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Literature / In Other Lands

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A fantasy book by Sarah Rees Brennan which was published in 2017.

Elliot Schafer, an often-bullied 13-year-old, is taken along with the rest of his class to a "random field in Devon, England" for what's apparently a scholar test. Instead, he winds up in a world called the Borderlands, housing elves, mermaids, and other fantasy creatures. The story follows him and his two friends, Luke Sunborn, a native to the Borderlands, and Serene-Heart-in-the-Chaos-of-Battle, a stoic but kind elf girl, as they grow up.


In Other Lands contains examples of:

  • A-Cup Angst: Elvish society has superstitions that the size of a woman's breasts is directly proportional to her prowess in battle.
  • Aloof Dark-Haired Girl: Serene.
  • Bastard Angst: Despite the last name, Luke is only half Sunborn, as his father was a harpy. Upon hearing this, the border camp turns on him, given the ramifications.
  • Bi the Way: Elliot
  • Can't Take Anything with You: Given the Borderlands operates on medieval age technology, most anyone who tries to smuggle modern tech (see Elliot) across the border will find the items burst into flames. A few noted exception are pens, calculators, and tape decks.
  • Coming-of-Age Story
  • Culture Clash: Elliot never fully adjusts to the lack of electricity and other technological advancements in the Borderlands, nor does he accept their standards of child soldiers and needless war between the various races, which Luke and Serene find completely natural.
    • Serene comes from a Matriarchal society, but the humans of the Borderlands still have firmly Patriarchal roots, so there is some inevitable clash between Serene and her male teachers. Even she and Elliot wind up in a rather painful misunderstanding, due to their different understandings of what dating means.
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  • Daddy Had a Good Reason for Abandoning You: Gender Inverted. The strict medic Elka Pathwind turns out to be Elka Schafer, Elliot's mom. As for the reason behind the abandonment, Elka had devoted so much time to the Borderlands, she saw no opportunities for her in modern society.
  • Dating What Daddy Hates: Averted and played with. Despite his worst assumption, Elliot's short relationship with punk rocker Jase is not seen by his father as an issue. If anything, he just never knew that Elliot was bi and was surprised to see him happy for a change. However, Jase's uncle Joe has an issue with their relationship. Seeing how both work at the same record store, Elliot avoids the place in protest.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Mentioned by name when Elliot asks why his two best female friends both have to be this.
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  • Down the Rabbit Hole: Elliot travels back and forth between his world and the Borderlands through a wall that only that only a select few can see.
  • Everybody Knew Already: A Running Gag through the novel. Nobody can keep a secret because everyone demands to know everyone's secrets. Luke seems to be the fall guy in most of the situations.
  • Exotic Extended Marriage: The Sunborns seem pretty open to open relationships for both members of the relationship. Rachel and Michael Sunborn in particular both discuss their sexual conquests openly. This leads to drama when it's revealed Luke's father was a male harpy.
  • Fictional Sport: Trigon is a contact sport played by soldiers from the border guard involving a glass sphere and a lowered arena. Luke and Dale are seen as experts in the game.
  • Flat World: Elliot briefly wonders if the Borderlands are actually flat, and what would happen if you made it to the edge. Apparently, you get drowned by giant mermaids.
  • Girl/Guy of the Week: While he doesn't consider himself a serial dater, Elliot has an impressive amount of love interests/romantic moments.
  • High School: Despite the fantasy setting, the cadets of the Border Guard still attend a school that operates very much like a elementary to high school.
    Elliot: Do you know, at lunch there's one table for kids who like drama, and one table for kids who like sports?
    Nurse: Amazing, it's like you're going to a school.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Serene ends up dating Golden, whom she met at an "elf brothel", according to Elliot.
  • Hormone-Addled Teenager: By the time everyone turns fifteen/sixteen, the hormones hit hard. It doesn't help matters that the Borderlands are considerably more liberal when it comes to sexual relations.
  • Informed Attractiveness: All the times Elliot makes mention of how he would love to meet a mermaid, as well as his visual descriptors of Serene.
    • Caroline was considered so beautiful that she was courted by forty men, who each gave a white horse as tribute. She died single with forty white horses to her name. Given the descriptors of harpies, it's entirely possible she was both beautiful and hungry.
