Georgia Peach Award Nominee • Florida Teens Read Award Nominee • ABC Best Books for Young Readers • Bank Street College Best Children’s Books of the Year • A Junior Library Guild Selection • Hugo & Locus award finalist
In Other Lands is an exhilarating novel from bestselling author Sarah Rees Brennan about surviving four years in the most unusual of schools - friendship, falling in love, diplomacy, and finding your own place in the world — even if it means giving up your phone.
The Borderlands aren’t like anywhere else. Don’t try to smuggle a phone or any other piece of technology over the wall that marks the Border — unless you enjoy a fireworks display in your backpack. (Ballpoint pens are okay.) There are elves, harpies, and — best of all as far as Elliot is concerned — mermaids.
"What’s your name?"
"Serena?" Elliot asked.
"Serene," said Serene. "My full name is Serene-Heart-in-the-Chaos-of-Battle."
Elliot’s mouth fell open. "That is badass."
Elliot? Who’s Elliot? Elliot is thirteen years old. He’s smart and just a tiny bit obnoxious. Sometimes more than a tiny bit. When his class goes on a field trip and he can see a wall that no one else can see, he is given the chance to go to school in the Borderlands.
It turns out that on the other side of the wall, classes involve a lot more weaponry and fitness training and fewer mermaids than he expected. On the other hand, there’s Serene-Heart-in-the-Chaos-of-Battle, an elven warrior who is more beautiful than anyone Elliot has ever seen, and then there’s her human friend Luke: sunny, blond, and annoyingly likeable. There are lots of interesting books. There’s even the chance Elliot might be able to change the world.
Sarah Rees Brennan was born, raised, and lives in Ireland. She is the New York Times bestselling author of Tell the Wind and Fire, the Lynburn Legacy series, and Season of the Witch (The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Book 1), among others.
Read an Excerpt
Excerpted from Part 1 of In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan
ELLIOT, AGE THIRTEEN
So far magic school was total rubbish. Elliot sat on the fence bisecting two fields and brooded tragically over his wrongs. He had been plucked from geography class, one of his most interesting classes, to take some kind of scholarship test out in the wild. Elliot and three other kids from his class had been packed into a van by their harassed-looking French teacher and driven outside the city. Elliot objected because after an hour in a moving vehicle he would be violently sick. The other kids objected because after an hour in a moving vehicle they would be violently sick of Elliot. Elliot ignored the other kids and hung his head out of the window. In a disdainful way. Then they arrived at their destination, which could only be described as a classic example of a “random field in Devon, England.” Much like any other random field in England. “Why are we in a random field?” Elliot demanded. “I will thump you,” promised Desmond Dobbs. “Zip it.” “I will not be silenced,” said Elliot. He would not be silenced, but he was feeling unwell and being thumped usually made him feel worse, so he stood a little way off from the others and observed their surroundings. The random field boasted a stone wall so high Elliot could not see over the top, and a woman wearing extremely odd clothing who appeared to be waiting for them. She and their French teacher had a quiet conference, and as Elliot watched them he saw money change hands. “Excuse me, did anyone else see that?” Elliot asked. “I don’t wish to alarm anyone, but get alarmed, because I think our French teacher just sold us!” “They haven’t sold us,” said Ashley Sinclair. “Nobody would want to buy you.” That did silence Elliot. It seemed so indisputably true. The woman in odd clothing “tested” him by asking him if he could see a wall standing in the middle of a field. When he told her, “Obviously, because it’s a wall. Walls tend to be obvious,” she had pointed out the other kids blithely walking through the wall as if it was not there, and told him that he was one of the chosen few with the sight. “Are you telling me that I have magical powers?” Elliot had asked, excited for a moment, and then added: “Because I can’t walk through walls? That doesn’t seem right.” The woman had told him she was prepared for questions, but she did not seem prepared for that one. She blinked and told him to come away with her to a magical land. “By a magical land,” she told him, “I mean a place that not everybody can see, a place with—” “With mermaids?” Elliot