Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis. ★★★1/2
Otherbound is a stand alone YA fantasy that I enjoyed more than I was expecting. Yet, it still doesn’t reach the level where I’d want to read it again in the future, and it’s hard for me to say why.
Ever since he was five years old, Nolan sees a different life whenever he closes his eyes. The mind he inhabits is Amara’s, a mute servant for a cursed princess who lives in a fantasy world vastly different from Nolan’s small Arizona town. Amara has no idea that Nolan is within her mind, until one day he figures out how to control her body.
One of the high points of Otherbound is the incredible diversity of the characters. Amara’s a brown skinned bisexual girl who communicates with sign language. Nolan is Hispanic, needs crutches, and was diagnosed with epilepsy because of his “seizures” whenever he visits Amara’s mind. All this said, the book isn’t really “about” any of those things (i.e. it’s not an issue book). It’s a YA fantasy adventure that happens to have a diverse cast and includes a romance between two girls.
Otherbound has no gaping holes, and I didn’t notice any problems while I was reading it. However, I don’t feel this is a book that I’d want to come back to in the future. The best way to describe why is that Otherbound could just use “more.” The world building could be more immersive and vivid, the characters could be more memorable, the plot could be more enticing. Overall, everything was functional but could have been better. It could be that comparative thinness of Otherbound is related to it being a debut novel.
Duyvis clearly put thought into Amara’s world, and I liked the inclusion of cultural details such as the taboo against saying the names of the dead. At the same time, I never got a good feel of the world. I can tell that it’s more technologically advanced than the average fantasy world, and Duyvis has clearly set up different cultural and ethnic groups. Yet, the world never had that vividness and wonder of the best fantasy settings, and I would have liked some more information on the morals and norms of the different cultures.
The POV is third person alternating between Nolan and Amara. I didn’t have problems with either of their characters while I was reading, but I never really fell in love with them or even any of the secondary characters. Possibly it’s because they were relatively passive, mainly reacting to the situation around them instead of taking charge. To be far, this was almost impossible to avoid with Nolan, but Amara could have been making more active decisions. Another possibility is that they lacked strong motivation, although this does tie into the whole “active” versus “passive” protagonist thing.
Despite my reservations, I would still recommend Otherbound. It’s far from the worst YA fantasy novel I’ve read, and I still enjoyed the time I spent with it. If you are looking for diverse characters, I would especially recommend that you check out Otherbound.