Title: In Other Lands
Author: Sarah Rees Brennan
Published: August, 2017 by Big Mouth House
Purchase: The Book Depository
“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.
With a wisecracking mouth, an air of superiority and little regard for other people’s feelings, I know Elliot was someone I wouldn’t want to be around. Yet, I couldn’t help but want to be more like him. His ‘no apologies’ attitude towards life and stupid people was one that I secretly wish I could adopt, or get away with adopting. Set in a magical world, with no hint of magic, instead filled with war training, politics and angsty teen romance, this quickly became a whole lot of fun.
There just seemed to be so much packed into this book—and that was a good thing. Without chapters, it was divided into 5 acts, each one detailing a year of Elliot’s adolescence. With less than a hundred pages given to each year, it surprisingly didn’t feel rushed, or on the flip side of that, lacking. I felt like I really got to experience their progression from a bunch of twelve year olds meeting for the first time, to friends that would die—or kill someone—for each other. Still, I could have used some chapters to let me know how much time I’d need to set aside. Putting the book down mid scene because your lunch break is over is not the best feeling in the world.
Elliot would probably tell me that time spent reading trumped everything, even paid employment. Forever trying to broaden his mind, and find new ways to broker peace, Elliot is proud to be the bookish type. But then again, I don’t think Elliot was ever not proud of himself in some way or another. Elliot’s abrasive personality made him stand out as a narrator, both amusing and annoying me at times. Determined to get his own way, he would pester, flirt or simply bamboozle his way into whatever situation he wanted to work his way into.
I really enjoyed the reversed gender stereotypes of the Elves, and how it was used to highlight just how sexist the world we live in is. Elven warrior, Serene, and Elliot’s obsession, would comment on what a delicate flower he was, but that she would always protect him. It was so ingrained in her culture, rather than being used as a one-off throwaway line, which added an extra layer to the book. Elliot loved it and played right into it, sometimes questioning the way our world operates, and at others, seemingly just trying to woo his beloved.
With a bisexual main character, and a few gay characters appearing with little fanfare, I felt like we’ve finally reached a good point where LGBT representation doesn’t have to be a big shocker, or the selling point of a story, it’s just part of it. It was about friendship, breaking stereotypes, the power of words over violence, and generally just being humorous. Forcing his way into danger, Elliot could be unbearable, or he could be awesomely on point, but usually it was both at the same time. I felt so invested, like I had actually spent five years with these characters, hoping they’d finally get their lives together and kiss already. The slow build is torture, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Fans of Sarah’s previous books. If you know her humour, you’ll love this.