Corinne Duyvis – Otherbound

corinneduyvis-otherboundAmara 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.

Corinne Duyvis is a fellow Dutchie, so I was really excited to be able to review her work. Additionally, the premise to her debut Otherbound sounded fascinating, but also really hard to pull off. Because how will you be able to convey that someone quite literally sees a film running across the back of his eyelids every time he blinks and at the same time tell the story of the person whose life he witnesses without the narrative becoming confusing and disjointed? In Duyvis’ case, I’d say quite well; Otherbound is a terribly smooth read and I never doubted the concept at the centre of the book. Add to that the incredible amount of diversity encompassed in this narrative and you can see how this book is not only a wonderful story but also very timely in light of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement. 

Duyvis approached the central premise of the book – Nolan and Amara’s connection and his entering her mind every time he blinks – quite straight-forwardly, making it far less confusing than I’d feared. She has two separate points of view, which don’t mix that often; when we’re with Amara, we’re with Amara, when we’re with Nolan, we’re with Nolan and if Amara’s world does bleed through in Nolan’s point of view, then it’s made clear through the formatting of the text. Nolan and Amara each have very distinct personalities and voices and even without the fact that they are in different worlds, their different passages would be easily separable.

Nolan is an interesting protagonist. He is not your typical teenage boy, due to his blinking in and out of Amara’s life, yet he wants nothing as much as to be just a regular guy. I liked that when he suddenly gets a reprieve from the blinking, he immediately starts doing regular teenage stuff, flirting with a classmate, awkwardly I might add, trying to help out his sister with her school play and just watching films with his family. I loved Nolan and his family. Hispanic, of Nahua descent, they’re a close-knit and loving family, struggling to get Nolan all the medical care he needs. Not everything is roses between them though, there is the usual sibling strife between Nolan and his sister Pat, which is exacerbated by the fact that Nolan gets so much extra attention. I loved that their Hispanic roots are displayed in the little details, such as when he overhears his parents fighting, Nolan’s remark that the fact that they are mixing in English signifies that it’s a really bad fight, as they usually just speak Spanish or Nahuatl. While he rejoices when his seizures stop he also feels a sense of responsibility and care for Amara, which was lovely and completely fit with his characterisation. I also appreciated that while it is clear that Nolan cares for Amara and worries about her well-being, there is no hint of this being anything other than born of the years of close association, not any romantic attraction.

Amara is different from Nolan in almost every way. Taken from her parents to be a servant at a young age, her tongue taken out so she can’t betray her masters’ secrets and not allowed to learn to read and write, she’s had to learn to fend not just for herself, but to protect the Princess Cilla as well. Cilla has been cursed, if even a drop of blood touches the air magic powers come to take her and Amara’s magical healing abilities are the only thing that will keep her safe. Together with the Mage Jorn, Cilla’s keeper and Amara’s true master, and her fellow servant and lover Maart, Amara is constantly on the move through the Dunelands, always trying to stay ahead of the mage assassins that hunt Cilla. Due to Amara’s muteness, she and the other servants communicate in sign language, which I found fascinating as Duyvis also uses this fact incredibly deftly to allow Nolan and Amara to communicate. Once Nolan learns how to pilot Amara’s body, they can use her hands to sign at each other. And even in sign language they each have their own voice, as witnessed by Cilla’s being able to differentiate them through their manner of signing, not just in their different movements, but also in their syntax. Her relationship with Cilla, which is a true love/hate one, is a thing of beauty and I loved how Duyvis developed their story.

Amara’s Dunelands are a harsh environment, with a world beset by problems caused by magical backlash and a corrupt government, and social practices that are just horrendous, such as the slavery of the servants and their treatment. The language, naming conventions and other elements – Maart, Tesschel, gentlemansion, the ubiquitous canals to name just a few examples – betray Duyvis’ Dutch roots and I loved seeing these influences. Like Nolan, Amara and Cilla are PoC and this isn’t an issue or a plot device, they just are. It’s diversity done how it’s supposed to be done, I think. The magic in the book is ubiquitous, dangerous and somewhat confusing. While it seems largely consistent within Amara’s world, it wasn’t clear how it worked in our world. Is their truly magic here or is it only present in this one way? Similarly, the connection between Amara’s world and ours remains unexplained. Are they parallel universes, other planes of existence, or a galaxy far, far away? Perhaps I’m looking at it too closely but I’d loved to have learned the answers to these questions. And yet despite these questions, I still didn’t doubt the premise of the connection between Amara and Nolan, which illustrates how deeply Duyvis drew me into her story.

Regardless of unanswered questions, I LOVED Otherbound. The diversity, the fact that there is no romance between the protagonists, the not-quite-portal fantasy set up, they all served to draw me in. Combined with two incredibly compelling narrators and Duyvis’ assured and smooth writing, and Otherbound was a marvellous read. Also, did I mention the diversity of her world and characters? If this is Duyvis’ first step out if the gate, I can’t wait to see what else she’ll write in the future. Otherbound comes highly recommended and I shouldn’t be surprised if this shows up on one of my favourite reads lists at the end of the year!

This book was provided for review by the publisher.

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