I'd give it a hundred stars if I could
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 10 August 2017
I first read this story when it was still Turn of the Story, the free novel written and posted on the author's blog. I loved it then, and when I found out it was going to be traditionally published, I was delighted to have the chance to throw money at Sarah Rees Brennan, because this book is more than worth it. But I didn't actually think I would, or could, enjoy In Other Lands more than I did TotS.
I was wrong.
For those who've read TotS and aren't sure about putting down money for IOL - firstly, the author deserves all the money for all her work, okay; and secondly, IOL is much expanded from TotS. I didn't notice anything that had been cut, but there is a ton of wholly new content, and the familiar has been polished until it sparkles. Reading this was a unique joy; the comfort of rereading a beloved favourite, combined with all the excitement of discovering a NEW favourite, embodied in the same book. I can only take my tiara off to Miss Brennan for accomplishing, YET AGAIN, what I thought to be impossible.
For those who are entirely unfamiliar with TotS and IOL - gods, are you in for a treat. Behold Elliott, a viciously sarcastic bisexual pacifist who sets out to dismantle the culture of blood and glory he finds in fantasy-land; this is our protagonist, and he's my joint-favourite of all the characters I've ever read. He is smart and mean and he loves so much; he never stops being cynical, and yet he's absolutely consumed by the wonder of mermaids and harpies and dwarves. He has a sharp tongue - boy does he ever - but he's also heart-breakingly convinced no one will or can ever love him, and following along from his perspective, you really can't blame him.
Luckily, in being inducted into the Border Guard - a mostly-human fantasy military meant to protect the border between our world and fantasy-land, as well as keep the peace among the elves, trolls, and other peoples of the other world - he meets Serene, an elf whose matriarchal culture Brennan uses to deftly and hilariously point out the double-standards and sexism of our own, and Luke, the golden son of one of the greatest warrior clans who is completely baffled by Elliott's continued insistence that violence is unacceptable and glorying war is insane. You wouldn't think it's a friendship that works, but it really does, and the three of them make a fantastic trio as they take on both the hazards of puberty and those of battle side by side.
Sarah Rees Brennan is one of the greatest writers for making me laugh out loud at four in the morning, so it's no surprise that this is an immensely fun and funny book. But it's also a wickedly CLEVER book, deconstructing so many of the fantasy tropes I know I've always taken for granted, quietly making important points about violence and sexism and biphobia, among a host of other things. It's never preachy, but this is very much a book I'd love to make compulsory reading in schools. Or just compulsory reading for everyone, everywhere, really.
I do think fans should read the short story Wings in the Morning, which gives Luke's perspective on the events in the last bit of the book and can be found in the anthology Monstrous Affections. But ultimately, In Other Lands stands perfectly on its own - knowledge of Turn of the Story is completely unnecessary - as a work of fiction as close to flawless as is humanly possible.
So well done, Miss Brennan. I didn't think it was possible, but you've once again outdone yourself - and everyone else, for that matter!
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