  • Interspecies Romance: Elliot's relationship with Serene, and later Luke, both fall into this category. Elliot seems to seek them out, intrigued by the idea of having a mermaid girlfriend, and later a harpy girlfriend.
    • Luke's mother had a fling with a harpy, which produced Luke
  • I Thought Everyone Could Do That: Serene and Luke think it is perfectly normal to jump from several stories and be no worse for wear, much to the bafflement of Elliot and a few background characters.
  • Let's Just Be Friends: Elliot and Serene
  • Long-Haired Pretty Boy: Golden
  • Long Last Look: After turning eighteen, Elliot takes one last look at his house before spray painting his name on its face, never to return.
  • Love Triangle: Played with. Elliot believes he's in one with Luke in regards to Serene, before finding out Luke is gay, seemingly averting it. Near the very end of the book it's finally revealed that Luke has had feelings for Elliot since the beginning, meaning there was technically a love triangle all along (plus the various other love tangents they attempt to pursue).
  • Magical Land: The Borderlands. Invisible to all but a chosen few 13 year olds? Check. Outdated technology? check. Mermaids? Check.
  • Major Injury Underreaction: In order to get out of a conversation with Dale, Elliot stabs himself with a butter knife. Elliot declares he must visit a nurse in a nonchalant way which goes straight over Dale's head.
  • Matriarchy: Elven society is a straight up Matriarchal society, where women are the warriors who provide for their families, and men are the caretakers who are valued for their beauty and often seen as frail and a bit silly.
  • Missing Mom: Elliot's mom is absent for the better part of his life.
  • More Deadly Than the Male: Serene in each of her relationships.
  • Mutually Unequal Relationship: Dale thinks Elliot is a friend who shares a mutual fondness. Elliot thinks Dale is an idiot and a bore.
  • Name That Unfolds Like Lotus Blossom: Elf names tend to be like this. Some examples are Serene-heart-in-the-chaos-of-Battle and Bright-eyes-gladden-the-hearts-of-women.
  • Noodle Incident: Modern technology goes up in flames in the Borderlands. All that is ever said about the time Elliot tried to bring a food processor across the border is that it was very bad idea.
  • Now or Never Kiss: Before the final border skirmish with the trolls and bandits, Luke kisses Elliot.
  • Our Elves Are Better: Both high elf and wood elf stand-ins are represented. While female wood elves are considered incredible warriors, all high elves are considered beautiful beyond reason. They choose not to have relationships between their people, which makes Serene's and Golden's elopement a massive scandal that gets them both disowned.
  • Pacifist: Elliot is one, being unable to stand the violence typical of the Borderlands. Naturally, he demonstrates this by carelessly throwing knives in every direction.
  • Parental Neglect: After his mother left the family, Elliot's father all but shut out interacting with people. He's okay with his son suddenly going to military school, never talks when Elliot is home between summer break and the school year, is seen to drink out of boredom, and doesn't have a real conversation with Elliot for three years.
  • Pity Sex: Adara has sex with Elliot only because she feels sorry for him and her real crush Luke is gay.
  • Platonic Life-Partners: Luke and Serene, for two reasons. One, they swear an oath in a rare male and female ceremony to be sword brother (Serene) and sword sister (Luke), defenders of each other in battle. Two, their relationship never advances beyond platonic after Luke comes out as gay.
  • Power Trio: Elliot, Serene, and Luke. This is enforced by the only illustrations in the novel, which exclusively feature them through the passage of time.
  • Race Fetish: Elliot has a... strange fetish for fantastical races, including elves, mermaids, and harpies. It's only by his experience in the Borderlands that he learns what these races are really like.
  • Royal Inbreeding: Some members of the Sunborn Clan. Given that the family tree is incredibly large (with some family members not being actual Sunborns but those who swear featly to the clan), most marriages within the clan are considered distant enough that it's not a major issue.
  • School Play: The border camp school puts on a production of Radiant and Jewel, a "genre-defining classic tale of elven love and tragedy, possibly the greatest fictional romance of all time". It's Romeo and Juliet meets elven magic, right down the line "Radiant, Radiant, wherefore art thou Radiant?"
  • Surfer Dude: Name dropped by Elliot, who describes Dale as such upon first meeting him, despite the fact he doesn't even know about surfing.
  • The Clan: The Sunborn Clan is massive and very influential to the native Humans of the Borderlands. Very big on Family Honor.
  • Wings Do Nothing: Caroline the fair was a half harpy who, despite having wings, was unable to fly.


Example of: