Book: Death Weavers (Five Kingdoms, Book 4)

"Death Weavers"

Cole is about to face his biggest peril yet.

Since arriving in the Outskirts, Cole and his friends have fought monsters, challenged knights, and battled rampaging robots. But none of that has prepared them Necronum.

In this haunting kingdom, it’s hard to tell the living from the dead, and secret pacts carry terrifying dangers. Within Necronum lies the echolands, a way station for the departed, where the living seldom venture.

Still separated from his power, Cole must cross to the echolands and rely on his instincts to help rescue his friends. With enemies closing in, Cole risks losing everything to find the one thing that might save them.

Before I begin, I must warn whoever is reading this that I’m not going to hold back on spoilers. So if you’re planning on picking the book up, I suggest clicking away and coming back once you’ve finished the fourth installment off Brandon Mull’s Five Kingdoms series. Now, with that out of the way–

I actually don’t know if I liked Mull’s penultimate book to his current series. I mean, leading up to the finale, Death Weavers definitely ups the stakes and does a good job at building the tension. But at the same time, it feels a bit… much.

Now, I praised Crystal Keepers for breaking out of the Mull mold. It didn’t feel like it was a part of the Fablehaven series, and it was very different from the Beyonders trilogy. And the best part? It continued the Five Kingdoms story without being a carbon copy of the two books that preceded it–whilst standing out as its own story. Unfortunately, in Death Weavers, Mull zags again by doubling down on the fantastical countryside capers.

And not only is the fourth book back on fantasy ground, Mull actually brings back a lot of characters from earlier books–and even a couple from the Beyonders trilogy.

The thing here is: when Drake and Ferrin, both well-loved characters from the Beyonders books, first popped up? I thought it was a great way of establishing where and what the Outskirts was. And then they joined the adventure. Which would’ve been great had it been necessary for them to be part of the adventure. It wasn’t. Mull could’ve created new characters to join them, and it wouldn’t have mattered. Their inclusion, by book’s end, felt more like fan service than a story necessity.

Then there’s the cop out with Destiny.

See, in each book, Cole Randolph is saving one princess at a time. In this book, he’s supposed to save and protect the youngest princess, Destiny, from the bad guys who want to take her power. When Cole finally finds Destiny, they immediately get cornered by bad guys. Which was a good plot development, I thought. Then Destiny jumped into the river where no one comes out off, and I was floored. It was a risky move. Especially for a Young Adult adventure book. I loved it because it presents new problems, and it will definitely develop the characters as they confront an important death–in the book that has the theme of death hovering over everyone!

And then Cole saves her.

This is when I started disliking the character of Cole. I know he’s supposed to be the all-powerful savior, and the hero to the entire series–but, it’s hard to root for a guy you know will end up winning in the end. Sure he makes mistakes, but he doesn’t really experience loss. And that makes for a pretty crappy hero’s journey.

Of course, with this being the second-to-last book off the series, I’m still definitely picking the next book up to see how it all gets wrapped up; but I must say that the Five Kingdoms isn’t living up to the legacy of the Beyonders trilogy. The world feels half-formed, and the characters don’t feel like real people most of the time. The villains are still vague, and we’re already four books in–and although they’re all said to be scary, none of them feels threatening because of how powerful our main protagonist is.

I guess I have made my mind up about Death Weavers after all.

It’s a pretty disappointing book overall, even if it does do its job of building up the finale.

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Book: Crystal Keepers (Five Kingdoms, Book 3)

"Crystal Keepers"

Cole Randolph still can’t believe the way his life has turned inside out. Stuck in a strange land far from his home, he has found his friend Dalton and has survived the first two kingdoms of the Outskirts, but none of that has prepared him for the magnetic highways and robotic bounty hunters of Zeropolis.

Ruled by Abram Trench, the one Grand Shaper who stayed loyal to the evil High King, the government of Zeropolis uses advanced technologies to keep tight control. Luckily, the resistance in Zeropolis is anchored by the Crystal Keepers–a group of young rebels with unique weapons.

