Monday, May 18, 2015

Review - Otherbound

by Corinne Duyvis
Date: 2014
Publisher: Amulet Books
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 400
Format: e-book
Source: library

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.

Nolan longs for a life uninterrupted. Every time he blinks, he's yanked from his Arizona town into Amara's mind, a world away, which makes even simple things like hobbies and homework impossible. He's spent years as a powerless observer of Amara's life. Amara has no idea... until he learns to control her, and they communicate for the first time. Amara is terrified. Then, she's furious.

All Amara and Nolan want is to be free of each other. But Nolan's breakthrough has dangerous consequences. Now, they'll have to work together to survive--and discover the truth about their connection.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This was such a disappointment.  I've had it on my want-to-read list since I heard about it when it was released last year.  The premise sounded so amazing.  And the premise is amazing.  Unfortunately, it just didn't work well enough for me to really enjoy it.

Please, dear author, I want some more...

One thing this book has going for it is a lot of diversity.  The fantasy world is populated by a number of races and cultures.  We've got two main characters, one male and one female, and both have a disability.  There are also LGBT themes.

Otherbound has such an incredible concept: a boy from our world who can possess the mind of a girl in a fantasy world.  I thought that would be an incredible starting point for a great story.  And it would have been... had there been much of a story there.

It's all a matter of taste...

Okay, let me clarify: yes, there is a story.  Unfortunately, it took me reading about three quarters of the book before figuring out where that story was actually going and why.  In the fantasy world, we've got Amara, who's a mute servant with healing abilities.  Her job is to protect the exiled princess, Cilla, who is cursed.  Basically, if Cilla bleeds, the blood draws in whatever is nearby (stones, grass, whatever's handy) to try to kill her.  Amara distracts the curse and brings it (and the resulting injuries) on herself to spare Cilla.  That's the basic idea of what's going on in fantasyland.  And that's pretty much all that happens for a large portion of the novel: Amara and her companions moving around the country, evading capture by the ministers, and trying to keep Cilla alive.  While I did find these fantasy sequences more interesting than the real-world narrative (more on that in a moment), I really wish that the actual plot had started earlier in the book.  By the time we start seeing some decent action and getting some answers, it's almost too late.  (And, in the end, a major plot point is resolved in a sort of "oh, by the way, this happened off screen and solved our problem" sort of way.  Being told, in passing, how something that major was resolved is not very satisfying.)

As for Nolan's world, I thought it was very weak.  The author chose to set that part of the story in Arizona, but it really could've been anywhere... in Europe.  Duyvis appears to be Dutch (at least, she lives in Amsterdam and has a Dutch-sounding name), and unfortunately didn't do quite enough research for her Arizona-set story.  Most people in North America (especially if they can afford to live in a house with a sweeping staircase and air-conditioning) have clothes dryers; they don't hang their wet laundry in the hallway.  The public middle schools don't have "headmasters"; they have principals... and they probably wouldn't take too kindly to an unauthorized teenager skulking around the gym watching the kids practice their play.  These sorts of things are kind of a giveaway that the author is not from North America.  And that leads me to another disappointment: some of the fantasy world had very European (especially Dutch) influences, while the real world was a bland, underdeveloped version of the southwestern U.S.  What I would have preferred was for the real-world portions to be set in Amsterdam (and there was really no reason why they couldn't have been) and the fantasy world to be completely original fantasy.

The other thing that bothered me about Nolan was his amputation.  It seemed to be there for very little reason (other than perhaps to take a swipe at the American medical insurance system), and it wasn't handled realistically.  Sure, insurance won't cover a running leg or a swimming leg.  But strapping a flipper onto his stump to go swimming?  Really?  And his parents also had to buy him special shoes... which is silly.  Amputees wear regular shoes.  He also never wore his prosthesis in the house, for no reason that I could see... which led to him hopping around everywhere.  Just think about that for a moment.  A kid with pseudo-epilepsy who blanks out every time he blinks, and he's hopping up and down the stairs.  Yeah... that sounds safe.

But Nolan was a pretty weak character all around.  Maybe he was supposed to be like that.  After all, he'd never really had time to develop his own personality, since he'd been sucked into Amara's world for so many years.  But that just led to another huge question: how was he even a functioning human being?

As for the other characters... some were better, some were worse.  Pat, Nolan's sister, is one of those annoying child characters who sounds like she's thirty.  Their parents were present, but kind of flat.  (We never even got to actually meet his grandmother, who sounded like she might've been a far more interesting character.)  In the other world, I got confused by all the different races, so I couldn't figure out what anyone looked like.  And the villain...  The villain was so evil, but there was no reason for it.  I like my villains a little more complex, with actual motivations for their actions beyond, "Because I want to."

Let's get technical...

I had a lot of problems with the writing in this book.  It wasn't that it was terrible... but it just wasn't quite right.  As a result, I found it really difficult to read (even though I couldn't quite put my finger on why).  I thought maybe it was a bad translation from the Dutch, but I couldn't find any evidence of that.  I found the writing hard to follow at times, and I had to read over some passages several times to understand what the characters were referring to (and, even then, sometimes I still couldn't figure it out).  There were also some awkward turns of phrase and some word choices that weren't quite right.  (I'm still trying to figure out what colour "off-brown" is...)

The other issue I had was with the overly modern language in the fantasy world.  That sort of thing will snap a reader right out of the flow of the story.

The verdict...

I wanted this to be the great story I was expecting, but the bad pacing, weak world-building (especially in the real world), and lackluster main character pretty much killed most of my enjoyment.

Quotable moment:

Finally she crouched to gather her scarf. She clasped it so tightly her hands ached from the effort. Go away, she thought, angry and broken and so far beyond anything Nolan could name he almost choked on it.

Premise: 3/5
Plot: 2/5
Characters: 2/5
Pace: 2/5
Writing: 2/5
Editing: 3/5
Originality: 4/5
Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall Rating: 2.38 out of 5 ladybugs

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