Review: ‘In Other Lands’ by Sarah Rees Brennan

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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. 

[Goodreads]

DETAILS

Date finished: 01 July 2018

Publisher: Big Mouth House

ISBN: 9781618731203

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REVIEW

In Other Lands is unlike anything I’ve ever read before. Bold, witty, creative and utterly addictive, Brennan’s writing has carved out a piece of my heart and pushed an entire world into it.

“You will never find me in trouble. You will find me in the library. If you can remember where that is.” 

There’s something so enthralling about this book. From the very first sentence, Brennan makes it clear that this is no ordinary fantasy story. Eliot is no valiant hero, Serene-Heart-in-the-Chaos-of-Battle is no damsel in distress, and Luke Sunborn is far from the average antagonist. Eliot’s narrative is quick-witted and snarky, but with shifting undertones of insecurity and heartache that make him at once an inescapably lovable and wholly infuriating protagonist. I spent 50% of this book overcome by sympathy for him and the rest of it wanting to take him by the shoulders and shake him senseless.

I could write for hours about the perfection that is Serene, but at risk of spoiling the adventure of falling in love with her character, I’ll limit it to a paragraph. Is there anything more epic than a badass warrior elf princess who’s as smart as she is skilled in combat? Um, yes. A badass warrior elf princess who is legendary in her prejudice against males. The elf matriarchy is wonderful in every way, and Brennan uses Serene expertly in her not-so-subtle scheme to expose just how ridiculous our gendered societal structures are.

(That being said, I’m totally behind constructing a matriarchal society in which men go to finishing school, care for the children, and are expected to remain chaste and gentle while the women fight battles and protect the sensitive lesser sex. If you want in, hit me up.)

It would be unfair of me not to mention Luke alongside the other two main characters. But I’m afraid all I have to say is this: Luke is too good for this world, and any others.

I realise that I’ve spent the bulk of this review talking about the characters, but I have no qualms about doing so. These are three of the most fleshed-out, complicated, frustrating, beautiful characters I have come across in all my years of reading. Lovable doesn’t even begin to describe them.

Still not convinced? I got you. In Other Lands is sex positive, sexually diverse, wholesome, and stunningly unique. It’s a revolutionary coming-of-age story, complete with harpies, family drama, trolls, mermaids, first times, unicorns, treaties, battles, and a good dose of love – both platonic and romantic. And it’s written with the exquisite style of a truly talented, badass woman.

“I don’t need you to explain to me the concept of a magical land filled with fantastic creatures that only certain special children can enter. I am acquainted with the last several centuries of popular culture. There are books. And cartoons, for the illiterate.”

Read it.

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Rating: 9/5

Recommended to: Anyone needing a pick-me-up that also includes mermaids

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