On the run from the High King’s secret police, Cole and Dalton hope to find more of their lost friends and help Mira locate her sister Constance. But as their enemies ruthlessly dismantle the resistance, time is running out for Cole to uncover the secrets behind the Zeropolitan government and unravel the mystery of who helped the High King steal his daughters’ powers.

In Crystal Keepers, we finally get a story that feels original and not a retread of a previous adventure. As Cole and our other journeying protagonists enter the kingdom of Zeropolis, we’re treated to a world unlike we’ve seen in previous Brandon Mull novels–a technologically-advanced one.

The change of milieu really helps the storytelling feel fresh, as the checklist of things that need to happen author Mull employed in Rogue Knight doesn’t pop up here. The adventures are new, as are the dangers–which makes Crystal Keepers a page-turner. You don’t have an idea what’s going to happen next.

Now, I don’t know if this was a case of lowered expectations, but I really enjoyed reading the third installment off the Five Kingdoms series. Crystal Keepers feels action-packed without being overdone, and the pacing is slow enough to let the characters breathe and process what’s going on around them.

What I like best about this book is the fact that the writer is finally coloring in the characters that have, so far, only been mentioned and not seen. We’re starting to see how perception plays into the story, and how not everything is as black-and-white as previously thought. And yet, although a few chapters is given to the ongoing main arc, it doesn’t feel like a big break from the book’s own story line. It’s still pushing the book’s plot forward while pushing the bigger picture.

With the introduction of new characters, the ones we’ve been traveling with since the first book also come off a little better. To be honest, in Rogue Knight, our protagonists were starting to grate on my nerves. So the addition of new personalities and voices were very welcome, to water down my annoyance at the constant bickering between Cole and fellow traveler Jace.

There were still a few parts of the book that I wasn’t fond off–parts that felt obvious foreshadowing and device-planting. But on the whole, they didn’t really detract from my enjoyment of the book. And I highly doubt that the intended readers of the series would be too discerning about obvious plot devices.

All that said, there is one twist that I’m still on the fence about.

In the first two books, there happened to be a great unexplainable being that’s causing mayhem in whatever kingdom they were in. Beings that turn out to be a personification of the princesses stolen powers. I was on the look out for the same device here, in the third book, but it didn’t appear until the last few chapters.

And, no, I don’t mean that it didn’t appear physically until the last few chapters. I mean that there was no sign of it at all until it needed to be the big villain.

Now, on the one hand, I really liked how Brandon Mull tried to change it up and not repeat what he did before. But, on the other hand, I’m not a fan of a third-act reveal of an enemy that needs to be defeated; one that the book needs to end big at that.

I guess I’ll just have to hope that this doesn’t happen again in the remaining two novels off the Five Kingdoms series.

I’m crossing my fingers.

Book: Rogue Knight (Five Kingdoms, Book 2)

"Rogue Knight"

Cole Randolph never meant to come to the Outskirts, but when his friends were kidnapped on Halloween he had to try to save them. Now he’s trapped in a world that lies between wakefulness and dreaming, reality and imagination, life and death.

Cole’s hunt for his lost friends has led him to the kingdom of Elloweer. Accompanied by new friends Mira, Twitch, and Jace, Cole teams up with the resistance movement and joins the search for Mira’s sister Honor.

But Elloweer has grown unstable. A mysterious enemy is wiping out towns, leaving no witnesses or survivors. And an infamous rebel know throughout the kingdom as the Rogue Knight is upsetting the balance of power.

With enemies in pursuit, Cole and Mira must resort to a fascinating new kind of magic to protect themselves. Every move is filled with danger as Cole and his friends try to outwit the High King, who will stop at nothing to regain what he has lost.

The second book in the Five Kingdoms series reads a little better than its predecessor, but that’s not entirely a good thing. You see, I didn’t have that high a regard for Sky Raiders, and Rogue Knight only elevates my view on the series a little bit.

That said, Five Kingdoms is more interesting than Brandon Mull’s own Fablehaven series, which, until now I’ve still no interest of continuing after the first book–although I already bought a copy of the sequel.

Digression aside; what makes Rogue Knight a little better than Sky Raiders for me is the fact that it has a better twist than the first book. One of the things I disliked in Sky Raiders is the too short time it spent on concluding the first book–which wasn’t very satisfying because it barely gave closure to anything.

