Otherbound: Review

November 5, 2014 2014, 4 star books, fantasy, Layla, lgbtq, sci fi or futuristic 26 ★★★★

Otherbound: ReviewOtherbound by Corinne Duyvis
on June 17, 2014
Genres: science fiction
Pages: 387
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
AmazonIndieboundBarnes & NobleGoodreads
Nolan doesn't see darkness when he closes his eyes. Instead, he’s transported into the mind of Amara, a girl living in a different world. Nolan’s life in his small Arizona town is full of history tests, family tension, and laundry; his parents think he has epilepsy, judging from his frequent blackouts. Amara’s world is full of magic and danger--she’s a mute servant girl who’s tasked with protecting a renegade princess. Nolan is only an observer in Amara's world--until he learns to control her. At first, Amara is terrified. Then, she's furious. But to keep the princess--and themselves--alive, they'll have to work together and discover the truth behind their connection.

A fascinating premise, clearly and compellingly written and imagined by a startlingly original debut writer.

Otherbound is super interesting, you all. If you like incredibly original fantasy, detailed world-building, and diversity to the max in your reading, you should go pick up Otherbound.

Here’s the premise: whenever Nolan blinks (or sleeps, or closes his eyes for any period of time whatsoever), he becomes trapped in Amara’s mind. He’s been diagnosed with epilepsy, but no medication seems to have much of an effect on his blackouts. These blackouts have been pervasive since he was a little kid, and have had real physical, emotional, and social consequences for him: he was hit by a car during one blackout and now wears a prosthetic leg; he feels helpless at his lack of control over his blackouts; he also can’t spend time with family and friends without worrying about whether he’s going to get pulled into Amara’s mind.

Amara lives in a totally different world – the Dunelands – and has no idea that someone else hides out in her head on the regular. She is very busy with other things, like being a mage (but why is her magic so irregular?) and protecting a princess-in-hiding. Cilla, said princess, is the subject of a horrible curse; any time she bleeds, nature goes haywire and the world tries to destroy her. Amara has been Cilla’s servant and playmate since they were both young, and has been groomed (coercively) to protect Cilla by taking her suffering on – any time Cilla bleeds, Amara smears Cilla’s blood on her own skin as a decoy and suffers in her stead (and because she’s a mage, the physical damage isn’t permanent). Imagine how easy it is to get cuts and scrapes as a kid – that’s how attentive to Cilla Amara has had to be since she was a little girl.

This is where the story begins, but it changes quickly. When Nolan’s medication changes, he’s able – for the first time – to take control of Amara’s body during his blackouts. And this is basically where the story takes off from: what happens when Nolan stops being a passive inhabitant of Amara’s mind?

On this note: one of the interesting aspects of this book is the way it thinks about the power dynamics of reading and storytelling. That is to say, what does it feel like to negotiate a fantasy world? What is the power dynamic between story-teller and audience? Are we passive or active when we read? Does this shift? I loved the story and I loved the world-building for these reasons. While I found parts of the latter frustrating – we’re immediately thrust into the Dunelands through Nolan and Amara without any hesitation, and have to figure out a fantasy world on the go – I actually appreciated what it does narratively. We’re put into Nolan’s shoes in a very real way – we’re presented with this totally foreign and unfamiliar world and asked to make sense of it and to learn how to read it. It’s no mistake, I think, that an important aspect of the story involves Nolan’s own writing about the Dunelands: the journals he’s been keeping since he was a very young child, where he recounts his experiences in the Dunelands in detail. View Spoiler »

One of the other aspects of the book I was delighted about: how thoughtful its relationships are. Ok, yes, this is a fantasy book, and so there is lots of great stuff here about mages and curses and lost princesses. But this is also a book that thinks carefully about relationships, so if fantasy isn’t immediately a go-to genre for you, there is still stuff for you to love. And if the book is “about” anything in particular to me, it’s this: how do we ethically relate to other people, to whom we are bound in various and complicated ways?

In the novel, as Nolan gains control over Amara’s body, he at first does this forcibly without her consent – and it is totally invasive and terrifying for Amara (who has already, let me tell you, had enough terrifying and invasive things done to her – e.g., View Spoiler »). Not only does she learn that Nolan’s been in her mind for the last decade or so, but she discovers that he’s also able to bodysnatch her. For Nolan’s part, he’s used to thinking of himself as totally powerless when it comes to Amara – and he hates her for taking control over his life and drawing him into hers so easily. Taking over her body shifts the power dynamic between them, and the novel explores the new dynamic that emerges really thoughtfully.

This same care extends to the novel’s portrayal of Cilla and Amara’s relationship. They’ve been thrown together since they were children – Cilla has absolutely no one else in her life (and certainly no one else who sacrifices themselves for her on the reg). But Cilla’s a princess in hiding, and Amara’s her servant in a world with strict social hierarchies. Additionally, Amara’s been groomed, in the most negative sense of the word, to see herself as responsible for Cilla’s wellbeing, and her own needs and desires are always neglected as a result. At the beginning of the book, Cilla asks Amara if she hates her, and even though Amara denies that she does, they both know that it isn’t the whole truth and that she has all the reason in the world to. View Spoiler »

I haven’t even touched on the last aspect of the book I loved – the diversity of its cast of characters – but seriously, it is pretty great. It’s a YA fantasy that features protagonists who are queer, racially diverse, and have disabilities. And there is so much else to discuss in the novel! I’m really only scratching the surface here.

