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Literature: The Beyonders

The Beyonders is a young adult fantasy novel series, written by Brandon Mull (who also wrote Fablehaven and The Candy Shop War). It marks Mull's first foray into high fantasy. However, like his other novels, this take on the genre is a little bit weirder than usual... And it's also really, really dark, especially considering its target audience.

Jason thinks he's going crazy when he hears music coming from the hippo's mouth at the zoo. He just has to lean in for a closer listen—and when he does, it's not surprising that he ends up swallowed by the hippo. But he doesn't end up in the hippo's stomach. He finds himself at the base of a rotting tree stump by a river, as a group of musicians drifts to their deaths. One horribly bungled attempt at saving them from a Suicide Pact later, and he ends up at a strange library-like place called the Repository of Knowledge, getting a crash-course in the history of the world he's stumbled into.

He has entered Lyrian. And while people from his world have wound up there before, "Beyonders" such as him have been unknown for quite some time. Emperor Maldor won't stand for that kind of talk. Maldor has been surpressing all kinds of "dangerous" ideas, and to be absolutely sure that no one stands against him in this, he's even bought out (or broken) all of the land's heroes. Even with heroes, though, he would be difficult to stop, as he's the world's only remaining wizard.

And Jason would probably be able to lie low for a good long while in the Repository, if he didn't take some Schmuck Bait and read the Book of Salzared. He accidentally learns of Maldor's Achilles' Heel: Long ago, when he was but an apprentice, his teacher built a magical failsafe called a Key Word into him. Whoever speaks this word to Maldor will utterly obliterate him. But the syllables are broken up; scattered so that none may casually speak it. Unfortunately, Maldor quickly learns of Jason's knowledge. Now Jason's best chance for survival is to seek the rest of the word's syllables and try to destroy Maldor.

Luckily, he is joined in his quest by Rachel—another Beyonder like him who fell through at the same time he did. But even together, will they survive Maldor's tests to destroy him once and for all?

