Unlike most fantasy book loving children, thirteen year old Elliot Schafer actually gets picked to protect a land which seems to fulfill all his childhood dreams. The Borderlands are full of creatures right out of his favorite stories – elves, trolls, unicorns, harpies, and to Elliot’s lasting delight, mermaids. The offer to stay and attend school there is everything Elliot could ever wish for. However, he quickly comes to realize that the books all lied – enemies can look like friends, darkness can exist anywhere, and he might have just signed on to attending school in the magic equivalent of Sparta.
With a quick wit and a biting tongue, Elliot has always found it hard to connect with other people. Choosing a pacifist path in his war happy new home doesn’t help matters any. Still, he manages to befriend the fierce elf Serene and through her Luke Sunborn, the school’s golden boy. Together they form a tight knit trio as their friendship grows and they begin to depend on each other.
Throughout In Other Lands Rees Brennan deftly weaves a tale that is both a bitingly funny critique of the YA fantasy genre and a well told story of one boy’s journey through the tribulations of adolescences. At every turn Rees Brennan uses her characters to subvert the expectations of the fantasy genre. Where you would expect a character to fit the usual mold, Rees Brennan keeps the shape but fills it with something entirely unexpected. Elliot embodies the usual fantasy hero role while at the same time undermining everything about it. He’s a genius who alienates people with his quick tongue while being absolutely devoted to pacifism and diplomacy. Serene is from a culture where women are dominate – they’re the warriors and the leaders and they’re extremely sexist towards men. Serene is the best of the best, but she also thinks emotions should be left for the men and though inverted, expresses extremely outdated views towards relationships and homemaking. Luke Sunborn, the gifted and idolized golden child of the prominent Sunborn clan is competent and athletic, but shy, easily embarrassed, and gay. Rees Brennan never lets you get comfortable with your expectations.
Disclosure: This review is based on an advanced ARC version provided by Big Mouth House through the LibraryThing Early Readers program.
RATING: ★★★★★ 5 STARS (If I could give it more I would)
In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan
Published: August 15, 2017 by Big Mouth House
Hardcover, 432 pages