In Other Lands
by Sarah Rees Brennan
Published on August 15th 2017
by Big Mouth House
Genres: Adolescence, Fantasy, Friendship, LGBT, Young Adult
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“What’s your name?”
“Serena?” Elliot asked.
“Serene,” said Serene. “My full name is Serene-Heart-in-the-Chaos-of-Battle.”
Elliot’s mouth fell open. “That is badass.”
The Borderlands aren’t like anywhere else. Don’t try to smuggle a phone or any other piece of technology over the wall that marks the Border—unless you enjoy a fireworks display in your backpack. (Ballpoint pens are okay.) There are elves, harpies, and—best of all as far as Elliot is concerned—mermaids.
Elliot? Who’s Elliot? Elliot is thirteen years old. He’s smart and just a tiny bit obnoxious. Sometimes more than a tiny bit. When his class goes on a field trip and he can see a wall that no one else can see, he is given the chance to go to school in the Borderlands.
It turns out that on the other side of the wall, classes involve a lot more weaponry and fitness training and fewer mermaids than he expected. On the other hand, there’s Serene-Heart-in-the-Chaos-of-Battle, an elven warrior who is more beautiful than anyone Elliot has ever seen, and then there’s her human friend Luke: sunny, blond, and annoyingly likeable. There are lots of interesting books. There’s even the chance Elliot might be able to change the world.
In Other Lands has all the things a good epic fantasy should have: incredible world building, quests, danger, and a dash of romance. It’s razor-witted on so many levels. But this is also a book lover’s dream because of the character development. A few of the bloggers I follow love this book and this had all the makings of a book I needed in my life.
If you dislike unlikable characters, heads up: Elliot, our main character, has all the makings of one. He’s rude, arrogant, and uses his intelligence to make others feel small. Fortunately I don’t mind unlikable characters, and Elliot is a person after my heart. He’s unimpressed with being taken to a magical land, especially when he discovers that magic doesn’t work for him. That changes when he realizes there’s fantastical creatures and peace to keep. He belittles the popular students at his new school. He’s constantly barging in where people tell him he shouldn’t be. I adore this kid.
He has his reasons for acting like a jerk. These were the most heartbreaking yet compelling scenes. However, I was impressed with his choice to become a kind, understanding person. In his own way, of course. He doesn’t completely shuck his arrogance (which I love), but his transformation from the boy he was at the beginning to the person he is at the end is worth the journey.
In spite of Elliot’s self-sabotaging behavior, he does make friends. Serene’s an elf, and her culture turns gender expectations on its head. Men are seen as the fairer sex, are expected to be protected to spare their “delicate sensibilities,” and keep their virtue intact. Serene is considered a rogue among her family. Seeing Serene treat Elliot and the other boys in her school like crystal sculptures is hilariously and cleverly explored. Elliot is smitten instantly. Luke is the school’s golden boy. Everyone loves him, except Elliot, of course (or does he?). As they go on peacekeeping trips that always go awry, things shift. There is a slow burn romance between Elliot and Luke that had me swooning and laughing–because there’s sarcasm and insults involved–and demanding they get together immediately.
While my list of likes is long, at times, I wasn’t fully immersed in the book. It took me about nine days to read it. There are passages that felt like they needed tighter editing, especially some of the quest scenes. That’s a very small list of gripes though.
Readers looking for a character-driven, thoughtful, well realized fantasy should check out In Other Lands.