Five Kingdoms is the fourth Young Adult Fantasy series penned by author Brandon Mull, and the fifth overall that he's created. (He created Spirit Animals as well, but each book in the series is being written by a different author.) You have been warned.
It's just another Halloween for Cole Randolph—aside from the fact that he's going trick-or-treating with his crush, Jenna, along with his best friend Dalton. Rumor has it that an ex-Hollywood special effects artist has set up a super-scary haunted house in their neighborhood, and eager to prove his machismo to his crush, Cole agrees to go. But said house is far scarier than any of them bargained for: It's actually run by a group of slave traders from another world, and they've been abducting groups of children all night long to sell to their King. Dalton and Jenna are captured, but Cole manages to hide. He follows the slave traders down through a hole in the floor, into a strange place called the Outskirts—a place seemingly put together piecemeal from bits of other worlds; a place that goes from the dreamlike to the Magitek in an instant. At first, Cole can only think of trying to save his friends. But he soon falls in with a band of Sky Pirates and meets a mysterious girl named Mira. The Sky Raiders' training is brutal, and their missions are often fatal. But remaining with them—and Mira—is the best chance he has to save his friends. And maybe, while he's at it, make a difference in all the Outskirts.
Like Brandon Mull's other works, this is a series that is far more dark and unsettling than it initially seems to be on the surface. However, it also emphasizes the whimsical and dreamlike aspects of its setting, giving it a more lighthearted and adventurous feel.
There are five books in the series— Sky Raiders, Rogue Knight, Crystal Keepers, Death Weavers and the final title, Time Jumpers, released in March 2018.
- Adaptational Badass: The torivors. In the more material world of Lyrian, they weren't pushovers by any means, but were essentially Elite Mooks, weak enough that a single wizard could bind hundreds upon hundreds of them into his service, and with no magic beyond that bound up in their bodies. In the Outskirts (implied to be much closer to their native reality), they are Physical Gods, to the point where just two of them took the combined power and skill of all six of the original Grand Shapers to imprison, and even that was only possible because the two of them were new to the Outskirts and didn't fully understand the nature of shaping.
- Alien Sky: The Outskirts have multiple suns, and many wildly different moons. Some days, the suns don't even rise all the way, if at all, and sometimes they don't set either.
- Artificial Human: The semblances, who can be many different kinds of artificial being—but human is certainly common. They run the gamut from acting more like computer programs to being more or less alive, though still limited by their artificial nature.
- Bottomless Pit: The sky castles float above one. No one knows what lies at the bottom.
- Cool Sword: The Jumping Swords, which carry their user through the air in large, shaping-augmented arcs. Very useful for dodging traps and escaping the range of monsters. In the second book, Cole gains the ability to set his ablaze.
- Dem Bones: A skeleton army lives inside most of Brady's Wilderness.
- Dream Land: Sambria, which is explicitly the kingdom situated between dreaming and waking. In addition to the dreamlike floating castles, shaping in Sambria tends to be a bit more potent, allowing for more powerful workings.
- Floating Continent: The wealth of different castles floating around Sambria.
- Kid Hero: Par for the course for Brandon Mull.
- King Incognito: Mira, really the princess Miracle. She's been hiding from her crazed father, trapped in an 11-year-old body, for more than 70 years.
- Long-Lost Relative: In Crystal Keepers, The Hunter that is working for the High Shaper is actually Hunter Randolph, Cole's older brother. He actually got sucked into the Outskirts a couple of years before Cole, which is why Cole has no memory of him. Of course, when Hunter tells him this, he believes it to be an elaborate ruse at first, especially since Hunter is working for the enemy. Hunter, however, provides enough evidence to make it very doubtful to both Cole and the readers that he could be anything but Cole's brother and then backs it up with deeds after he verifies that the shady stuff that Cole tells him about the High Shaper that the High Shaper had been hiding from him is true.
- Loophole Abuse: When Cole travels to see Dandalus, Warden of the Light, in Death Weavers, he is told that he may ask three questions of him. Cole has some important questions to ask, but after using the first two questions, they start to have a conversation and Cole asks another question without realizing it. Dandalus admits that it's hard to converse without them, but Cole doesn't need to worry about it because it only actually applies to the important questions, and he'll tell him if he hits upon a topic that requires him to use his third "official" one. He eventually does, wondering if Dandalus can help him get his power back, but Dandalus can't help, and he feels he's wasted his third question. At this, Dandalus looks around, comments that he doesn't see anyone else waiting and notes that the rule was only made to prevent frivolous inquiries. Obviously, Cole isn't interested in frivolous inquiries, so he's allowed to ask more questions. He ends up learning several more important things before they both agree that it's time for Cole to move on.
