Finding Gold In Other Lands

Ava Neumaier, Staff Writer

Passion, excitement and otherworldly intrigue collide in In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan, a new type of novel that excels even without – and maybe because of – a lacking of classic plot and character archetypes. A glance at the synopsis and it’s easy to assume this is one of many Harry Potter spin-offs. A boy, deemed “chosen” by his peers, is sent to a magical school in an equally fantastical land, and ends up changing that world. But In Other Lands is so much more than that.

Typically, the hero of the “magical school genre” is a Mary-Sue, a flawless character whose perfect nature influences the hearts of all who surround them. But Elliot Schafer is a sarcastic, quick-witted know-it-all who isn’t afraid to be obnoxiously smart to both his friends and enemies. Though many of his classmates find him insufferable, Elliot’s narrative voice is funny and engaging, making fun of common “magical school” “chosen one” cliches and guaranteeing a laugh on every page. Elliot’s intelligence and desire to read is a rarity hardly found in young adult novels, where a smart main character is often overlooked.

Also frequently found in such a genre is a cold-hearted villain, the one evil ringleader every character can blame their troubles on. But in this masterpiece of a novel, there isn’t one bad guy to be vanquished – not even someone remotely close to one! The only struggle in the Borderlands is the war and violence always echoing in the background, sometimes coming to the forefront to upset school life. Elliot, a “stone-hard pacifist” always finds a way to accompany his battle-oriented friends to the front lines, though not afraid to spew sassy anti-war sentiments at anyone who will listen. And within the halls of the school, Elliot and his classmates must accept who they are and grow into what they will be, a task harder than it appears. The story works marvelously without the classic plot devices found in YA stories, and it’s never missed; one of the aspects that makes this book special is that it operates on its own rules, assuring the reader that they are in good hands.

Elliot isn’t the only out-of-the-box protagonist introduced with an epic character arc. He meets Serene-In-The-Heart-Of-Battle, an elf he falls desperately, outwardly and relatably in love with who lives in a matriarchal elf society and is unknowingly empowered when she enters the patriarchal Borderlands society. A fierce warrior, Serene fights to make sure she has equal rights as both a girl and an elf in the Borderlands battlefields. Such an empowered girl character is needed more in the books we read, especially one who’s the strongest out of all her friends.

Luke Sunborn, a wealthy boy from a famous family, is originally detested by Elliot. The first ever boy to become swordsisters with an elf, Luke must prove to Serene’s people that he’s worthy of fighting side-by-side with her in combat. Tolerated by Elliot because of his proximity to Serene, Luke is constantly barraged with Elliot’s insults, but as time goes on and four years pass, the two form a begrudging relationship that evolves into true friendship.

Warning: Though this book is full of adventure and fun, there are some intense descriptive scenes of violence and romance. If you choose to read this novel, be aware that some scenes, jokes, and plot devices may be adult.

In an extraordinary painting of action and thoughtfulness, war and love and the wonders of the world, Sarah Rees Brennan, reader in tow, dives into four years of self-discovery, love and adventure unlike any YA book ever read. Full of mermaids, harpies, elves, and overall heart, now, you’re In Other Lands.