Rogue Knight begins and ends with the opening and closing of a problem, with a promise of the next big adventure. This was what I was talking about previously, in my Sky Raiders post, about a book having its own start, quest, and end. Granted, this book did not have the burden of introducing and setting up the journey for the entire series. But I still have thoughts on how Sky Raiders could be tweaked to make it a more satisfying read.

Now, why did I say that my view on the series as a whole only rose a little when it already provided the complete journey I was looking for previously? Well, it mostly has to do with the feeling of déjà vu while reading the story. The quest that Cole and his friends get into doesn’t feel very organic. It feels like author Mull has a checklist of things that need to happen, and he’s checking the items off it one by one.

So, sure, Rogue Knight does have the ingredients of a good story, and it does have a clearer structure of where the story begins and ends. But unlike Sky Raiders that has the magic of a whole new world waiting to be explored, Rogue Knight feels like a rehash with a different set of characters to take the place of the ones from the first story, while essentially providing the same plot movement.

Closing the book, there’s a feeling that the author is still trying to find the balance of presenting something new while sticking to the formula of what made his previous novels work. Which, while I’m not overly satisfied with this book, I must say that it did make me look forward to reading the next installment. Because it does feel like Brandon Mull is getting his groove back.

Book: Sky Raiders (Five Kingdoms, Book 1)

"Sky Raiders"

Cole Randolph is just trying to have fun with his friends on Halloween. But their trip to a neighborhood haunted house turns out to be the start of a wild adventure when Cole watches his friends being whisked away through a mysterious passage.

Cole dives in after them, only to emerge somewhere that’s very clearly no longer Mesa, Arizona. He soon learns he’s come to a place called the Outskirts.

Made up of five kingdoms, the Outskirts lies between wakefulness and dreaming, reality and imagination, life and death. It’s an in-between place. Some people are born there. Some find their way there from our world, or from other worlds. The balance of power in the five kingdoms has been upset, and the magic there is becoming unstable. It’s up to Cole and an unusual girl he meets there names Mira to set things right, rescue his friends, and hopefully survive long enough to find his way back home…

The book was a slow burn for me. I didn’t really get into it until after our protagonist Cole gets into the titular Sky Raiders. But before you turn away from the book, it does happen fairly early on. You just have to read through a lot of exposition and establishing action first.

And there lies my problem with Sky Raiders. It establishes things that, while informing our main character’s goal, doesn’t really add anything to the entirety of the book. You could swap a different goal for Cole, a more pressing one maybe, and the action will unfold the same way.

What we get instead is knowledge that the story doesn’t end in this book. And while I enjoy reading stories that continue from book to book (and I already knew this when I picked up the first book of the Five Kingdoms series), I wish the whole thing was better executed.

A perfect example of this would be Brandon Mull’s own Beyonder series. The first book has its own start, quest, and end. As a reader, I was invested in that journey thoroughly because it had a clear ending. And although its ending was pretty much complete, I opted to join the second adventure that the author offered, because Mull didn’t disappoint in wrapping things up before presenting the second goal.

The same cannot be said for the first Five Kingdoms book. When I passed a certain percentage of the book and our main characters were still on the road, looking for the first boss battle to fight? I already knew the whole book was just a set up to something else. Something that we might still not get in the second book. And although I’ve already picked up Rogue Knight (because I am intrigued about this new world Mull has built), I am not happy about the fact that we didn’t get a satisfying conclusion in the first book.

Which brings me to a question: With the success of Harry Potter and other book series, are publishers becoming more lenient to stories that don’t end in one book? Is this a way of ensuring future sales? Because, I must say, I’m not a fan.

A book should be allowed to have its own ending, even if it’s just an ending for now. Because, as a reader, there’s nothing satisfying about being left hanging on a cliff for a year, before finding out if you’re continuing your journey or not.

