In Other Lands, by Sarah Rees Brennan

Elliot is probably the least likely recruit to the Border training camp. He is deeply sarcastic, hooked on central heating, and never knows when to keep his mouth shut. The fact that Elliot can see the border wall, however, secures him a spot at the Border Guards’ training camp at the beginning of Sarah Rees Brennan’s uproarious and touching novel, In Other Lands. It was probably the chance of seeing mermaids that tipped the balance. In the long run, his unlikely friendships with a hero and an elven warrior kept him on the other side of the wall.

Shortly after his first glimpse of the wall, Elliot is recruited into the training program and promptly sorted into the disdained diplomatic track. All the cool kids are sent into warrior training. Elliot has no problem with this. Not only does Elliot think violence is stupid, but he finds that he is utterly fascinated by the other cultures and species on the other side of the border: mermaids, harpies, elves, dwarves, and trolls. This fascination—supported by his new friends, the elf Serene-Heart-in-the-Chaos-of-Battle and future hero Luke—leads Elliot to stowaway on all sorts of missions where he immediately inserts himself into treaty negotiations. I realize this sounds ridiculous. Elliot is 13 when the book opens, but Elliot is so insistent that I can see the grown ups just giving in to shut him up.

A few pages made it clear to me that, in real life, Elliot would be a right pain in the arse. (Certainly a lot of the characters think so.) He comments on everything and insults everyone. His saving grace for me and, clearly, his friends, was that Elliot is hilarious. And, though he would never admit it, Elliot is also deeply invested in making sure that things are fair. It’s surprising that peace breaks out everywhere Elliot goes, given how many arguments he causes. But then, I suppose that I shouldn’t marvel that a formerly bullied kid would do his best to stop others from being bullied.

After reading The Nickel Boys, I needed something light to read. In Other Lands delivered. The dialogue in this book is non-stop hilarious; I was chuckling ever other page. The best part of this book, though, is the love between the three friends…and especially the love the grows between Elliot and what might be the love of his life. I am loving this wave of diverse, LGBTQ+-affirming fantasy/science fiction literature that has come out in the last few years. This book really warmed my heart.

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