Troper General's Warning: Due to the Wham Episode-laden, twisty and turny nature of this series, this tropes list is by necessity a minefield of spoilers. Read at your own risk.
This novel provides examples of:
  • A Fête Worse Than Death: The Eternal Feast, if you're a really determined hero.
  • Action Girl: Rachel; quite insistantly so, in fact, since she's Genre Savvy about Neutral Female and refuses to let it happen to her. Corinne is also quite the duelist.
  • Anyone Can Die: Beyonders: Chasing the Prophecy. OH. MY. GOD.
  • Arc Syllables: A-rim-fex-en-dra-puse!
  • Badass Normal: Jason. Whereas most of the people in La Résistance have some sort of special power (even Galloran—or rather, especially Galloran), Jason's main skills are his leadership, determination, and ability to rally people around him.
    • Badass Abnormal: As Rachel learns in the second book, she has QUITE a lot of Edomic aptitude.
  • Becoming the Mask: Despite spying for Maldor, Ferrin truly became Jason and Rachel's friend. He decided he liked friendship better.
  • Big Friendly Dog: Feracles. Puggles, too, but that doesn't last.
  • Bizarrchitecture: The Tavern-Go-Round, which, as you might expect, combines tavern and merry-go-round.
  • Brainwashed and Crazy: Conscriptors have this power; they "conscript" people to fight for them in this fashion.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The Word was proven to be a fake, so clearly, it's useless, right? Well, as it just so happens, Orruck, the wizard it was intended to destroy, is still around. And if the shoe fits...
    • The long-lost orantium mine.
  • Chekhov's Skill: The word Orruck teaches Rachel, that lets her turn stone to glass.
  • The Chessmaster: Maldor.
  • The Chosen One: Jason
  • Crazy-Prepared: Darian the Seer, who outfitted his resting place with the exact right clues to help the people who needed to find him, find him, and shut out everybody else. This included putting the Major League Baseball logo in his lair thousands of years before it would logically exist, just so Jason would know which clues were for him.
  • Dangerously Genre Savvy: Maldor knows the rules. And just the right ways to twist them.
  • Dark Fantasy: A bit of a "lite" version, given that it is still for kids, but still fits a number of the requirements.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: The torivors. They're shadowy humanoids and can give people terrifyingly realistic nightmares, but they do not serve Maldor willingly. They merely want their freedom.
  • Deadly Decadent Court: Getting invited to the Eternal Feast is a marvelous and completely horrific way to go.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Ferrin, who even actively encourages his comrades to snark and tease more.
    • Many characters have their moments, but Drake deserves a special mention as well.
      Nollin: I'll take Halco's amar.
      Drake: If you prefer. That should keep the amar away from the fighting.
  • Death Seeker: Drake is an unusual case. Since his race regrow from seeds, he's mostly just been seeking interesting ways to die or waste away to cure his boredom. However, it's over now, since his seed has failed to form properly.
  • Detachment Combat: The special power of displacers: They can split apart and "displace."
    • They can also attach their parts to other objects, especially their eyes.
  • Determinator: Nedwin. When he's killed by Copernum, what's his response? Become a zombie.
  • Dying Race: Wizardborn races tend to have this problem. Displacers suffer from almost no females, due to an inbuilt bias in their genes against having female children. The Amar Kabal are populous and live many lives, but most of them have become infertile. The drinlings were nearly hunted to extinction, but unlike most wizardborns, they were intended to breed quickly, so they've been making a recovery.
  • The Empire: A peculiar take on it. Maldor doesn't really let people travel or communicate, so his lands aren't necessarily unified. He just terrorizes uniformly enough to be in charge. He's also setting up and manipulating different forms of ruling as experiments, to see which form of government works best, once he gets down to consolidating them.
  • Empowered Badass Normal: Rachel turns out to be the first wizard material Lyrian's seen in centuries.
  • Evil Overlord List: Maldor has basically read the entire list, and taken it to heart.
  • Fantastic Fruits and Vegetables: Care for a bubblefruit?
  • Fantastic Nuke: The giant orantium vein buried beneath Maldor's castle. It blows his stronghold off the map.
  • Fantasy World Map: Averted in the first book, but present in the second. This makes sense, as Maldor does not like maps of Lyrian to be known... but in the second book, when the rebellion against him mounts, acts of rebellion like maps become more commonplace.
  • Femme Fatale: The seer of the swamp is a legendarily devious, conniving, and wicked woman. Or, she might have been. The position is now filled by her daughter Corinne, who is one of the nicest and sweetest people in Lyrian. She just lives a terrible existence cooped up in a tree because, if she leaves, she'll forget who she is.
  • Feminist Fantasy: Not just in the fact that there's a female protagonist and lots of Bad Ass female supporting characters, but heroine Rachel is also Genre Savvy about things such as the Neutral Female and the gender inequality inherent in the medieval Lyrian. She actively seeks to avoid it, and knows that she has to work harder to prove herself to most of the people of this less enlightened world. (Except for the Amar Kabal, which she openly notes are more feminist.)
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Jason and Rachel don't start off as great friends, but their trials do serve to bring them closer, and help them to each become less self-centered.
  • Foreign Queasine: Puckerlies are medium-sized, clam-like shellfish, served with inky black sauce... eaten raw and alive. They have the consistency of raw egg yolk, and seeing as it's shellfish, a bad one will make you really, really ill. However, it's subverted when we find out the place that sells them is very particular about theirs—and when Jason and Rachel actually try them, they realize that they actually taste pretty good once you get past the slime.