Book: Fablehaven

"Fablehaven"

For centuries mystical creatures were gathered into a hidden refuge called Fablehaven to prevent their extinction. The sanctuary is one of the last strongholds of true magic. Enchanting? Absolutely. Exciting? You bet. Safe? Well, actually, quite the opposite…

Kendra and her brother, Seth, have no idea that their grandfather is the current caretaker of Fablehaven. Inside the gated woods, ancient laws keep order among greedy trolls, mischievous satyrs, plotting witches, spiteful imps, and jealous fairies. However, when the rules get broken, powerful forces of evil are unleashed, and Kendra and her brother must face the greatest challenge of their lives to save their family, Fablehaven, and perhaps even the world.

Half the time I was reading this, I wanted to wring Seth’s neck out. That kid has a serious complex about authority. And I understand why author Brandon Mull wrote him to be that way, but… Well, all the conflict we come face to face with in Fablehaven happens because Seth is an infuriating git who doesn’t care to follow rules or orders.

Half the time I’m reading about Seth, I wanted to throw him off a roof. Or feed him to whatever unimaginably dangerous creature exist in the gated woods. Or lock him up inside one of the many rooms inside their grandfather’s house. And, to be quite honest, reading about Seth’s many, many, many instances of disregarding other people’s safety detracted from my overall enjoyment of Fablehaven.

Doing something out of curiosity is one thing. When you get turned into a deformed walrus, you don’t do anything more to infuriate the magical beings who can turn you into something worse. You start following rules. If the fear isn’t enough, the trauma should be. But what does Seth do? He decides he wants to see something scarier.

And that’s my main beef with Fablehaven. We have a hero, and I’m using that term very loosely, who just doesn’t know how to follow rules. A hero whose outright disregard for rules is barely punished. Seth is not a hero I want kids to be reading about.

But, the other half of the time, I was engrossed with Kendra. Kendra is boring, but she knows how to pay attention. Kendra isn’t adventurous, but she is more courageous than her brother could ever be. Kendra is the hero you want your kids to look up to because she knows actions have repercussions.

Reading Fablehaven was a chore for the most part. Combined with a character I actively disliked, I don’t know if I would want to recommend this book to anyone.

And yet… Brandon Mull shows off his storytelling skills when we finally latch on to Kendra as the true hero of the story. With Kendra, he weaves a magical tale about bravery because of fear, because of consequences, and because of hope. Once we focus on Kendra as our main character, the story becomes more bearable, and the adventure becomes more thrilling.

Mull’s writing of Kendra will make you want to pick up the sequel. Which I will be doing. Here’s hoping that there will be less Seth in the second book. Or, at the very least, I hope there will be a more mature or more reasonable Seth.

In the meantime, let’s check out what other people have said about the book–
Inspirefly
Thriving Family
Wondrous Reads

I must say… This is the most interesting collection of reviews I’ve come across so far.

Book: Beyonders, Chasing the Prophecy

"Beyonders: Chasing the Prophecy"

When Jason and Rachel first arrived in Lyrian, all they wanted was to find their way home. Now they know that the roles they must play are essential to the final effort in the crusade against the evil emperor, Maldor–though the cost could be their lives.

In her final prophecy the Orcale of Mianmon saw many possible futures for the people of Lyrian. But among all of those futures, she glimpsed only one unlikely course that might allow Jason, Rachel, and the heroes at their sides to defeat Maldor and restore peace to Lyiran. Her vision calls for Jason’s and Rachel’s paths to diverge as they embark on their most perilous adventures yet. Will their journeys lead them home at last, or somewhere neither could have ever imagined?

And so ends another trilogy.

I must say, I really liked how Brandon Mull tied everything together. And how realistic his characters approached their problems, how they presented them to one another and how they dealt with them with each other. Well, except Rachel. Which is probably why I was most annoyed with her in this book.

My favorite character, now that the series has ended, is probably Ferrin. The displacer really shows all the colors of a real human being–even if he’s not. We all have a choice to be good and to be bad, and I like that author Mull gives us the realities of decisions–that we can choose to be bad, and that it will be good for us, but it might not be as good to other people–including the ones we call friends.

Fantasy works best when reality is embedded in it. And I don’t mean reality as in our real world, but rather the reality of how our minds think, of how we act around other people–and how our actions have bigger repercussions than we think.

Chasing the Prophecy is a most satisfying read not only because it’s well-paced, but also because it gives us a sense of closure. For almost all the characters.

