Otherbound is trying very, very hard, but just isn’t that good

Otherbound is trying very, very hard, but just isn’t that good

★★☆☆☆

(2 stars)

This is a very meh book. I didn’t particularly want it to be, but it failed me in every way. There was nothing really going on, the writing was dull, the worldbuidling was clearly making an effort but explained poorly, and nothing felt interesting, legitimate, or real.

The characters are diverse, but even in the reviews that’s all anyone can talk about. Yay for diversity! Not much to cheer about otherwise.

Plot rough: Nolan is a USA boy who watches life through Amara, a fantasy lady’s, eyes whenever he closes his. It has caused him nothing but pain. Amara serves the rude princess Cilla and is a servant who had her tongue cut out. She’s an excellent healer and must always be at Cilla’s side, as if Cilla is hurt uh… bad things happen? Like disaster. I’m writing this a while in. They flee together and run away and someone is trying to kill them. Nolan finds a way to talk to and take over Amara to assist in her life, at the expense of his own.

There’s plenty of concepts going around, a world with magic, rules, interdimensional travellers who brought wind trams in but nothing else… things that seem like they really should be good, but plainly aren’t. The writing is a lot of telling over showing, and oddly flat. The worldbuilding is what confuses me most: concepts explaining the world are constantly being introduced, but in a bad way. I’m not an idiot I swear, but I was unable to follow a lot of things. I understand the author’s intent to try and throw us into a world and not go over everything, but we’re plainly a peg too low, and I spent most of the book rolling around and waiting for something interesting/understandable to happen.

Nolan’s half of the story is so incredibly boring, and yet…. far more compelling and interesting than Amara’s. She is the magic one, the one who has a life that matters/drives the plot/is more than a standard YA teen story.  Nolan’s life is beyond boring, featuring play auditions, talking to a girl he kinda likes, and worrying about medication. At least I feel bad for him.

It gets better as it goes, but Maart (Amara’s boyfriend/fellow servant) feels quickly forgotten, and a tool to push Cilla/Amara, which is a ship that just doesn’t work for me. The power imbalance is mentioned later, but still, does not work in any capacity for me: Amara is a servant who has been enslaved her entire life to serve Cilla. Cilla is at first often quite rude/mean to Amara, though she is nicer than [Other Guy]. Even as she softens up, Amara feels more indebted and like she has to serve Cilla than love her. It’s not a healthy balance and definitely not something I enjoyed seeing as positive. It feels more like the author wanted that Sweet Lesbian Rep than actually working on a dynamic where it didn’t come off as bad.

Amara/Cilla is something I feel pushed to like, but there’s nothing to like. They clearly don’t like each other- Cilla is pretty overbearing and Amara feels pushed to like her just because she is an abused servant… this is discussed/acknowledged in the book, but I really wish there wasn’t even the vaguest concept they could end up together noted. I was actively rooting for the unhappiest ending I could. I wanted Nolan to live a regular life and these magical kids to suffer. You hear me? I was ROOTING for the unhappy lesbian ending just because I so disliked the main couple. Scandalous.

The book is told in split perspective, sometimes Amara’s chapters collide with Nolan’s, as they are linked. However, this is not a fun or novel thing. Nolan, the normal guy, is exceedingly boring. If he didn’t lead the saddest life this part of the suburbs, I would hate his guts for all the pageroom he takes up. His concerns over school and stuff are. Not great to read through. Amara, frankly, isn’t much better- can you tell I wasn’t hot for this book? But it’s a weird feeling, where I just strongly wished these two would have nothing to do with each other.

Nolan’s ability to see Amara’s world is viewed as a mental break of some kind by his family, and he’s on pills to suppress this. They don’t work that well, but I believe he later finds a combination that lets him shut her off… completely! Whoah!

BUT. A major part of the book is him getting caught up in Amara’s latest drama and, uh, stopping his meds. He suffers a lot, he passes out and loses chunks of time, since he discovers going off his meds allows him greater control in Amara’s world. This is. Just uncomfortable to read about. I wanted Nolan more than anything to take his pills and stop. He lost a limb at a young age because of this ability– closing his eyes, getting caught up in Amara’s life, getting hit by a car. He feels Amara’s pain physically too. This link has caused him nothing but trouble, and I hated watching him chose to suffer more to help a girl not in his dimension, maybe possibly not even real.

Beyond his suffering (pity gaining!), Nolan’s arc is incredibly boring. Eh!

Really, this is the one book I can think of where I was actively rooting for the main character’s failure. More than anything, I WANTED Nolan to STOP. STOP viewing these magic kids, take your pills, and be your boring self in peace. I hated Amara for… encouraging him?? It’s not her fault, but the concept of her, and the fact this poor kid just forces himself to suffer so much for her sake. Like, dude, Amara has had a bad life, and I disliked Cilla way more…. you know? I was rooting for some unhappy lesbians, bro. I wanted Cilla to perish. I’m not happy either.

This is not a book with diversity for diversity’s sake, at least, but I do feel like reviews on here tend to be bias in that they’re so excited for something gay they overlook the other problems.

Okay. anyway. time to get REAL:

This book bothers me because it reminds me of… me. A lot. My writing style, plot techniques, things I like. I think I write… better?! than this. At least, I like my stuff more than I like this. But having a complex magic system in a big world that’s a little bit weird, the plot twist(s), having a lot of diversity, trying hard to hit something but never getting it right… all stuff I’d do? I’m not sure how to explain it, but by the end I was mildly ashamed at how much this reminded me of me.

I can think of a few things, to be positive, I wouldn’t have done tho. Gotta be positive.

Anyway, this book has been on my to-read list for ages, ever since I was in Amsterdam and saw posters at a bookstore- the author lives there! I was like, whoah!! NL street cred! So I swear I didn’t come in here full of scorn and rage.

Oh, one huge pet peeve, than I’ll try and end on a positive note (the notes I’m working on to write this don’t have any but I’ll search my mind): DIGGERS. WHAT. A WORLD WITHOUT FANTASY CREATURES, AND THEN YOU INTRODUCE *ONE* FAKE THING. WHO DOES THAT. WHY? SLOPPY, BRO. SLOPPY.

(explanation: Amara’s fav animals are these giant beach things called Diggers, and beyond the concept of magic, are the only non-earth-like thing in the book. It is jarring).

Positives: I didn’t hate the second half as much, there were cool concepts at times, I generally was not unhappy to have read this, the title sounds like a homestuck AU, I did get a little 🙂 at the ending (open ended), Nolan made me super depressed and I feel bad hating on his life, as long as I believe Amara became independent and didn’t end up with Cilla I’m cool with things

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