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After reading the first book in the Beyonders trilogy, I decided to drop everything and go to the library to fetch Book 2. This turned into a whirlwind tour of five library branches, after which I came home with two armloads of books to read. Happily, I was able to get my hands on this, the middle book of the trilogy, and read it with an exquisitely tuned balance between relish and haste. And since I already have Book 3 in hand, my only regret will shortly be that it’s over too soon.
But first things first. In A World Without Heroes, we met Jason and Rachel, two thirteenish American kids who get swept into a magical world where they are the only thing standing between an evil wizard emperor and absolute power. Their attempt to unmake Maldor with a certain word of power proved a complete failure. The whole quest was a setup, designed by Maldor to waste his enemies’ time while he moved forward with his plans for conquest. Plus, a spy named Ferrin, having betrayed both sides, sent Jason back to Earth before he could even warn the resistance about this.
Just imagine Jason’s difficulty readjusting to normal life. Suddenly playing baseball, working at the zoo, and having fun with his friends don’t seem to matter so much. All he can think about is how Rachel is still back in Lyrian, possibly in great danger. Their friends don’t know whether he’s dead or being tortured in Maldor’s dungeon. As along as they keep trying to kill Maldor with that Word, they’re wasting time that their world can ill afford. Desperate to find a way back, Jason finally tries his previous route: down the throat of a hippo. And what do you know? It works!
After that, however, things get tricky. While Rachel becomes an adept at using Edomic, the language of creation, to work feats of magic, Jason merely becomes the world’s most wanted fugitive. Things come after him that he never guessed existed, even after his first visit to Lyrian. It’s a big land, full of many wonders, including wizard-born races—both friendly and deadly. There are these shadowy creatures called torivors, or lurkers, who can move with incredible speed, give people horrible nightmares, and put a hurt on them if they try to fight back. There are these people who become dwarves at dawn, and giants at sunset. There is a race with a lifespan of about two years, giving new meaning to the phrase “live fast.” As for the “die hard” bit, that describes the forsaken kingdom, whose entire population has become the walking dead, thanks to an infestation of blood-craving worms. These “worm zombies” are further divided into the mindless dead, the hungry dead, and the reasoning dead—just let that shudder roll around inside you for a while. And that’s all besides people who live life after life and grow back from a seed when they die; spies who can pluck parts off their bodies and stick them on again, sometimes sneaking an eye or an ear onto someone else; a giant mutated creature who lives in the ruins of a sunken city; and a mountain pass where the wind shrieks with a deafening voice, hurling travelers to their death.
So whatever Jason and Rachel have to do this time, it isn’t going to be easy. They will have to run from their enemies night and day, taxing themselves to the edge of oblivion. They and their friends will fight both big battles and solitary duels. They will face the music at a political gathering whose decision may decide the fate of the world. They have to travel across an entire continent full of enemy armies, to take counsel from an oracle who may well declare their cause hopeless. They have to convince the remaining free peoples of Lyrian to join forces in an active rebellion, when even defending their own lands already seems hopeless enough. Joined by a smuggler, a musician, a princess, a spy, a blind hero, and other strange but valiant characters, Rachel and Jason are not even sure they have anything to offer in this fight. Their best chance may be to weather the storm and try to find a way home. Or maybe the world of Lyrian’s only shot at defeating Maldor depends on them.
This is unmistakably the second book of a trilogy. As such, it should come as no surprise when it mainly serves as a bridge between the beginning and the end of the story. But it’s a very eventful bridge, fraught with terrible and wonderful scenery, fascinating new races, exciting feats of magic and battle (sometimes both at the same time), passages of gut-clenching tension, charming patter, and ever deepening insight into the hearts of already established characters. The end of the book foreshadows a fateful double quest in Book 3, Chasing the Prophecy.