asked. “I don’t need you to explain to me the concept of a magical land filled with fantastic creatures that only certain special children can enter. I am acquainted with the last several centuries of popular culture. There are books. And cartoons, for the illiterate.” “Look,” said the woman, “are you prepared to come away with me, or not?” Normally, Elliot refused weird propositions from potentially demented strangers. But there was the wall, and the undeniable fact that other people could not see or touch it, and this really was like something out of a book. Elliot did not think he would be able to live with the curiosity if he did not go. “Okay,” Elliot had said finally, brandishing his phone in the woman’s face. “But I have the number of the police, and I will have my finger on the call button at all times, in case you are a child predator.” She rolled her eyes, but she let him keep the phone with no objections. Nobody else had any objections when it was explained that the strange woman would be driving Elliot back to school later. Nobody pointed out there was no sign of the strange woman’s car. Desmond Dobbs said “Hurray!” “Do you have family who will miss you?” asked the woman while everyone else piled in the van. “Ha!” said Elliot. “That is a serial-killer question, and I refuse to answer it.” “Any family you have will be told you were offered a last-minute scholarship to a prestigious military school,” said the woman. “If you choose to stay. Will anyone be worried about you?” The van set off down the road. It seemed to get smaller very fast, heading toward the distant gray horizon of the city. Everything Elliot knew seemed terribly small, and terribly gray, and terribly far away.Elliot hesitated. “No.” Once the van had disappeared around a bend in the road, the strange woman led Elliot up a narrow stone stairway built into the wall. They climbed and climbed, and when they had gone so high that they were surrounded by clouds, they walked through a shining hole in the wall and onto soft grass. Actually, the magical land seemed to be mostly grass. There were fields, more fields, several more fields, a couple of rough, round stone towers which men with weapons were exiting and entering. Elliot had cheered up when he saw a man walk by, books under his arm, who had long hair and pointed ears—there were elves—and dwarves—like from fairy tales, men and women alike with beards and carrying elaborately carved hammers. He looked around for other marvels. Mostly there were other kids. Some of them were quite big, and some of them looked no more than Elliot’s age—he was thirteen, though everybody thought he was younger because they made cruel assumptions based on height. All the kids had lined up at different tables to be signed in, and now the kids Elliot’s age were all standing together in a cluster waiting to be told what to do. Elliot turned to the woman who had led him here. Her clothing did not look so strange here where a lot of people were wearing breeches and buckles all over. He had only known her for five minutes, which made her five minutes more familiar than anyone else. Under cornrows that ended in a black coronet of twisted hair, her face was impatient but not unkind. “Is this the part where I get told that only I can save the magical land?” “This is the part where you get trained,” said the woman. “Or not. You choose.” “Trained for what?” Elliot demanded, but the woman had already strode off to be cryptic elsewhere and left him with the group of kids his age. He was slightly alarmed. The wall on the other side had been low, but carved with graffiti so he suspected there were vandals about, his phone was sizzling, and now this. It was so unfair. Elliot had not expected a magical land to be all fields—some of the fields had cows in them, and he was pretty sure they weren’t magic cows—and other kids. Elliot especially did not like the “other kids” aspect of magic land. Elliot had “does not interact well with peers” on all his report cards. If the teachers had been more precise, what they would have said was “does not shut up well around stupid people,” but that was teachers for you. And there were always kids who were stunned when crossed, as if they had expected that life would go their way forever. Elliot had already spotted the two kids who looked as if they thought life was a song. Practically all of the relatively few girls were staring at them. One of the boringly human pair of boys, the obvious leader, was tall and broad-shouldered, with golden hair, as if Nature had said, “No