About the Book

Title: In Other Lands
Published: 2017
Swoonworthy Scale: 9

Cover Story: Big Face Tail
BFF Charm: Make It Rain
Talky Talk: Notable and Quotable
Bonus Factors: Magical Creatures, LGBTQ
Anti-Bonus Factor: Dan Scott Award for Awful Parenting
Relationship Status: Now is Not the Time to Stare Like A Hypnotized Sheep. Now is the Time to Woo.

Cover Story: Big Face Tail

There are probably a dozen directions this cover could have gone, but I like the choice of illustrated, slightly angry mermaid.

The Deal:

Elliot is a sharp-tongued pacifist with the world’s worst parents and an opportunity to attend a magical school across the border. (The border between England and magic, obviously.) Like most things in life, magic school turns out to be a disappointment: they’re training veritable children to battle against vicious magical creatures. Why can’t we all just get along, Elliot wonders, except with a lot more insulting commentary thrown in.

Armed with a wanton disregard for rules, a passion for learning, and a massive crush on a beautiful elf girl (whose warrior nature and matriarchal society are no obstacle to Elliot’s desires), Elliot sets out to make the Adults in Charge see the error of their ways. It’s okay if no one at school really likes him (except Serene, the elf girl). No one ever really has. As long as he’s bringing peace to the warring factions, it doesn’t matter what else goes wrong.

He never counts on the fact that the real magic lies in growing up.

Sarah Rees Brennan delivers her best book yet: a subversive screwball comedy with a giant, bloody, beating heart, set in a world of elves, mermaids, harpies, and trolls.

BFF Charm: Make It Rain

BFF charm holding an umbrella

Elliot, Serene (Serene-Heart-in-the-Chaos-of-Battle, that is), and Luke Sunborn make up our BFF triumvirate. They have almost nothing in common, except for the fact that while they all start out as teenage jerks in their own ways, they’re also all open to character growth. They slowly mature in different and believable ways—Brennan’s deft writing makes almost unnoticeable as it’s happening, just like in real life. It’s only when you reach the end that you realize just how far each character has come.

Elliot is my favorite, and to compare him to Eugenides from The Queen’s Thief series is the highest compliment I can pay. He is a charming pain in the ass. He is also smarter than everyone else, and if he’s occasionally cruel, well, there’s a reason for that. (I have friends on Twitter who have been squealing over Luke, and while I adore him too, Elliot is clearly the best, now and forever.) Watching him grow into himself over the course of the book is a delight.

Swoonworthy Scale: 9

It’s a Sarah Rees Brennan book. The kissing scenes are designed to set your undergarments aflame. Did you expect anything less?

Talky Talk: Notable and Quotable

Every page in this book had me snickering at one point. Brennan’s sense of humor lightens heavy topics like parental abandonment, war, and sexuality. At times, this actually makes it harder to read; nearly everything is quotable. (It doesn’t help that Serene’s culture is an amalgamation of subverted commentary about women in our world—you try focusing on the story when she quite seriously refers to men’s emotional, hysterical natures, and how they are best suited for nurturing babies.)

I’ll let her writing speak for itself:

“I was saddened to hear Serene had launched a successful attack on the citadel of your virtue,” Swift said. […] “No doubt you tempted her. Ah, a man’s morals are frail as they are, sweet silly creatures.”

“What is that on your shirt?”

“It’s a rock band,” Elliot answered.

Luke gave him a look that clearly conveyed Luke’s disdain for the idea that stones could form a group.

Bonus Factor: Magical Creatures

Black outline of a unicorn

I love that the book didn’t focus on just one set of magical creatures—we get to meet all sorts, including unicorns and harpies. (The unicorn, in particular, is a favorite.)

Bonus Factor: LGBTQ

Pride flag being waved in a parade

This book features some of the best bisexual representation that I’ve ever read anywhere, let alone in YA. The road to discovering one’s sexuality is almost always fraught with mistakes made and lessons learned, and our three friends’ journey is no exception. Whether it’s dating, friends-with-benefits, a love match, a much older partner (ick), revenge, or dulling the pain with another person, the characters are allowed to do really, really stupid things—and in the end, it makes for a much richer understanding of who they are and why they love who they love.

Anti-Bonus Factor: Dan Scott Award for Awful Parenting

Evil Dan Scott from One Tree Hill

Elliot has some of the worst parents since Charles Dickens decided to pick up a pen. Even Justin Bieber in his bucket-peeing, monkey-abandoning phase would be a better parent.

Relationship Status: Now is Not the Time to Stare Like A Hypnotized Sheep. Now is the Time to Woo.

I was excited for our date, book, and you didn’t disappoint. Our time together was tinged with magical creatures, politics, and war, but I loved your social commentary even more. Your author is a master at taking the best tropes from literature and spinning them into something fresh and charming.  Now that I’ve had my literary way with you, I’ve got a whole bunch of friends to introduce…

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my free review copy from Big Mouth House. This review was originally posted on Kirkus Reviews in exchange for monetary compensation, which did not affect or influence my opinions. In Other Lands is available now.