Synopsis: “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.
Amazing! Seriously, this book was so good and I am glad that I saw someone mention it on Twitter recently because I picked up the audiobook and devoured it.
This book is a creative love letter to portal fantasies that plays with the tropes and turns them in their head. I am a huge fan of fantasies that take the tropes and play with them in a way that feels like a parody and that’s exactly what In Other Lands does. It makes for a book that feels both familiar and unique at the same time. This is a world It’s a world full of supernatural creatures like elves, trolls, unicorns, and mermaids but they are unlike the creatures that they are used to mostly because a lot of them are murderous including the unicorns. I am always looking for a unique magical setting and this book got that bill by simply just breaking with convention in a way that you can tell comes from a place of total affection for the genre.
The biggest shift I think this book makes is it’s hero, or should I say antihero. Because Eliot Schaffer is the farthest thing from a Chosen One as I think is humanly possible. He’s the bookish, sarcastic, and rude secondary character who often gets relegated to comic relief and Sarah makes him the narrator. And I gotta say, I loved that! The voice on Elliot was absolutely amazing and is without a doubt the highlight of this novel. He’s kind of an asshole but he had me laughing out loud so often that I had to make sure I didn’t look like a total weirdo on my train ride home. And Elliot is a great main character in that he’s not very heroic and yet you still root for him. Sarah does a great job with his development throughout the book and by the end he really is very likable. He makes for an amazing antihero and a great main character.
Part of what I think makes Elliot so likable is that the plot of this book is really a coming of age story. It’s got plenty of action and adventure but it’s not a plot-friend narrative. It’s about war, yes, but also how diplomacy and getting to know people who are different from you can solve conflicts. But the real heart of this story is about found family and first love. The love triangle is another trope that Sarah plays with here and she does it in such a brilliant way and with a bisexual main character. Seriously though, it was such a great hate to love slow burn that I found myself wanting to smoosh the characters faces together so my ship would sail. She actually had me rooting for the romance which is huge for me with my cold dead romancephobic heart. But Elliot was enough of a hopeless romantic for the both of us.
Finally, this book was amazingly feminist in the perfect parody of classic fantasy tropes. Usually when you hear people talking about feminist fantasies it’s because there is a kickass female character who shows the men who’s boss. But that’s not what In Other Lands does. Yes, it has a kickass girl but she comes from a matriarchal society that thinks men are the sensitive fairer sex. By flipping our societies treatment of women on its head she is not only drawing attention to the absurdity of it while developing a fantasy culture wholly unique and amazing.
I seriously cannot rave about this book enough. It is without a doubt one of my favorite books I’ve read in 2018. I absolutely loved it and I couldn’t put it down. It’s the perfect fantasy and parody at the same time. It creates a unique and interesting world, populates it with likable and hilarious characters, and takes you on a coming of age story that is disguised as a portal fantasy adventure.
I give In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan 9.5 out of 10 stars
Have you read In Other Lands? What did you think? Leave me a comment with your thoughts. Thanks for stopping by and HAPPY READING!