Some authors don’t read my blog, it seems.
Chasing the Prophecy is the third book in the Beyonders series by Brandon Mull. I reviewed the first book in the trilogy extremely well a little over a year ago, but the series seemed to deteriorate from there. The second book helped inspire a post on bad middle books, which doesn’t say much for its worth. And this last one was preempted by a post on ending chapters with plot twists. To sum that post up, chapters should always end with plot twists. Unfortunately, Brandon Mull ignored that post.
The first book was great, and my review says it was very twisty. The problem with the second book was mostly in its plot, but I think it shared a problem with the third book, and that is the location of plot twists. Sure, there were twists, but they weren’t in the right places.
To keep this review spoiler-free, I’ll only give one, small example from the third book. Since none of the twists were that devastating, I suppose I could say anything and the book wouldn’t be spoiled, but I’ll keep things nice.
At one point in the book, the characters sail off in a stolen ship. Unfortunately, they are pursued by a faster ship, and they don’t know how to get rid of it. Thankfully, they have an expendable crew member who they drop overboard with a bomb, and the pursuing ship explodes. Yay! And that was all in a single chapter.
It began with them seeing the pursuing ship. It ended with them eliminating the pursuing ship. Put together, the chapter gave the appearance of incredible optimism and hope, as the characters can easily deal with anything confronting them. Thus, there was no tension as we wonder whether or not the characters will live this time. There was no feeling of frantic problem-solving. It was too happy.
Now, you must understand: this group of main characters is the smaller side of a hopeless battle against an ancient wizard with unlimited resources. They have a prophecy that says they might win if they do everything right, but the chance is too small for confidence. Several times, they talk about how they are all going to die. And yet, the book gives the feeling of optimistic forward motion.
All because a plot twist’s location.
It could be fixed so easily. All you have to do is move “Chapter Eight” a page to the right. We’ve stolen a boat– we’re getting away! Yay! What’s that you say, lookout? There’s a heavily armed ship on our tail? She’s gaining? Oh, no! Quick, cut to another scene!
It was a valid plot twist, ruined by chapter structure.
Of course, you don’t want to squash hope. Hope is always the underdog’s greatest weapon. But you don’t want the readers feeling it too. You want them asking, “How can they possibly get out of this?” You want the reader to lose hope.
Similarly, the construction of the solution was faulty. It was too easy– they just happened to have an expendable crew member and a bomb. Absolutely not. The expendable guy is good for a red-shirt suspense builder, but not as a problem solver. Notice how Captain Kirk, in order to conquer this new alien, never sends in the army of red-shirts he surely has– he goes in himself with a blaster and a lot at stake. Brandon Mull sends in his expendable no-names, who promptly get ripped in half and solve the problem at the same time. There was never anything at stake. There was never any suspense.
All of this was combined to create a sense of “we can do anything!” A big monster is attacking our group. Throw an expendable at him, maybe he’ll go away. Yep, it worked. What’s next?
Most of the rest of the book was fine, though the plot twists ruined it. There was a question at the end about a character’s loyalty, but it was resolved too quickly and stayed resolved until the ending. That was a mistake. I can’t say anything more without spoilers, but the author should have waited a while before playing the I’m-a-traitor-maybe card. Don’t give the characters time to talk about it next time, and it might work better.
Here is a big spoiler: The ending was a bit of a deus ex machina, since the impenetrable fortress just happened to be sitting on top of a bomb. There was no foreshadowing for that, so it seemed to come from nowhere. I half wish the wizard had destroyed all the rebels, then dug his dungeons a little deeper a few years later and blown himself to smithereens. It would have been a funny twist ending, but it would have destroyed the happy ending. End spoiler.
The ending was good, I thought. There’s always a mysteriously good feeling after finishing a series, even if it deteriorated a little bit along the way. I may not have liked the way the author structured things, but I didn’t hate him for it. I enjoyed the trilogy. If you’re looking to start on Brandon Mull, however, I’d suggest the Fablehaven books instead.