By Brandon Mull
From the back cover
Adventure awaits in the Five Kingdoms — come and claim it in this start to a new series from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Fablehaven and Beyonders series.
Cole Randolph was just trying to have a fun time with his friends on Halloween (and maybe get to know Jenna Hunt a little better). But when a spooky haunted house turns out to be a portal to something much creepier, Cole finds himself on an adventure on a whole different level.
After Cole sees his friends whisked away to some mysterious place underneath the haunted house, he dives in after them — and ends up in The Outskirts.
The Outskirts are made up of five kingdoms that lie 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.
And once you come to the Outskirts, it’s very hard to leave.
With the magic of the Outskirts starting to unravel, it’s up to Cole and an unusual girl named Mira to rescue his friends, set things right in the Outskirts, and hopefully find his way back home…before his existence is forgotten.
This book takes the reader to a whole different world, a world similar to that we see in our dreams, or in the imagination of a child. Between fighting monsters in giant cloud castles and swimming in a pool of milk and cookies, lies a very interesting story. However, it is important to note that the story contains several alarming ideologies. The Outskirts, where Cole finds himself, is controlled by “Shapers”, which are very powerful individuals that hold prestigious positions in the kingdoms. Shapers are talented people that were born with the gift of creating anything and make it look and act as if it were real. This concept touches on the oneness of Allah in the ability to create living things. These shapers create semblances that have life-like characteristics. Sometimes the semblances are portrayed to be better creatures than Allah’s creations which might put some doubts in the Greatness of Allah in young readers’ minds. Another point of concern is the presence of prolonged discussions between some boys in the book about their crushes on some female characters and seeking ways to be near them and impress them.
In a gist…
– Chapter 1 is full of details about Cole’s crush on Jenna and how he wished she would kiss him during recess: “He liked her but not in that way. Sure, in the past he might have felt excited and scared whenever she was around but now she is just a friend”.
However, the book continues to prove that Cole still has feelings for Jenna, as we see in the following chapter where he wishes she would put her head on his chest and hug him and call him her hero.
– Hints and talks of boys’ crushes on girls are mentioned throughout the book.
– A girl hugs a boy and kisses him on the cheek.
– A boy is implied to have a crush on a girl and puts his life in danger to save her.
– The children that were kidnapped from Earth are taken as slaves.
– Cole is left a whole day to walk behind a caravan without food or water as punishment.
– The Sky Raiders fight monster semblances and kill them when they can.
– One Sky Raider mission fails and many Sky Raiders die as a result.
– It is mentioned that Sky Raider children die while fighting in the sky castles. Their average life expectancy is said to be two weeks.
– Cole stabs a monster in the eye and is described as “if he had punched a deep bowl of warm pudding” (Chapter 12).
– A monster collects civilians and legionnaires but does not kill them. However, when convinced otherwise, the monster starts considering killing them.
– The main enemy in the book tries to poison herself to death to keep the main characters from getting any information from her about the plans of the High King, she fails however.
– The main characters give an herbal tea to a legionnaire causing him to sleep for a few days.
– A villain pecks herself with poison to kill herself to avoid having information forced out of her.
Degradation of Family/Islamic values
– Chapter 1: The book starts with Halloween and the kids dressed in costumes. If you are trying to avoid books with Halloween content, the first two chapters of this book are about the main characters going trick or treating and looking for horror.
– A great part of the book is about crushes and boys putting their lives in danger to impress the girls.
A group of gifted people called “shapers” use illusion to carve different substances and make them move, speak, and act like real creatures. These shapers are the most powerful in all five kingdoms. They shape human semblances, monstrous semblances, and animal ones as well. These semblances can be mistaken to be real creations like any one of Allah’s creations. It is important for parents of children reading this book to emphasize the belief that Allah is the only creator with their children. No matter how advanced science technology or the magic of illusions get, humans will never be able to create something that speaks and acts as if it had a life inside of it. One of the shapers in this book creates a cockatiel and says “[the cockatiel] is made from a light substance I designed, I call it ristofly. It makes her much more durable than if she were composed of flesh and actual feathers. She can fly faster and see better than most real birds. She doesn’t need food or water, doesn’t sleep, doesn’t relieve herself, and can dwell under water as easy as in the air”. The author here is basically implying that a so-called “shaper” can create better than Allah the exalted which is alarming.
The book also does not shy away from girl-boy interactions and crushes. A few hugs and kisses on the cheek are portrayed. As well as a few prolonged discussions between boys about the girls they “like” and the crushes they have.