ARC review: In other lands by Sarah Rees Brennan

Sometimes it’s not the kid you expect who falls through to magic land, sometimes it’s . . . Elliott. He’s grumpy, nerdy, and appalled by both the dearth of technology and the levels of fitness involved in swinging swords around. He’s a little enchanted by the elves and mermaids. Despite his aversion to war, work, and most people (human or otherwise) he finds that two unlikely ideas, friendship and world peace, may actually be possible. img-4629

That is the blurb of this book, and I must say that it’s very misleading. I was expecting a fantasy book – full of adventures, mermaids, elves, dwarves, maybe even some dragons – you know, the usual stuff. That was not what I got. Granted there were elves and mermaids, and some other mythical creatures – it just wasn’t fantasy. It had fantasy elements, but that’s it.
Also the praise for this book keeps calling it gothic, I didn’t see or feel anything gothic about it at all (just fyi).

5 shining stars for concept and ideas. 2 very bleak stars for the execution of those ideas.
The topics and issues this book was exploring were fantastic! Racial, cultural, sexual, political – you name it – this book has it! But the way the book was going about them – desired better.

To be honest, I felt like this book didn’t quite know what it wanted to be. It started out as a middle grade fantasy, then it became young adult fiction, then it turned contemporary, then lgbt, then finally I realized that this was more of a coming-of-age novel than anything else.
In Other Lands has absolutely no plot. This book is 433 pages and is full of so many different things, yet somehow – nothing really happens. Nothing too important, nothing too shocking, nothing too big and life changing. Example: Elliot’s friends go to war. They fight. He sits at camp and worries. They come back unhurt and all is good. Later on only one of his friends goes to fight again. Two others sit and worry. Friend comes back unhurt and all is good. Where is the tragedy? Where is purpose? Where is the plot?

Mind me, some important things do happen, is just the main character is so indifferent to most of them that it made me indifferent too (there are reasons for his indifference, but they were presented quite late in the book). Things would happen and he would have the most mild reaction, so instead of gasping and being shocked I would think ‘Well if HE doesn’t care, why should I?’

Protagonist of this story is Elliot (as we learned from the blurb), and he acquires two friend-sidekicks (so to say), Luke and Serene (why does it always have to be two sidekicks? Why is it always a trio?). Anyway, Elliot and Luke are human, and Serene is an elf.
Elliot is the most annoying, bratty and insufferable main character ever. For the first 100 or so pages, all he does is complain, says how he is better than everybody else and calls people ‘loser’. He must have said ‘loser’ more than 50 times through the whole book. All I wanted to do was grab Elliot by his little fictional throat and squeeze..! Yes, the premise warns us that Elliot is grumpy, and not hero-like, but at times he was so spiteful for no good reason, that it just felt overdone. Because of this, I never grew to feel any strong compassion towards Elliot, no matter how sad the events that happened to him were. He was ruined to the point of no return for me, and when the time came to feel for him – I just didn’t care that much (I did still care a little though). Elliot is as pacifist as you can get. He feels very strongly about war and fighting. He HATES it, he DESPISES it. He finds it completely useless (which I agree with and applaud him for it). But, in my opinion,  he goes on about being pacifist very wrong. He constantly tells other people how stupid war is, how stupid they all are for fighting (although his friends risk their lives protecting him, because he refuses to learn even the basic defenses and prefers to hide behind their strong warrior backs. Later on he even asks his friends to protect and fight for him, so that, in my opinion, negated the whole pacifism thing a little).
At first I thought that a pacifist-character was new and different from all other fantasy-adventure novels out there (a main character who doesn’t fight to survive, doesn’t kill, doesn’t have tons of weapons on him at all times – what??!). But there were so many snide remarks and little comments that it actually got me thinking – maybe instead of just being different this book makes fun of all dystopian, fantasy young adult books out there? Makes fun of the idea of children and teenagers having to fight, and survive, while adults stand by? Or it is just making a point?

Luke was very bland for the most part of the book. However, I liked his character a lot! He was reserved, old-fashioned and a prude (which was funny and refreshing at the same time, for you don’t often get to see a prude male character).

Serene was a girl of the trio, and an elf. Oh, how I enjoyed Serene in the beginning. Her thoughts and humor were so stoic – it was delightful. Also Serene is a feminist! Or so I thought. To understand why I went from liking Serene to basically despising her, you have to know that the elf community in the book was basically a backwards-human-community, in terms of how their sexes worked. For elves, the woman was a warrior, a provider and a ‘macho’. Which at first I thought was incredibly cool and feminist – to portray women so incredibly equal to men. But then it was shown how elven women treat their men (as feeble, helpless, gentler-sex made only to care for children and cook, and do needle-work while women were on the battlefield) and I thought ‘wait a minute, all this does is just flips stereotypes without changing a thing’. I was really looking for equality all around, and it just wasn’t there.

If you expect ‘In Other Lands‘ to be a fantasy-adventure book – you will be very disappointed.
This is a coming-of-age story, with a character who just wants to feel loved, but doesn’t know how. It is Elliot’s journey of finding himself (even if his journey takes him on a kissing and sleeping with every girl, boy and other species spree).

This book talks about so many important issues – bullying, abandonment, fitting in, sexuality, racial and sexual stereotypes, pains of growing up and politics – it is truly a gem. But it is a well hidden gem. I am afraid that many readers will feel that the way this book is presented is not engaging enough to actually get to those hidden gems.

I would like to thank LibraryThing and Big Mouse House publishing, as well as the author, for providing me with an arc of this book. I always feel honored to be able to read novels before they hit the market. 


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