Book Review: In Other Lands


In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan


Edition: Published August 15th 2017 by Big Mouth House, 603 pages

Links: Goodreads, Amazon, Wordery

Angst-ridden- and slightly obnoxious- teenager Elliott is a human in a fantasy world called The Borderlands. There, he attends a school for warriors and diplomats, and slowly changes the world for the better. 




“Oh my God,” Elliot said in a hollow voice. “We’re child soldiers?” He considered this and then said: “I need to sit down. I’m going back to the fence.”


In Other Lands completely surprised me.

It’s very much a fantasy, a la magical boarding school: all these kids are recruited because they can see a magical wall, or come from beyond the magical wall, and are there to fight in wars. Unless you’re 13 year old Elliot, sarcastic and obnoxious, and here to be the diplomatic adviser this magical society desperately need.

And while it is a fantasy, it did something so new. It’s satirical and harsh: Brennan uses and abuses fantasy tropes like it’s her job- and it kind of is, I guess- and I loved that. Her use of humour is incredible, I don’t think I went more than a page without laughing my ass off at one of Elliot’s lines. Brennan’s strength in this is her dialogue and her emphasis on character, rather than description of scene, as the characters are the driving force behind the story. You see more of their reactions to what’s around them, and I had a great time picturing things for myself rather than relying on her holding my hand.


“Besides, is Mr Dustlaid going to punish me? Really? He can barely summon up the will to live.”


Elliot is, plainly, a pain in the ass. He’s snarky, unapologetic about his nerdiness, and rude to everyone who he believes deserves it. However, he’s incredible nuanced: you begin to see beyond the mask, and it’s all so subtly revealed you don’t even realise it’s happening sometimes. His reactions to emotional situations show how he struggles, especially with expressing his emotions with friends due to the neglect he went through growing up. He overthinks and believes nobody ever truly likes him, and I related to his character so much it hurt at times.

There’s so much more about Elliot’s character that I love. He’s a proud bisexual boy who outright uses BISEXUAL on the page; doesn’t put up with any biphobia or prejudice; and looks out for his friends, prioritising them above himself more times than I could count. I adore him.


“Wait, are you trying to express romantic feelings for me?” Elliot demanded. “God, what a terrible day.”


The sex positivity is also STELLAR. We get a character who dates around, sleeps around, and takes no shit from anyone who wants to comment on him expressing his sexual freedom. He refers to himself as a ‘harlot’ more than once, and I love him for that. Elliot expresses interest in loads of different characters, growing in maturity as the book goes on and he ages himself, and I just love how progressive this book is.

We see teenagers actually being teenagers, for once, instead of this ideal ‘perfect’ teenager who never has sex, as is common in YA. So many books are anti-sex, especially when it comes to characters who date and sleep with multiple people, and this book shows the realities of sex and having sexual and romantic relationships as a teenager, with that added layer of immaturity on top of it to make it seem even more grounded.


He leaned against Luke, rested his cheek against Luke’s arm. He could feel Luke shaking.

“You saved her,” he said. “You did it. The child’s safe. They didn’t hurt her, because of you.”


What’s so fascinating about this as a fantasy novel is how Brennan reworks tropes. Our ‘hero’ character, Luke- who is idolised, the chosen one, THE dream guy- is actually a shy introvert who’s very much gay, experiencing prejudice for several things all while tackling his own internalised prejudice to accept himself. He’s beautiful, and I love him. His coming out scene is hilarious and moving.

There’s also a massive breakdown of gender roles through Serene’s character and the culture of elves. The elves have the reverse of ‘human’ gender roles: male elves are ‘weaker’, and it only becomes even more glaringly apparent how systematic gender roles are by seeing it broken down to its bare bones. Society is wild.

I honestly think the weak link of this novel was Serene. I loved her, but I feel like she wasn’t as developed as the others, especially considering she spends a larger chunk of this novel being viewed through Elliot’s very limited, idolisation lens, and she’s also got the least page time as the other characters. I found myself enjoying her more towards the end once she was at a distance and Elliot wasn’t as adoring, just because we could see her for who she really was, rather than how he saw her. Which might have been the point, knowing how much Brennan loves to subvert tropes!


‘Even if you found yourself in a magical story, there were no guarantees you were the hero, or that you would get the things you dreamed of. Elliot knew no way, being who he was, to deserve that.’


The use of war politics is fascinating in this story. Elliot is a pacifist, which is so rare for this genre of fiction where the main character tends to have to use violence to emphasise their point. Elliot is bookish and completely aware, and it’s his single mindedness to not use violence that changes this world. Literally every single peace treaty happens thanks to Elliot refusing to settle and accept the status quo, and I love that, as a pacifist myself.

This story breaks down war politics and the use of violence, especially towards children, in this type of novel. Nothing is normalised, everything is questioned, and all the while, you fall in love with a main character who takes no shit and snarks his way out of every tough situation. I love this book. Please read it.


“I don’t have a special table,” Elliot protested.

“Uh, you, the murderous, man-hating elf girl, and the intense gay kid?” asked the medic. “You’re the weirdo table.”


Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐





3 thoughts on “Book Review: In Other Lands

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