Book Review: In Other Lands

Elliot Schafer was 13 when his French teacher took a handful of students on a field trip to an actual field.  Not very exciting, but in that field was a wall that none of the students but Elliot could see, and that was enough to get him into magic school.  The wall marks the Border, and on the other side is a land of no technology, no running water, and clothes out of a fantasy movie.  It’s populated by humans, elves, trolls, dryads, and mermaids.  Students in the school at the Border camp are trained to protect the border and keep the peace, either in the council course or the war-training course.  The story covers Elliot’s four years in school along with his companions, Serene-Heart-in-the-Chaos-of-Battle, who was the first female elf to join the school, and Luke Sunborn, golden son of the most revered Border family.  Along the way, they must deal with the corruption in Border society, which has come to value military might and violence over diplomacy and peace.  Can three teenagers make a difference against the prejudices of an entire land?

Elliot is not your typical hero.  He’s short and his red hair is as out of control as his mouth.  Serene is a prodigy at everything, but struggles with the patriarchal nature of Border society.  Luke is effortlessly handsome and charismatic in a way that is repulsive to Elliot, but Luke has struggles of his own.  Throughout the story, characters wrestle with understanding other groups, whether it’s different races of creatures, people of other sexual orientations, people with different philosophies on war, or even understanding that people aren’t just the groups they’re lumped into.  The fantasy setting definitely plays a part, but the book is just as much about the characters trying to figure out how to navigate the world and the difficulties in working out who you are and what you want to be.

There are fade to black type sexual situations in the book, if that’s a concern.  For example, there might be a description of making out and then the characters wake up the next morning together.

This is a great book that features a LGBTQ+ character as a protagonist, but in a fantasy setting and in a story that doesn’t focus on that alone, which can be very difficult to find.

(As a side note, Sarah Rees Brennan is one of my favorite YA authors.  I highly recommend Unspoken.  If you haven’t read it, do yourself a favor and pick it up.)

In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan. 9781618731203. 2017. Gr 8-12.

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