my dissertation. During that time, I wandered the library at Cornell and picked up a book called Fablehaven. I was spellbound and couldn't sleep until I had devoured it whole. I introduced it to Joy as soon as I could. We bought each of the books in the series as soon as they came out, have mentioned our enjoyment of them together several times, and were sad to see them go. We also read the Candy Shop War together, which Joy didn't enjoy as much but was still good. I finished reading the first book in his new Beyonders series this week, which is what got me back to writing about the two Brandons again.

Brandon Mull clearly writes for a younger crowd than Sanderson. The stories are much less gritty, less dark, more moralistic (complete with family home evening discussion questions in the back to get your kids thinking about the right and wrong choices the characters made). Hence, I've been sharing Mull with Joy and not Sanderson.

Mull comes up with unique magical/mythical worlds with their own sets of coherent rules. His young characters generally act their age (unlike, say, *coughtwicoughlightcough*). The last 100 pages or so of each story is in the no-putting-down zone, and I already mentioned how much I loved the first Fablehaven book. His characters are believably fallible, which so many authors forget, and they do a fair share of flailing about trying to figure out what to do next. I got emotionally attached to some of the outcomes and went around for over a year hoping that I was right about a prediction. (I was! YES!!) All that, and I'm a sucker for time travel, which we get just a teeny bit. The primary villain is interesting and complex.

He doesn't manage to do much character development. There is some. In Fablehaven there are two main characters, and both grow in book 1, but only one of them grows in the rest of the series, which is a real pity. In fact, it was my main disappointment with book 5, realizing how little Kendra had grown and changed since discovering courage in book 1. Her brother who has to deal with choosing if, when, and how to break rules constantly gets all the cool toys, the cool adventures, (the plot-altering disasters), the comic-relief sidekicks (who are a scream), the big questions to ask, and gets to do things solo while Kendra is always protected by someone else because she never blossoms into the full sense of her powers. Never. :(  She just radiates light. Pff. In what would be a spoiler if it weren't blatantly obvious in the last book (you are duly warned) her final romantic interest is a unicorn. Come on! Gag! At least we aren't seeing a whole new library section devoted to unicorn romance.

That said, his secondary characters are wonderful. I want to see spin-off series about several of them. Even if they don't grow, they are intriguing and I really wanted to learn more about each of them.
My only other complaint is that he relies a little too much on deus ex machina. There's nearly always one more character he can pull out of thin air (sometimes literally).

Joy asked me how I was enjoying Beyonders. It was alright, I'd say. Standard questing adventure. Lot of interesting, new things, lots of predictability ... it's alright. Then I finished it. I'm hooked. I can't wait for book 2. The ending was entirely unpredictable. If the next book continues strong, I'll tell Joy we ought to read them together also. (We take turns choosing the family book.)

No comments: