“In Other Lands” by Sarah Rees Brennan captivated me with its characters and the borderlands, the magical world on the other side of the wall. If you are into stories of teenage romance and boarding school antics, you will be swept away by this creation.
The plot of “In Other Lands”
Elliot enters the borderlands at 13 years old and has no idea what he is getting into. The borderlands are the place where mythical creatures like mermaids, giants, elves, dwarves, and such live.
The camp he is learning at is designed for protecting those that live in the borderlands. But he is a pacifist and will not fight anyone. And he is quite the character. In fact, he may be the best thing about “In Other Lands”. But I will get to that more under the themes section.
Though there are not so many mythical creatures in his day to day life, Elliot is intrigued with learning about all that he might encounter outside the camp. Whenever he has an opportunity, he gets himself to the core of conflicts in the borderlands, and there are plenty. He puts himself in the middle of situations that are quite dangerous and connects with other species on a level that is different than the borderlands have ever experienced.
His specialty is resolving situations that would have resulted in war, using his creativity and heart-centered approach. Although it’s not presented in this vocabulary, this is how the story resonated so beautifully with me. I was reading it the weekend after Russia invaded Ukraine and I couldn’t help but think, we really need an Elliot in this situation.
In addition to the pacifist nature that I mentioned above, I also felt the power of love and curiosity resonating through “In Other Lands.” Elliot was a stubborn character. An odd duck that knew he could be irritating. But from the reader’s perspective, we can see that what irritates others about him is that he is unwilling to be inauthentic. He is who he is and he doesn’t try to hide it. He refuses to go around trying to fit in.
There were themes of emotional intelligence and personal growth as well. I think you will see a little bit of that if you read the quotes below. In fact, the relationships that Elliot engaged in throughout the story were quite realistic from my perspective. He was often completely wrong about the intentions of others. Elliot got hurt a few times along the way. But his reflections on life and the world really gave this story depth and meaning.
Feminism was quite humorously brought into this text. One of Elliot’s best friends happened to be an elf. In this story, elvish culture turned gender roles backward to what Elliot was used to. They considered men to be both physically and intellectually weaker. The women bore the children, but after birth, the children became the responsibility of the men. Groups of Elvish women talked rudely about men the way we are used to men talking about women. It was an interesting way to bring attention to these social inequalities. Elliot got hurt when he found out being in a relationship with his elvish friend was more like being “friends with benefits” to her than having any real emotional meaning.
Overall there was a lot layered into, “In Other Lands,” allowing a beautiful little escape from the world.
Recommending In Other Lands
I certainly recommend reading “In Other Lands” if you are up for an adventure and open to a different type of fantasy. Release your expectations of books you have read before in the genre and let this one take you on a unique ride of its own. I wonder which character you will resonate most with? Could you be friends with Elliot?
I’d love to hear from you below!
“And he did not want to be loved as a second choice, as a surrender. He had spent his whole life not being loved at all, and he had thought being loved enough would satisfy him. It would not. He did not want to be loved enough. He wanted to be loved overwhelmingly. (…) He had never been chosen, so he had never had a chance to know this about himself before now: he wanted to be chosen first.”
“I do not know if you are not interested, or protecting yourself, but you cannot guard yourself against the whole world. You only succeed in placing a barrier between yourself from the world.” He hesitated. “I know that from personal experience.”
“I’m terrible at feelings, it’s like they’re knives, I don’t really know what to do with them and I end up throwing them with too much force.”
“Does it get easier? Elliot thought, looking at her still pale face. Or is it just that you shut doors in your own heart and never open them again for fear of what is behind them?”
“You met me when I was sad, but I’m not a sad person, and I don’t want you to like that sad person who wasn’t me better than you like me.”
“Everyone imagined a battle that would bring peace, and the only thing that had ever worked, ever brought peace for even a heartbreakingly short time, in any world, were words.”