I really loved Otherbound and it’s only Duyvis’s first novel! I’m very much excited for whatever she next writes. Has anyone else read Otherbound? If so, what’d you think?

An advance copy was provided by the author for this review.

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26 Responses to “Otherbound: Review”

    • Layla

      Do it! If anything in the review sparked your interest, go for it? (Like, hey, can you imagine what it would be like to be forced into someone else’s mind IN A DIFFERENT WORLD every time you blinked or tried to sleep? Wouldn’t it be the worst? … this book is about how it’s the worst.)
      Layla recently posted…A Thousand Pieces of You: Review

  1. Johannah

    I’m fairly new the fantasy. I’ve read very little of it, but this sounds like I’d really enjoy it!! I love good solid world building – that I believe can make or break a story line. *goes to goodreads to add to her TBR Pile*

    thank you!
    Johannah recently posted…November Recommendations

    • Layla

      I do think that the book has a lot to offer even if you aren’t a huge fan of fantasy (or are new to the genre), but I can also imagine a world in which someone doesn’t like this because they’re not super into fantasy. (And that is ok, because there are lots of things I’m just not super into – I can’t read any fantasy that’s about like … angels or something. With some exceptions, but yeah.)

      The world-building is pretty good! I’m a sucker for books that have a map of a fantasy world at the front; this is usually a good indicator of Books I Will Like. And this counts! I wish there were more. I would have happily taken footnotes on the world (Sherry Thomas’s The Perilous Sea and whatever the other one are do this and I like it SO MUCH).
      Layla recently posted…A Thousand Pieces of You: Review

  2. Pili

    This sounds really fantastic, Layla! Reading your review has made me want to read this book quite a lot, because I love the idea of a lot of depth in more than just world building in fantasy books! And a lot of diversity in a book is also a big plus!
    Definitely adding it to the wish list!
    Pili recently posted…Waiting On Wednesday #67!!

    • Layla

      Eee, Pili, I liked it a lot. I like it when books ask / try to answer big questions – it makes up for a multitude of sins in my eyes. And the world-building is good! I actually found the fantasy world’s narrative – the Dunelands – more immersive and interesting than the other narrative (“I’m a teenager who lives on Earth.” Yes, I care, but tell me more about this curse and let’s talk more about the geopolitics of this new world). But that’s me.

      The diversity is also done so well? I mean, I’m super happy when there’s representation of diverse characters, but that also isn’t enough if it isn’t done well. And this is done so well! My particular interest is always in what the queer characters are like and this was excellent. My feels: holy shit, a story with a bisexual heroine, and her bisexual isn’t an issue, it’s just a given. (I don’t mind other narratives, but I feel like I see this one all too rarely.)
      Layla recently posted…A Thousand Pieces of You: Review

    • Layla

      I really, really liked it (as you can probably tell). But it focused on a lot of things I already tend to care about in books: power dynamics, consent, boundaries, queer characters, immersive world-building, character diversity. And I love fantasy! So I was sold.

      I do think your mileage may vary though.

      If you do decide to read it, let me know what you think about it.
      Layla recently posted…A Thousand Pieces of You: Review

    • Layla

      Glad you liked it. Let me know what you think about it once you’ve read it! I can totally see people having a wide range of responses to this one, but it worked really well for me. And I want to talk about it.
      Layla recently posted…A Thousand Pieces of You: Review

  3. Peyton

    This sounds so interesting! I really want to read this! The fantasy world sounds very dark, but in a good way (and queer protagonists are definitely a plus). Think I will be putting this on my TBR list. :)
    Peyton recently posted…Otherbound: Review

    • Layla

      You should read it! The entire book is … kind of dark. There is a lot of suffering and a lot of (totally justified) angst. At some point in the book, I was like, “Oh man. There is no way this is going to end well,” and then EVEN MORE dark stuff happened.

      But it’s good! I really enjoyed it. It was a pleasure to read.
      Layla recently posted…A Thousand Pieces of You: Review

    • Layla

      You’re right, it’s not run of the mill at all. It’s really original and there’s a lot going on – I actually think it could have been longer – the end is kind of rushed – but it’s a great book. And since it’s only her first novel, I’m really excited to see what her next book will look like. It’s not a sequel so I am EXCITE to see what she’ll create.
      Layla recently posted…A Thousand Pieces of You: Review

  4. Hilary

    This sounds amazing! And what a super interesting take on human relationships and connections. I also liked the parallels between Amara and Nolan’s relationship and Cilla and Amara’s friendship.

    Guess who just put a hold on this book at her library? THIS GIRL.

    Thanks for the great review!
    Hilary recently posted…Book Haul

    • Layla

      Yeah, it’s really interesting. If you enjoy thinking about power dynamics and relationships – and, like, how to create a sustainable relationship between people who occupy different places in a hierarchy – you’ll like it, I think.

      Check, check, check it out!
      Layla recently posted…A Thousand Pieces of You: Review