worries, buddy, I gotcha, no nasty tiring thinking will ever be necessary, also have a crown.” The other had a bright vacant smile that someone, finding it empty, had filled with light. The blond guy was wandering around from kid to kid, talking kindly to them and taking hold of them by one shoulder with the patronizing air of a kid who thought he was as good and wise as a teacher. He knelt and spoke to one much smaller girl in a My Little Pony T-shirt, then rose to his feet and turned away, leaving her staring after him with shining eyes as he obviously forgot all about her: as if he were a king dispensing largesse to the peasants. The other boy was following the blond guy around, nodding at everything he said. Both of them looked entirely self-assured about the whole situation. Elliot knew their type. The blond boy looked like he would throw the first punch and the smiling boy like he would throw the second and the third, in eager imitation. Elliot mentally christened them Blondie and Surfer Dude. He peered around to the woods, where perhaps there were more elves, and to the skies, where he was almost sure he’d seen something that was winged but too big to be a bird. A cough distracted Elliot from his perusal of the skies. He looked down into blue eyes and saw that it was apparently Elliot’s turn on the condescension rounds. “You should stop sitting on that fence,” Blondie instructed. “Oh, I see,” Elliot muttered darkly. “Even this is to be taken from me.” Nobody Elliot was aware of had made Blondie the boss of the fence, but being tipped over backward into the mud was not Elliot’s idea of a good time. He slipped off the fence and looked resentfully up at Blondie and, of course, his sunny shadow. He found tall people tiresome. Elliot scowled. Blondie frowned. Surfer Dude kept smiling. “Don’t worry, little guy. I know this must all be very confusing for people from the other side of the Border,” said Blondie. Elliot stared for a long moment. The moment grew uncomfortable. Elliot was glad. “This is all terribly confusing,” Elliot agreed. Blondie smiled, relieved, and Elliot held up a hand to stop him saying anything. “I was so hoping,” Elliot continued soulfully, “that somebody would come explain all this to me. Preferably someone who would do it in small words. And you two look like the small-words type.” “Sure, what do you need explained?” asked Surfer Dude. Elliot rolled his eyes and saw that Blondie’s sweet blue eyes had narrowed. He tilted his head and grinned. “First off, this,” said Elliot, and produced his phone from his pocket. It looked a little bit melty and was sending off sparks. Surfer Dude took a step back. “You’d better give me that,” said Blondie. “You could hurt yourself.” He stepped forward. Elliot took a step to the side, and the group as a whole moved away from Elliot. Everyone else had discarded their technology when it malfunctioned, because they were quitters. “Nope,” said Elliot. “It’s mine.” “I think it’s about to go on fire.” “It’s my thing that’s about to go on fire, and not yours,” Elliot said firmly. “Now, why have all our methods of communication just literally gone up in smoke? Are we kidnapped? Are we going to be ritual sacrifices? Is there some sort of magical spell that destroys our ability to call for help?” A distressed murmuring spread across the group. Blondie looked around in dismay. “No,” he said. “Everything’s fine. Your little gadgets from across the Border just don’t work here, that’s all. They never have. You don’t need them here.” “Of course not,” Elliot murmured. “The Industrial Revolution was a silly business anyway.” Everybody looked confused now, not just Surfer Dude. Elliot raised his voice. “Are you telling me none of us are going to be able to play video games?” Blondie looked like he had his doubts about answering, but he did anyway. “I’m not sure what a video game is . . . but I’m pretty sure you can’t play them here.” One of the other boys, who, judging by his clothes, was from what Blondie called “the other side of the Border” and Elliot called “the real world where stuff made sense and phones did not explode,” burst into tears. Blondie’s head whipped around. “Oh no,” Elliot exclaimed sadly. “Look what you did.” “I didn’t—!” “He seems awfully upset,” Elliot continued. “You must feel really bad.” Blondie did not look as if he felt bad at all. He looked, in fact, as if he was going to punch Elliot in the face. He took a deep breath and did not, which was a pleasant surprise and made Elliot feel quite cheerful. “Go on then,” Elliot said brightly, and made an