I got really excited about In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan, when I stumbled across it on Goodreads. After deciding it was clearly a must-read YA fantasy and something I should read for research and for fun, I bought a second hand copy immediately. Sadly, it didn’t quite live up to my expectations, but might still be one for those of you who are big fantasy readers.
Blurb (from Goodreads)
“What’s your name?”
“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.
There was so much I liked about this book as I began reading – a slightly different protagonist, a fantasy realm, some serious gender deconstruction and more than a few good arguments for world peace.. I wish I was able to write it a hearty 5-star review, but sadly all the strong elements just didn’t quite come together for me and I really struggled to keep reading beyond half way.
I did push on (although admittedly skim read often) but I was right when I thought that the book wasn’t going to give me much more than what the first half had offered.
I can see how you could really enjoy this book, the characters are certainly ones you can fall in love with, and I suspect it’s a desire to stick with the characters, more than an interesting plot that keeps people reading. Sometimes you’re in the mood for that kind of book aren’t you?
Sadly, I began to find it quite repetitive. I hated it’s lack of chapters (it’s split into long sections only – one for each year of the Borderlands’ training). As a busy mum juggling many roles I like to be able to dip in and out of books in short spurts and this book didn’t lend itself to that very well. But then it is YA and not necessarily aimed at busy Mums!
So the positives. I did really take to the protagonist, Elliot, and his cynical ways. It was an interesting angle and the fast paced narrative really worked with his POV. I loved the gender reversals presented in the Elven culture, and how this illuminated the subtleties of gender inequality. Luke, the vulnerable hero, was adorable and I really was behind him hoping he would have his hopes fulfilled. The three of them made a wonderful portrait of friendship and it was all very playful.
But sadly, I didn’t at any point feel I was taken away by the story. It was more like reading a running commentary of events, rather than becoming lost inside the action, and I think it was this style that was ultimately the reason for me losing interest.
I also thought it was quite clear where it was ultimately heading in terms of the love side of the story. Both this and the battle of the Other Lands could actually have been much more succinctly told and perhaps a bit more of an edit might have made it a more enjoyable read. Apparently the story was originally told in instalments on the author’s blog and that does make a lot of sense. I could see the appeal in that format.
Overall, I think this might be of interest to fantasy lovers with a good bit of reading time available, but wouldn’t recommend it to anyone looking for a gripping read.
For more information about the author visit here.