  • Generation Xerox: Darian's prophecy to Jason implies that he will someday have a daughter, who also needs to go on a quest to find his lair.
  • Giant Enemy Crab: "Affectionately" dubbed "Macroid" by the hermit who lives next to her.
  • Government in Exile: Galloran—he still has followers, but Maldor has stripped him of his power.
  • Handicapped Badass: You do not mess with Galloran.
  • The Heart: This is protagonist Jason's main "power." While he lacks the combat skills and magical powers of the rest of The Team, he is excellent at rallying people to join him, and he serves as the glue that keeps most of the resistance together.
    • Heart Is an Awesome Power: Whenever Jason begins to doubt himself, his teammates are quick to remind him that without him, they'd fall apart. Heck, without him, there wouldn't be a "them."
  • Heel-Face Turn: Ferrin tends to swap between this and Face-Heel Turn.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Nearly all of the good guys who die in the last book die in this way:
    • Drake: Fights a torivor for Jason
    • Nia: Shields Jason and Aram from an orantium blast with her body
    • Io: Tries to protect Rachel from being taken by torivors
    • Nedwin: Dies the first time trying to assassinate Copernum; after reviving as a zombie, willingly kills himself to prevent a Zombie Apocalypse
    • Tark and Ferrin: Die setting off the orantium mine; the chapter this happens in is even named "Sacrifice"
  • Hide Your Children: Toyed with. When Jason and Rachel see children for the first time in Lyrian, they're stunned that children could grow up in a place as horrifying as it, and Rachael even has to force herself to not think of their existence—it's too depressing.
  • Hoist By Their Own Petard: Once Rachel gets the torivors working for her, one of them approaches Maldor, bearing the swords for a duel...
  • Human Resources: Salzared provided the binding for his own Tome of Eldritch Lore in a very personal way.
  • I Choose to Stay: Jason elects to stay in Lyrian, especially as in the intervening years between Maldor's defeat and the epilogue, he's become a major player in Lyrian politics.
  • Immortality Begins at Twenty: Invoked by the Amar Kabal, who have Resurrective Immortality. The first time they die, their body "locks" the state of their body at the time of their death and treats it as the "template" for all their future resurrections. On their first life, they deliberately commit suicide at 20 or so to ensure they always begin from a young and strong template on every life thereafter. One of the Amar Kabal elders first died accidentally as a young girl, so she has a childlike body when we first meet her despite being dozens (if not hundreds) of lifetimes old.
  • Impoverished Patrician: Galloran actually makes Jason and Rachael into them—he gives them lordship over a worthless domain, but the fact that they have that title will earn them respect from his followers, should they need it.
  • Inevitable Waterfall: The raft the Giddy Nine are on drifts toward one—by their own choice.
  • Instant Oracle, Just Add Water: Although it's not actually water the Oracle immerses herself in, but a pool of various perfumes and harsh chemicals. She's also almost completely encased in a block of clay while doing this as well.
  • Jumping On An Orantium Sphere: Nia shields Aram and Jason from a blast, sacrificing herself for them.
  • Kill 'em All: Out of all the fourteen main characters, only eight, Jason, Rachel, Corinne, Galloran, Jasher, Aram, Nollin and Farfallee, survive.
  • Lady of War: The standard model for female Amar Kabal, as well as Corinne.
  • Language of Magic: Edomic.
  • La Résistance: Galloran creates an ad hoc The Alliance with the drinlings, the Amar Kabal and Trensicourt.
  • Last Girl Wins: It is implied that Jason and Corinne will have a daughter.
  • Living Shadow: The torivors. According to Galloran, they're not of Lyrian, or even the Beyond—they're from somewhere beyond the Beyond, a Beyond beyond comprehension.
  • Losing Your Head: Jason and Rachel first meet Ferrin when his head is hung up, separated from his (buried) body.
  • Lotus-Eater Machine: The Eternal Feast offers several varieties, such as hunger berries.
  • Love Triangle: In Book 2, Rachel likes Jason, but Jason likes Corinne.
  • MacGuffin: The Key Word. It's fake. It is a genuine word of power to undo the works of a wizard, just not Maldor.
  • The Magic Goes Away: Played with. Maldor was the last true wizard, and Rachel goes back to Earth, leaving Lyrian with no more true Edomic adepts. However, now that the Great Library and the Repository of Learning are freely accessible, their secrets on Edomic are no longer hidden, meaning that, some day, in the far future, a new wizard might arise.
  • Magnetic Hero: Jason, to the point of it essentially being his superpower.
  • Mauve Shirt: Par for the course for Brandon Mull, but the most mauve-ish are probably the syllable guardians, most of which are slain.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Maldor, quite intensely so. To the point of setting up his own MacGuffin that doesn't work.
  • The Mole: Ferrin. He later apologizes for it.
  • Names to Run Away From Really Fast: Maldor.
  • Neutral Female: Discussed and defied. Rachel is Genre Savvy about girls not getting to do things, especially since Lyrian is still unfair to women. Thus, she insists on doing her part, and when Jason initially charges on ahead without her, she makes him promise that "The next cliff is mine"—I.E., she takes the next big risk. It ends up being Whitelake, and she performs beyond admirably.
  • No, Mr. Bond, I Expect You to Dine
  • Oh, Crap: Jason's reaction when he realizes what he's just volunteered himself to do by reading the Book of Salzared.
    • Much later on, Maldor, when he realizes that one of his own torivors is challenging him to a duel.
