Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis
|Publisher(s):||Harry N. Abrams (US) Amulet Books (UK)|
|Formatt:||Hardcover / Paperback / Ebook|
|Release Date:||June 17, 2014 (US) June 1, 2014 (UK)|
In my life, I’ve found that there are a few different sorts of books I wind up reading. Some are gifts. Some are books I explicitly sought out. And some are books I discovered randomly, requesting from the library and renewing and re-renewing until I’ve forgotten the reason I requested them in the first place.
Otherbound is that last sort of book.
I’m fairly certain I discovered it on Tumblr, recommended by one of those blogs which include lists of books that are commendable for their diversity. I wish I could remember which blog it was so that I could give them the proper credit, but it’s been months since I first put Otherbound on my TBR list, and it only came off that list about a month ago, when it reached the top of my reading pile and landed on my bedside table so that I could read it in the morning and pretend I didn’t have to go to work later on.
All I can say is that, whichever blog first brought Otherbound to my attention, I’m very grateful that it happened. Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve loved interesting stories in fantasy, and after going through college, I’ve grown fond of reading books that give representation to underrepresented groups. The trouble is that it seems like a lot of fantasy novels are written by and about (and quite possibly for) white men who like running around with swords saving the world. Lately, however, there has been something of an explosion in diversity, particularly in YA fiction. Girls now get to save the world, and people of color get to save the world, and sometimes LGBT people get to save the world. It’s fantastic, in both senses of the word, and Otherbound is a novel that fits both of these categories.
The novel features two protagonists: Nolan, a teenager living in Arizona; and Amara, a girl who lives in another world filled with magic and curses and princesses on the run. The two of them are bound together, as every time Nolan closes his eyes, he is transported to Amara’s mind, where he watches her life but can do nothing to interfere as she tries to protect a cursed princess from the sorcerers who are trying to kill her. The curse is a particularly dangerous one, even for long-time readers of fantasy. Anytime the princess bleeds, the earth itself opens up and tries to devour her. The only way to distract it from her is to smear her blood on someone else. Amara, as a servant, is considered expendable enough to perform this sacrifice, and the novel is filled with her conflicting thoughts as she is torn between her duty and her wish to live.
Not having to live in that world does not mean that Nolan is safe. Far from it; closing his eyes transports him to a different world, and the author makes us very aware of just how dangerous this is. He doesn’t only go to Amara’s world when he sleeps or when he closes his eyes to focus on her. Every blink transports him to her mind, and sometimes he can’t escape before his family notices something’s wrong. Everyone around him assumes he has a strange form of epilepsy, and even knowing that people think he needs to be constantly looked after and protected isn’t the worst part. He’s lost his leg from being caught in Amara’s world, and that incident very nearly killed him.
It seems as though his whole life will play out this way, being a boy who has strange hallucinations whenever his eyes close, but then something changes. For the first time, he is able to take control of Amara’s body. From that point, he begins exploring just how much he can do, and the two teenagers and their worlds draw ever closer.
As I said, it’s an incredible story, and honestly, I’d probably have loved the book even if both of the leads were white and straight. The author adds a few details as icing on this wonderful YA cake, though, that made me love it even more. Nolan’s Nahuatl heritage may not contribute directly to the plot, but it does enhance his family life and make him a more rounded character. The many cultures in Amara’s world make it a richer place to read about than just the standard fantasyland we’re all used to by now. Amara’s sexuality is beautifully written. While the word bisexual is never outright said, that is an argument for another time. The fluidity of her affections feels real, and while I could rather easily tell where her little romantic arc would go, it never felt forced. Best of all, it enhances the story rather than distracting from the plot.
There’s been a lot of talk about diversity in YA and in SFF, at least in the circles I frequent, and it sometimes seems as though every book, whether it means to or not, becomes another part of the conversation. Otherbound is a word in support of the side I take in this debate: that diversity need not be meaningless and that it certainly isn’t tossing in some token person just to fill a quota. It can make a story more interesting and a better read. I’d recommend this book to anyone who’s interested in where YA fantasy might go next, no matter what their personal opinions are.
Or, hey, if you like a good story, give this book a shot. I promise you’ll be drawn into it and never want to leave.