Amara is never alone. Not when she’s protecting the cursed princess she unwillingly serves. Not when they’re fleeing across dunes and islands and seas to stay alive. Not when she’s punished, ordered around, or neglected. She can’t be alone, because a boy from another world experiences all that alongside her, looking through her eyes… (Source: Goodreads)
Some vague spoilers that will only make sense if you’ve read the book are in this review. I’ll try to keep things vague but fair warning, they are in here.
Irony, kind of: I go out of my way to read the UIUC YA bookclub pick for last month – OTHERBOUND by Corinne Duyvis – going so far as to say on Facebook I’m going, only to find myself stuck in my room during meeting time because I stupidly made a dental appointment the same day several hours before bookclub and have you ever spoke coherently and thoughtfully about anything after both a root canal and a tooth extraction? I didn’t think so. Thus, I was left to wallow in my OTHERBOUND thoughts, underheard, until now.
First thing: I appreciate this text for existing. I appreciate that it is a singular epitome of what works in diverse fiction – we have a disabled Hispanic MC, a bisexual disabled MC of color (the fantasy world Amara lives in is very non-white by the way and is also incredibly diverse in skin color), actual functional discourse on class and sexuality and disability and race and culture, and none of it feels off in the world Duyvis builds, or feels thrown in for brownie points.
Second thing: I appreciate that OTHERBOUND handles the magic of two people being bound via their consciousness with the right level of “holy shit this is scary get out of my head”. Nolan is rightfully mad that every time he transports to Amara’s world when he closes his eyes, even for a second. And when Amara realizes that Nolan is on the other side of her occasional blackouts, she is rightfully mad that Nolan is apparently taking away her autonomy. It becomes a part of the plot, not something to be shoved away as a casual side effect of the sharing of minds. It also ends up being a major defining part of what makes magic work in Amara’s world.
So, what’s so great about this book? It definitely has good elements, but even books with decent elemental blocks can end up as crap. OTHERBOUND is not crap. It’s not perfect, but it is definitely not crap. That’s because Duyvis makes a coherent, clear narrative out of what she gives the reader. Characters are well developed, plot points that are introduced are not just abandoned as quickly as they show up, and the horror of the curse system that binds Amara and her royal ward Cilla is told in clear, distinct detail. Seriously, it’s all jacked up.
This is actually where I find my biggest issue with OTHERBOUND: Cilla, or actually, Cilla’s backstory. She’s actually a great character, and her relationship with Amara really illustrates well the class issues of a slave class girl serving a former royal class girl while they are both on the run and pretty much both wanted fugitives. What are class differences when you’re both criminals? Can Amara and Cilla ever see themselves as equal since Cilla is treated figuratively and literally as a fragile glass flower who can never be harmed and Amara is the situational fall gal who takes the brunt of Cilla’s pain every time?
But when the novel explains who Cilla actually is, I get lost. I feel like I understand why Cilla is there, but I don’t know why her. What made Cilla special? And what made Amara special that she received her particular gift? What did particular people get ‘magic’ and others not? If the novel explained it, it was in the big moment of info dump and was lost in the shuffle of bigger details, and that sucks, because OTHERBOUND had done such a good job of worldbuilding up to that point. I hate for relevant information to get lost in the mire of data being thrown at me, but I fear that is what has happened here.
Also I would have read so much more of Nolan’s family, but that’s not so much a complaint as a compliment, isn’t it? If you want more of something, you must like it. I really did love Nolan’s family and I hope they all find their happiness post-novel.
I still greatly enjoyed this novel and felt a heart pang when it ended. I would recommend this YA novel to high school readers who love LGBT/disabled protagonists, enjoy complex and complicated magic systems, and like to see stories of worlds colliding in a fantastical way. I think fans of Rick Riordan and Marie Lu will like this one, too.