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: The Amar Kabal (seedmen), who regrow from seeds when they die (provided their seed is not destroyed or stranded.) The series begins with just Jasher and Drake, but many more join the cast.
    • There are also the drinlings, who live short lives, grow incredibly fast, and consider the greatest honor to die valiantly in battle.
  • Punny Title: The second book's title is "Seeds of Rebellion." Much of the book revolves around the seedmen.
  • Rapunzel Hair: Jasher, amusingly, has long flowing black hair that goes on past his waist.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Dolan. He's not as noble as Galloran, and he's definitely self-serving, but he does not ultimately seem to be a bad person, and he is sympathetic to Jason.
  • Resurrective Immortality: Seedmen will just regrow from their seeds if they die, so they are effectively immortal. However, their seed can fail to form properly, making them stuck on their "last life." This is Drake's fate.
  • Retired Badass: Galloran.
  • Secret Test: The entire story. The Key Word doesn't even work. It's just to find out who's strong enough to really work with Maldor.
  • Send Me Back: Jason does this after Ferrin forces him to go home.
  • Shown Their Work: Whitelake, the supposedly cursed lake in which everything sinks, is a non-Newtonian fluid and behaves correctly for one.
    • There's also orantium, which is, essentially, an alkalai metal on steroids. It explodes on contact with air or water, and has to be sealed in a "pure gas" (I.E., a noble gas) to keep from reacting. Although its reaction is abnormally violent, it is otherwise accurate to its elemental origins.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: In comparison to Fablehaven and The Candy Shop War, which were more idealistic (even at their darkest), this series is way, way, way more cynical and dark. That said, however, it still presents that surprisingly idealistic message that nothing will get better unless you work for it—and it is always worth it to try.
  • Standard Fantasy Setting: Word of God is that Lyrian is, in many ways, a deliberate aversion. Although it wears the trappings of the genre, Mull wanted to be sure to include as few familiar elements as possible, so he made up a lot of new things.
  • Stuff Blowing Up: Orantium. The first book contains a lone instance of an orantium sphere going off, and it's enough to instantly end a fight and reduce most of the participants to rubble. The next two books up the ante.
  • Suicide Pact: The Giddy Nine made one because they believed it would summon a hero.
  • Surveillance as the Plot Demands
  • Survivor Guilt: Tark, the Sole Survivor of the Giddy Nine's sacrifice, feels troubled that he didn't go down with his band.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Jason and Rachel don't exactly hate each other, but Jason isn't the most cooperative kid, and Rachel is opinionated. Arguments ensue.
  • Tome of Eldritch Lore: The Book of Salzared—bound in the man's own skin, no less.
  • Tortured Monster: Orruck.
  • Truth Serums: In a way. The venom of the serpent used to torture Jason is one that as a side-effect makes one's memories crystal clear and removes any filters or inhibitions against sharing this information. Thus, Maldor's torturers are able to find out all of Jason's secrets and fears.
  • Undying Loyalty: Tark. Whatever Jason asks, he offers.
  • Vancian Magic: Speaking or writing down The Word whole erases it from the speaker's memory.
  • Was It All a Lie?: Jason and Rachel want to know this of Ferrin when they discover he's a spy. Even he's not sure if it was—he claims to truly be their friend, but even he admits it's hard to outgrow his lying habit, and he's not sure of who he is anymore.
  • Weaksauce Weakness: Maldor can be utterly and completely destroyed if a certain Word is spoken in his presence. Justified by the fact that this Word is a key to activate a destructive spell incorporated into his body by Maldor's old master, who wanted to ensure that he could always beat Maldor if it became necessary.
  • We Are as Mayflies: Discussed. Humans live a very short time in comparison to wizards and the Amar Kabal... but their lifespan is gigantic when compared to the short-lived drinlings, who have lifespans comparable to rodents. Drinlings Io and Nia bring this up with Jason and Rachael, and they collectively muse on their lifespans and how their lives play out.
  • We Can Rule Together: The entire gambit with the Words was just so Maldor could find out who was strong enough to rule with him.
  • Wham Line: Dozens in the third book. But among the most notable: "The place where Felrook was built was once called Mount Allowat." Or, as the wise reader might remember it, the place where orantium was once mined.
  • Wizards Live Longer: Way longer.
  • Words Can Break My Bones It doesn't work so well on Maldor, but Orruck, on the other hand...
  • The Worm That Walks: Lyrian's zombies are corpses controlled by thousands of worms, acting as a Hive Mind.
  • You Can't Go Home Again: Due to the way time flows between Lyrian and Earth, getting back to your own time once you visit can be a hassle. In Darian's prophecy, he reveals that either Jason or Rachel must remain behind. Lyrian will crumble without one of them there. Jason elects to be that person.
  • Younger Than They Look: Due to the torture he suffered at the hands of Maldor, Galloran resembles an old man, with whitened hair, a raspy voice, and blinded eyes. He's actually only in his forties or so.
  • Zombie Apocalypse: The fate that befell one corner of Lyrian. It's completely surrounded by water and zombies can't swim, so it hasn't spread. And there are intelligent zombies who live there who make it their job to corral their less-intelligent brethren and keep the rest of the world from suffering their fate.

Beyond the Western SeaYoung Adult LiteratureThe Black Magician Trilogy
BetaLiterature of the 2010sBird Box
BeyondFantasy LiteratureBillibub Baddings

alternative title(s): The Beyonders
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