Today’s Free For All post is from a shiny new guest contributor: Arielle Spence. Arielle has written a review for a gem of a book that has gone neglected on The Book Wars for far too long! Every word of her review is completely on point. So, enjoy!
Published in 2014 by Amulet Books
As a much needed distraction during exams last week, I began reading Otherbound by Corrine Duyvis. Otherbound is a YA fantasy novel which is told from the perspective of Nolan Santiago, a teenage boy living in modern day Arizona, and Amara, a servant girl from the Dunelands. The two teenagers have nothing in common, except for the fact that every time Nolan closes, his eyes he sees through Amara’s. These visions are diagnosed as epileptic seizures, but medication does not help. Rather, over the years, the visions grow stronger and Nolan unwillingly becomes more and more invested in Amara’s life.
Amara has been tasked with protecting Cilla, the daughter of the recently ousted King and Queen. As a young girl, Cilla was cursed by mages so that every time she bleeds, the earth itself turns against her—stones in the street come alive and attempt to crush her, blades of grass gain razor edges and try to slash her to death. Which is where Amara comes in: though just a servant, she has the ability to heal at extraordinary speeds and can bear the brunt of the curse’s attacks without dying. Together with Maart, another servant, and Jorn, Amara does her best to keep Cilla alive while the four of them hide from mages and the government and bide their time until Cilla can regain her throne.
Growing up, Nolan was just a passive witness to Amara’s life, until one day he discovers that he can physically inhabit her body and control her actions. This alerts Amara and Cilla to Nolan’s presence and they begin to converse. However, like pulling on a loose thread, Amara, Cilla and Nolan’s discovery begins to unravel the various lies that have been carefully woven around them and puts them all in great danger.
Overall, Otherbound is a rejuvenating take on the YA fantasy genre filled with magic, politics, danger, and love that breaks stereotypes left and right. Duyvis’ cast of characters is incredibly diverse and she handles this diversity beautifully; it never feels forced and it is not the sole focus of the novel. Like all servants, Amara had her tongue removed as a child and uses sign language to communicate, is attracted to more than one gender, is described as having brown skin, and wears a headscarf*. Nolan, meanwhile, is Latino, and, in addition to his ‘not-epilepsy,’ has a prosthetic foot. As a white, able-bodied person, I can’t really judge the representation of race or disability in the novel, but to me, Amara and Nolan seemed like thoughtfully crafted characters and a testament to Duyvis’ research. In addition, the novel also discusses addiction, self-harm, suicide, economic inequality, and abuse. There is a lot going on in this novel, and my one critique is that, at times, I felt overwhelmed by the number of topics Duyvis attempts to address (though I appreciate the effort on her part).
The choice to connect Earth and the Dunelands through Amara and Nolan is really intriguing and one of my favourite primary/secondary world relationships I’ve come across. I also like that their connection wasn’t over-explained. Duyvis has done some serious world-building here, and yet this is balanced with a sense of mystery. I can imagine that someone who prefers a lot of context and detailed explanations may identify this as a weakness of the novel, but, for me, the fact that the characters do not discover the answer to every question which is posed makes the novel’s premise even more fascinating. I also loved Nolan’s relationship with his sister Pat and the meta-fictional, authorial dynamic that Nolan has with Amara, whose life he records in his journals.
In summary, I thought Otherbound was an enthralling debut and I can’t wait to see what Duyvis writes next!
About Arielle Spence
Arielle Spence is a soon-to-be graduate from the Honours English and Gender Studies programs at the University of British Columbia. She has spent the past five years volunteering, making theatre, writing, and supplementing all her course readings with middle-grade and YA novels. Next month, she is excited to start her undergraduate thesis on Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking trilogy, and hopes to find many more more opportunities to collaborate with other lovers of children’s literature.
*EDIT FROM YASH: Sorry, though I think Amara wears a scarf in one scene, I wanted to make sure (at Duyvis’ behest) that readers know she does not always don a headscarf.