- Made a Slave: All of Cole's friends. Cole himself swiftly follows, once the slave traders catch him. He and the others are eventually freed and magic is used to give them "freemarks," meaning that they can no longer be made slaves ever. In the final book, Time Jumpers, those in power promise to put a permanent end to the practice throughout the Five Kingdoms.
- Magic A Is Magic A: A variation, in which the rules of magic (here called Shaping) differ depending on which of the Five Kingdoms you're in. Artifacts from one kingdom won't necessarily work in another, either, due to the changing rules. Cole's special ability allows him to charge people and objects to use their abilities regardless of which kingdom they're in, as well as to continuously use abilities which would normally require hours or days to recharge after one use.
- Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot: Pirate skeletons fighting giant dinosaurs on top of cakes in Brady's Wilderness.
- Really 700 Years Old: Mira, who looks 11 but is closer to 70. The same goes for all of her sisters as well.
- Shared Universe: Death Weavers confirms that this series is in the same overarching universe as that of The Beyonders. Cole Randolph meets and joins forces with the afterlife "echoes" of two characters from that series.
- Sky Pirate: The Sky Raiders.
- Strangely Effective Disguise: The skeleton army in Brady's Wilderness is fooled with simple masks. But it's justified—the creator of the skeleton army was a little kid, who made his bad guys obey little-kid-logic.
- Stumbled Into the Plot: Cole and his friends got into the whole mess because they were unlucky enough to get led into the basement leading to the Kingdoms.
- Thought-Aversion Failure: In Time Jumpers, the plan to lure the torivor Ramarro to Earth via the Pilgrim Path and destroy his powers is hampered by the fact that torivors can read minds. Cole discovers quickly that trying to not think about something is a sure-fire way to end up thinking about exactly that. He ends up getting the help of the only other known torivor, Trillian, to alter his mind so that he believes that if Ramarro goes to Earth, it will not destroy his powers but instead give him dominion over both Earth and the Five Kingdoms. Ultimately, though, Ramarro still sees through the trick, forcing Cole to defeat him in a different way.
- Trapped in Another World: Trapped in the Outskirts, to be specific. The rules of the Outskirts are very specific in that anyone that comes there from Earth is pretty much stuck there. They can go back to Earth briefly, but will inevitably be drawn back to the Outskirts and anyone they knew on Earth will have forgotten them. A loophole is discovered in the final book, Time Jumpers, and used at the end of it. However, it comes at the cost that all of the characters that return to Earth forget their adventures in the Outskirts, eventually coming to believe that their writings of their experiences there are an elaborate fantasy they created.
- The Unfought: Surprisingly enough, Stafford Pemberton, the High King. He's hyped up as the Big Bad for the first half of the series, but in Book 3 he ends up being brushed aside first by Owandell, and then almost immediately by Nazeem. By the time Cole properly comes face to face with him in Book 5, he's a dying old man who deeply regrets his actions in life and who actually ends up helping the protagonists by facilitating their travel.
- Unique Protagonist Asset: Cole's status as a natural shapecrafter.
- Wacky Land: Brady's Wilderness, which consists of giant food, giant toys, and amusement park rides all mashed together. Their creator was a little boy whose shaping went out of control.
- Wizards Live Longer: Shapers have longer lifespans than most. Though using shaping on yourself is a great way to kill yourself.
- What Measure Is a Non-Human?: It is repeatedly emphasized that the semblances are not real. There are three specific instances where this seems to be challenged. First, a semblance who sacrifices her "life" to save the hero from a scorpipede. When the hero mourns for her everyone else tells him that he's being a fool. Second, we have Lyrus, a semblance who evolves beyond his initial programming and seems as real as any human. Third we have Carnag, a self-shaping semblance created when the heroine's magical powers were partially severed from her by some Wrong Context Magic. When it asks the heroine why it should not be allowed to live independently, the only answer is that it's unnatural and not real.