It took me a while to get past the first few pages of the fantasy-fiction novel ‘In Other Lands’ by Sarah Rees Brennan, but once we were past the early chapters, my reading was on auto-pilot. What a silly, fun fantasy story about an annoying human boy blundering through a magical land!
Let’s begin with some trivia that I wasn’t aware of until after finishing the novel. Sarah started this off as a “short story” on her blog, but it ended up being a 400+ pages long story. And sometimes it does feel like Sarah is dragging it on, and then are other times when you don’t want the story to ever end! Especially as you are edging towards the end of the novel, because we don’t get enough of the ‘end-game’ couple. Since we try and keep reviews ‘spoiler-free’, not going to reveal who that is.
The protagonist starts off as a 13-year-old bisexual (I’d say pan-sexual because he basically falls for any being that’s good looking & gives him a little attention) human boy called Elliot. He is kind of the ‘annoying asshole’ kid in class that nobody wants to be friends with, but eventually grows on you. One fine day (in the very first page really), Elliot is taken to a field with a bunch of kids and asked if he can see a wall, when he responds in the affirmative, it’s revealed to be a magical wall to another realm that very few can see. So off goes Elliot, to ‘other lands’ by climbing to the other side of the wall, where human technology is shunned (try getting it from the other side and they burn) and wars still exist, with clans of elves, trolls, harpies, mermaids and what not living in medieval circumstances. Elliot quickly befriends the only elf girl in his class, a warrior called Serene-heart-in-the-chaos-of-battle, who is sword sister/brother with the gorgeous golden haired Luke Sunborn, who Elliot marks as his nemesis. The tale follows all three of them until they are seventeen, navigating classes, crushes, warring clans and battle plans.
Sarah Rees Brennan spins this tale in a very casual, breezy manner, never taking anything too seriously, which makes it a super-fun read. The most hilarious bits in the book are the parts where Brennan writes about the Elvish ways, where women are considered the dominant gender. Sample this conversation (which I love by the way) –
“I’ve been meaning to ask,” Elliot said conversationally to Luke. “If they’re your mum’s sister’s kids, how are they Sunborns too?”
Serene frowned. “It makes perfect sense. Of course the children bear their mother’s name. The woman is the strong one, who bears the child and begins the family. You can’t be sure who any child’s father is.”
Don’t be mistaken, Brennan doesn’t try to stuff in some feminist agenda (not like that should be a problem) through her portrayal Elven society, they are just matriarchal in nature consider mean the weaker gender, not their equals. So while Elven women train to become monster-slayers, the men go to finishing school to learn embroidery and cooking. Every clans has its own rules, and it’s bloody entertaining!
I think the book doesn’t feel as amusing in the initial stages because the protagonists are only 13, and are already obsessing over things only adults should bother with – sword-fights and potential partners. But considering our history, where 13-year-olds did ascend thrones, get married and murdered on expeditions, maybe it’s not all that farfetched. So roll with it and you’ll love the book. But don’t expect mermaids, because even though the cover suggests that the sea-seductresses have a large part to play in the plot, they really don’t. Elliot is mildly obsessed with them, that is all.
In some ways, despite the medieval set-ups, with folks still fighting on horses, writing on scrolls, and lighting candles in the ‘other lands’, what Brennan magnificently achieves is creating realistic characters, with believable relationships, along with non-toxic LGBTQ+ representation. Elliot’s a bit of a cliche when it comes to his romantic radar in the book, but at least having his heart broken one too many times is relatable. Serene and Luke are more likable than Elliot, and just like all the girls in the ‘other lands’, it’s hard not to grow a soft spot for the Sunborn boy.
Look, I loved reading this book, it’s not often enough that I pick a 400+ pages novel and then bother staying up all night to finish it, but with this one, I did. And while it’s the slow-burn romance that had me hooked to it, the only bit disappointing about the story was that Elliot’s first serious relationship doesn’t get enough space. You’ll know what I mean if you read the book. Go read the book.
It’s a 4/5 from me.
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