This is one of the other advanced reader copies I received, along with Dreaming in English. I have to admit, I have never read a book by Brandon Mull and only recently noticed the whole Fablehaven Series of his. The name of that series does sound familiar at least but I still feel like I'm missing something because of another thing I have to admit. I don't know much about middle grade, not much at all. The comments for this review, I will remind, are just my reactions to the story and others will have different opinions of it. Overall, it has a good rating but I do have a few critical points on the ARC version that may or may not be part of the published version.
Publication date: March 15th, 2011
In his search for a way home, Jason meets Rachel, who was also mysteriously drawn to Lyrian from our world. With the help of a few scattered rebels, Jason and Rachel become entangled in a quest to piece together the word of power that can destroy the emperor, and learn that their best hope to find a way home will be to save this world without heroes.
This is a long book. The ARC is 446 pages long and the published version is said to be 464 pages according to Goodreads. And of the two covers I've seen, the one with the figure that has a cape and this one with a crown, I actually like the crown more.
Overall: I did like this book. While I have issues with the story that are laid out below, in the end I did enjoy reading the book once I got past the first couple of chapters in particular. It is a well written book that has an incredible sense of world building and imagination. The details and the variety of characters created in order to tell the story are on a level of amazing that is hard for many fantasy authors to achieve but Brandon Mull obviously knows how to spin a tale of this quality.
Genre: If I was asked what genre this book actually was I would tell people epic fantasy. It is book 1 in a series, definitely fantasy and long considering the age range it is marketed towards. Length is one part of the reason. It's no Wizard's First Rule (over 800 pages) but this MG book is longer than the Dragonlance book(395 pages) I pulled off my bookshelf. Both of those are adult books and this one is set for ages 8-12. This is where I mention I don't understand Middle Grade novels. I could almost see 12 year old reading this book, sure, but an 8 year old. Okay, the hippo part yes but the prologue where the prince is being tortured and hearing the screams of someone else being tortured? Anyone I mention that to has almost cringed, even my stepdad raised his eyebrow at that fact. Plus the plot of the adventure is he must destroy an evil emperor. Made me wonder what age group The Eyes of the Dragon was set for since the characters aren't quite adults and it's fantasy too.
It made me wonder if this book would have worked as a Young Adult instead. And I had to quit thinking about it as a middle grade because it was distracting me from reading or enjoying the story. This is definitely a boy book, for those that want an example after seeing all the debates on varying blogs. Even though a girl joins the main character on his journey, it is definitely directed to boys. Stuff like describing weapons on the wall of a room as "super cool" and the fact that he enters the world by being swallowed by a hippo is evidence of that. And we do need books for boys, which is another reason I wondered if YA was considered. People have ranted about how there needs to be more boy books in YA right now and being a genre that teen boys gravitate to when they skip YA for the adult fantasy/sci-fi section, it would have made sense to me. Minor tweak of character details and it would have a home in YA bookshelves.
Main Characters: The first main character, the one most of the story is told through is a boy named Jason. At the beginning of the novel I had issues with him. He is supposed to be in 8th grade (so 14ish), plays baseball, studies hard classes such as anatomy and is rather tall. I honestly forgot part of those details later on in the series because they felt more like details of a high schooler than a boy in junior high. I'm sure there are places that have more than what I have seen in education systems but even my stepdad thought he sounded more like a 15-16 year old. So, it wasn't just me. Those facts get forgotten in the story that unfolds and the story gets more interesting as the real world parts become the past and the focus stays on the other world adventure. Then there is the girl, Rachel, who shows up to help. I liked her and she adds a dynamic for the walking periods that occur in adventure fantasy so that it's not just the main character thinking to himself.
Technical: While the prologue is done from a different character, the prince, most of the novel is from Jason's POV. Until over 250 pages in, where all of a sudden we are seeing things from Rachel's POV. While it needs to be there, it's the only way we would get the information she discovers, it is a bit surprising. I stopped reading for a minute right away because it caught me off guard. I understand having different viewpoints in one story but when it's done so little with the first half+ being from Jason, it felt weird to all of a sudden have Rachel chapter.
World and Story: Wow. This is where the book definitely made up for issues I had. While the first few chapters left me putting the book down, the world and story began to make me want to keep reading. It's obvious that the author did a lot of work on building the world of the alternate place the two "beyonders" find themselves in after entering different portals. The details of it are what really hold strong. There are politics, economic features, and many others that make up a fantasy world. And while the story did feel a little older than what I would expect for a MG novel, the things the characters have to face and endure are well done. While I had a few issues with the copy that I got to read, I do still believe it's a good novel and a story many will enjoy.