Chasing the Prophecy, a Review

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.


41 thoughts on “Chasing the Prophecy, a Review

  1. Note: I didn’t read the review, just in case a spoiler may have snuck in.

    Oh. The third one’s out? I’ll have to find it sometime, although my library seems intent on never having the books I want. It’s probably a conspiracy.

  2. Thanks for the insight on chapter placement. When writing my book in November, I simply wrote the story chronologically and didn’t separate it with chapters. I just separated the book in eight- page segments after writing it and before I began to revise. Now I have plot twists with immediate resolutions and conversations spanning entire chapters. It’s so hard to sort through.
    Any additional advice?

    1. 1) Always have a plot twist at the end of a chapter. If you can’t figure that out, just do one at the end of every scene. It might force you to go too fast for your liking, but it’ll help with pacing. 2) Make sure conversations are necessary. If your two main characters are laying bricks together, you won’t be describing the bricks, but you don’t want to timeskip either– so stick a conversation in. However, during a fight scene, when you have to describe everything, you might not want to add a conversation. 3) Don’t try to name your chapters yet. Just saying.

      1. My book is very thought-oriented. A lot of the action happens inside the main character’s head. Any thoughts on how to keep the action going?
        Are first drafts always so difficult to sort through? Is it just me? Ach, I guess no matter what you say I’ll have to continue hacking away at it…
        Yeah, right now they’re called chapter one, chapter two, chapter three, and so on. I still haven’t come to a conclusion of the title of the book.

        … And thanks for the advise on conversations. Sorry if I’ve over-stayed my welcome.

      2. Explosions always work. But I’ve found thoughts generally only slow down the action, so the less of them you have, the more action it will have in comparison. But do the equivalent of action if you can’t get bombs. In Pride and Prejudice, there are no bombs– action consists of conversations and dances.

        Yes, going through your first draft is always crazy. Especially your first first draft, because you don’t know what to look for.

        It’s no problem.

      3. After reasonable reflection I have come to the conclusion that I write Fantasy as if it were Nonfiction. Probably not the goal. I’ll have to go back over and drop bombs all over the main character’s thought bubbles.
        Again, thanks for the advise.

      4. Or the Silmarillion. Still haven’t read that, though. I think if I work on the style a little I’ll be able to just make a serious historical-fantasy. Who knows?

      5. Well then, I’ll be both the first thirteen-year-old to publish a NaNo- novel, and the first thirteen-year-old to publish a historic fantasy. Respect the optimism.
        How can historical fantasies as muli-genre be overrated and yet unpublished?

      6. Good for you! I shall slay my first dragon before the week is out.

        Oh. Oops. I said that thinking about fantasy non-fiction. My apologies. But there are many historical fantasies, more commonly known as alternate histories or secret histories: Napoleon was secretly a wizard, Abraham Lincoln fought vampires, and Doctor Who was Mozart.

      7. Okay, I see what you are saying about historical fantasies. My story is more or less about the lives of everyday people during big events in the past 100 years, like the first and second world wars and a bit of the cold war. There is a lot of war (thus the seriousness).
        Not quite with you on the Napoleon-as-a-wizard thing… what is that from?
        Also, are you doing the NaNoWriMo marathon tomorrow?

      8. I don’t know. I got an email, but it didn’t say. I’m on Eastern standard…
        Sadly I’ve just realized that I have plans so I’ll have to make up the four hour session later.

  3. Ah, THESE are the books that have got your goat, eh? It’s a pity – there’s a fine balance between not enough plot twists, and too many. But then there’s also the issue of placement, because if you overload the reader with them then they’ll simply stop finding them interesting and get less involved in the story because they’ll have less of a sense of permanence and / or reason to root for an outcome, because their mind will already have decided that it won’t end up that way.

    Great post. Pity it’s not such a great book.

      1. Using Brandon Mull of all unfortunate authors as an example. May I never be used as such an example by you.

  4. GOSH, Liam, *I* have an author reading my blog. Your writing must just not be any good.

    *deflates huge ego and swollen head* No really, interesting critique. It probably would’ve made more sense if I’d read the books, but I liked it.

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