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Book Review: In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan

Publication Date: September 22nd 2019

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.


My thoughts and feelings …

I would like to formally introduce my new favourite book: In Other Lands. A book I’ve had sitting on my shelf for a while now, have even attempted to read once or twice before stupidly stopping after the first page. Joke was on past me though because when I finally picked this up on a whim I couldn’t put it down.

In Other Lands starts off like most middle-grade stories with an awkward, outcast human boy with wild unimaginable hair and absent parental figures, Elliot, entering a magic land. In this case the magical land is the Borderlands where he is recruited to attend a school to train to protect the Borderlands where he meets Luke and Serene. Where this book differs though is that Elliot isn’t the Chosen One or naturally athletic or magical in anyway. Instead he’s brash, rude, witty and too smart for his own good. He’s honestly a pretty unlikable guy but I love him your honour.

We follow Elliot and his friends from the ages of 13 to 17 as they juggle discovering themselves and their teenage hormones with protecting the Borderlands and fighting in wars. This book simultaneously feels like it’s playing off common tropes found in stories like this, kind of poking fun, while also creating something so new and unique which was genuinely a delight to read.

Elliot himself felt like a mash up of some of the great middle-grade characters: young Percy Jackson, Greg from The Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and Artemis Fowl (although I might be wrong on this one, I’ve not actually read the books). He was hilarious to read about and from his perspective. His inner voice and just overall personality was so distinct – brimming with sarcasm, wit and hilarity. I would say I laughed at least once at every single page.

I do have to urge that, despite me comparing Elliot to those middle-grade characters, this book is defintely not a middle-grade story!!! As the characters get older they get interested in the same things regular teenagers do. And by that I mean sex and relationships.

Sure this is a fantasy tale but it’s also a coming of age story. We see these characters try and fail with romance, we see them get their hearts broken, make mistakes, learn about themselves. Characters trauma’s and feelings and personal problems are really explored and we see their faults just at the forefront. It was so refreshing and authentic.

There’s a lot of LGBTQ+ representation within this book which was legit perfection, the coming out scenes in particular. And it has a super cool aspect of inverting gender-norms and kind of exploring that in a super cool way. I’m not going to go super in depth on that because I think you should just read it yourself and find out but know that I enjoyed that.

In terms of more specific plot I loved how this could have been a series if the author really wanted it to be but was instead just one book split, not in chapters, but by years. It all being condensed into one meant there wasn’t any boring filler. I also liked how we saw the political aspects of the plot and the consequences develop throughout. Political treaties became just as important as the war effort upon Elliot’s in story insistence.

I could honestly sit here for hours and talk about this book if you let me. Sadly its 1am, I was meant to just jot down a couple of bullet points while the thoughts were still fresh so I could write my review tomorrow and yet here we are.

Honest to God though this book was absolute perfection and I cannot recommend it enough!!!

4 thoughts on “Book Review: In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan”

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