And, as a bit of fan service, almost everyone gets a heroic moment.

Well, almost all of the heroes anyway.

Closing the last book on the Beyonders trilogy, I must say that I am glad I took the journey to Lyrian. And this might actually push me to go ahead and buy and read the Fablehaven series finally. I’ll just have to check my finances first.

Book: Seeds of Rebellion

"Seeds of Rebellion"

Jason Walker needs to find a way back to Lyrian. Rachel remains stranded there, and Jason has precious information that the friends he left behind must learn in order to have any hope of surviving and defeating the evil emperor Maldor.

When he finally succeeds in returning to the strange and imperiled world, Jason immediately finds himself in more danger than ever as the most wanted fugitive on the continent. Meanwhile, Rachel has begun to discover new abilities of her own that may prove vital against Maldor’s tyranny.

In the aftermath of a failed quest, a new mission arises–to assemble the remaining heroes of Lyrian. Can the necessary allies be convinced before the emperor crushes the young uprising? Jason, Rachel, and their band of battered heroes will face new enemies and demanding obstacles as they strive to launch a desperate rebellion.

Look, I know  “to assemble the remaing heroes of Lyrian” sounds better than “to assemble the remaining unconquered people of Lyrian,” but talk about misleading information! Number one, the first book of the Beyonders trilogy is entitled A World Without Heroes. Meaning there are no heroes left, save for Jason and Rachel who come from the Beyond. Number two, even within the book itself, there are no “battered heroes,” just a group of unlikely individuals who have to band together for a common goal.

Sure, we can argue that Galloran, the Blind King, is a hero. And almost all of the characters we meet have heroic qualities–to a fault, actually. But to call them “a band of battered heroes” is too much, I think.

That said, I didn’t enjoy this second book as much as I did the first one. The characters have a tendency to sound the same, and the new parts of Lyrian that our protagonists are exploring doesn’t seem all that original. Which is odd, because I thought the first book had a good handle on originality–and on separating the characters.

To be clear, none of the characters are the same. They all have their own personalities. My only problem with them is how they talk. If you pull a quote from the book, you would have no inkling as to which character could have said it. There were no “we could all have been killed – or worse, expelled” dialogue in this particular book. Or in the series, for that matter.

And I’m not talking about having memorable lines, just to clear that up. I’m talking about distinct dialogue that you can attribute to a single character. Jason, Drake, Ferrin and the Blind King have a tendency to have the same manner of speaking. The only thing that sets Jason apart from the three are the doubts (which Ferrin also exhibits in one of the chapters), and the our-universe lingo that Rachel–and even Nia–employs. The only thing that sets Corinne apart from Rachel is the fact that she’s seeing everything for the first time–and even those dialogue echo the ones Rachel exhibited in the first book. And let’s not even start on the seedpeople. The only one whose dialogue is really distinct from the others is Nollin–and that’s because he’s the only coward in the group.

Which, brings me to my next problem with the book. Inconsistency of character. Nollin is the perfect example, actually. He’s set up as a former chief military advisor of the seedpeople, and yet he’s played off as a cowardly comic relief during the adventures. The seedpeople are characterized to be very smart people, and the author does a good job setting up the opposing views on war with a lot of smart arguments from both sides in one of the chapters. If Nollin is as comically cowardly as he is characterized, how in the world was he allowed to be a military advisor? And if the author didn’t intend for Nollin to be comically cowardly–why did he come off as such?

Seeds of Rebellion is a good adventure book: the action scenes are solid, the journeys are well-plotted, and it doesn’t forget the events of the first book. But as far as young adult fiction go, it’s definitely not one of the best. Character is key, and none of the characters seem to be lovable, or at the least, relatable. Quite a far fall from the first novel where you were rooting for both Jason and Rachel to succeed, so they could go back home.

I still plan on reading the last book from the trilogy though. Out of goodwill for the first Beyonders novel. I’m hoping the third book would be more like A World Without Heroes and less like Seeds of Rebellion.

Still, these are just my thoughts on the book. Other people have also given their views, and it also helps to seek other opinions on things. So check these reviews on Seeds of Rebellion out:
Icey Books
Guys Lit Wire
Books for YAs