encouraging yet dismissive gesture. “See to the children!” Blondie turned and moved toward the crying boy, but he glanced back over his shoulder at Elliot, eyes still narrowed. “Not everyone who can see the Border belongs on the right side,” he observed. “Being trained to protect the Border is a sacred duty. And my father says that some people are too weak and too concerned with their own comfort to fight the good fight.” “That’s fascinating. Run along.” “You can choose to go or stay,” said Blondie. “So I don’t think I’ll be seeing you again.” “Yes, oh my God, I already understood the implication that I wasn’t man enough to tough it out beyond the Border. Your attempt at an insult was extremely clear,” Elliot informed him. “You’re just making the whole thing laboured and awkward now.” He waved Blondie away again, and on Blondie’s retreat Elliot squinted suspiciously up at Surfer Dude. “When he said all that stuff about duty and protection . . .,” he said. “Is this a military operation?” Surfer Dude looked pleased to be asked. “Yes. They train you up, those who can pass through the Border on either side, to be guards and keep the peace between the peoples in this land and those who may come through from the other. You learn how to handle all sorts of weapons, how to form a unit, all this cool stuff.” “Oh my God,” Elliot said in a hollow voice. “We’re child soldiers?” He considered this and then said: “I need to sit down. I’m going back to the fence.” “You’re not supposed to—” Surfer Dude said, echoing his master, but Elliot was already walking away. He did take Surfer Dude’s point, and he did not want to be pushed off the fence, so he meandered along it a little, moving farther away from the group, and as he did so he came in sight of someone else who was standing slightly removed from the crowd. She turned as Elliot approached. She was tall, slim, and strong-looking as a young birch tree, and as she turned her long dark hair spun out in the steadily blowing wind. It formed a trail of darkness, touched by autumn leaves twined around her tresses: her pale face stood out in sharp relief, and so did the pearl-pale curling points of her ears.This was an elf maiden. This was, bar none, the coolest person Elliot had ever seen. Elliot only had to look at her solemn face for one long moment, robbed of breath by both the wind and her beauty, and he knew. This was love: not the passing fancy he’d felt for Miss Tolliver his music teacher (in which he’d become confused by having a good relationship with an authority figure), or Simon Bae (confused by admiration for his skill in their shared art project) or Clare Winters (the guidance counselor had approved and hadn’t said Elliot was confused, but Clare had turned out to only understand a quarter of Elliot’s jokes, so she’d been confused all the time). Elliot wasn’t confused now, looking into those clear eyes, at once dark and bright like pools in a deep forest. He tried to collect himself. Now was no time to stare like a hypnotized sheep. Now was the time to woo. He had not seen any other elven girls in the whole camp. So clearly she was defying conservative elven customs by coming here, brave and alone and the victim of cruel oppression. Elliot’s heart went out to her. She was probably feeling scared and shy. “Hello,” said the beautiful elven maid. “I was just thinking, and I mean no offence, but—how can any fighting force crowded with the softer sex hope to prevail in battle?” “Huh?” said Elliot brilliantly. “The softer what?” “I refer to men,” said the elf girl. “Naturally I was aware the Border guard admitted men, and I support men in their endeavor to prove they are equal to women, but their natures are not warlike, are they?” Elliot offered, after a long pause: “I don’t enjoy fighting.” She favored him with a slow smile, like dawn light spreading on water. “Very natural.” “In fact,” Elliot confessed, encouraged, “I never fight.” “You should not have to,” she said. “There should always be a woman ready to protect a man in need. I take it that you are bound for the council course then?” “I don’t understand,” said Elliot, and then he shamelessly looked up at her (taller, why was everybody taller?) through his eyelashes and confessed: “I’m from the other side of the Border, and this is all a little overwhelming”—and distressing? Yes, Elliot felt that he was definitely distressed—“and distressing,” he added with conviction. “If you would be so very kind as to explain a few things to me, I would so appreciate it.”
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