A review by chronikle
In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan


Mixed feelings on this one. In Other Lands came recommended as a queer alternative young fantasy fiction to Harry Potter, and I was intrigued by its selling point--a bisexual MC travels to the Borderlands, a world in which war is prioritised over diplomacy, and tries to fix things for everyone. It delivers on that! I think the characters are enjoyable, especially Elliott, who is often irritating to people around him and wears that like armour to get his way through words and actions rather than violence. It was very delightful to see someone like that in fiction.

That said, I think the book struggles with pacing, and it has too much material condensed into one story, which leaves it feeling rush and unfulfilling in places. As with aforementioned Harry Potter and also the Percy Jackson series, the book follows its main character across four school years at a training camp in a magical otherworld, except it tells all of those four years in one book. It's also not helped that Elliott is sole POV character, and as a character who abhors war and is on the 'council' track, he's occasionally made to stay at camp while Serene and Luke take part in the actual action, and while there's a point being made with that, it also means we're treated to Elliott fretting and being unpleasant to everyone else around him because of it.

I also found the way that Elliott ran through relationships to be frustrating, and not just his romantic and sexual ones. His fear of abandoment/issues around abandoment are a strong throughline of the book, and drive a lot of his motivation, and I think it makes him a fully-realised character who can be empathised with. However, I had issues with (spoiler)
Spoilerthe plotline with realising one of the medics is his mother, who wants nothing to do with him, because it was suddenly brought up and then just kind of passed on, and I'd really enjoyed their relationship when they weren't related, and then when they were, it coloured my perception of her
, and also with Elliott and Luke's relationship, because a lot of their conversations were mired by miscommunication and yet it also felt really evident to me from the start that Luke liked Elliott. And Elliott was just being rude to him/trying to push him away.

I don't know! It's not a bad book at all and I enjoyed reading it, but I had frustrations with it and that stops it from being what could have otherwise been a great book!