When I first picked up this book and started to read, I did not expect to find myself sucked into the story just as fully as Nolan, one of the book’s main characters, gets sucked into the world of Amara, the other main character, when he closes his eyes. The book was fascinating and kept me on the edge of my seat throughout.
Otherbound follows Nolan who inhabits another world every single time he closes his eyes (even if he blinks). Each time he closes his eyes, he is suddenly in the mind and body of Amara, a servant in a different world. Amara protects a cursed and exiled princess in the Dunelands as a healing mage, and Nolan can only observe her life without every interfering. Nolan has been diagnosed with epilepsy in his own world, since the best explanation for what happens when he gets sucked into Amara's world is a seizure. But what happens when he starts learning how to take over and control Amara?
Both Amara and Nolan are wonderful characters. Despite much of their shared experiences, they are two very separate people, and their individuality is a large part of what helps drive the story. There’s never any point where it’s unclear whether it’s Amara or Nolan is thinking or feeling something, even if they are both experiencing the same things. Amara is a servant whose tongue has been cut out – all servants have their tongues removed – and she bears the mark of a servant on the back of her neck in the form of a tattoo. She uses sign language to communicate, another mark of a servant in the Dunelands, and her job is to help protect the princess Cilla at all costs. Cilla has been cursed, and shedding even the smallest drop of her blood will activate the curse, leading to her almost immediate death. Amara is servile in all ways. The duties and expectations of a servant are constantly in the back of her mind, and she almost always does her best to observe them. Even in situations where she could (or needs to) take power, Amara is uncomfortable. Being an abused and watchful servant is all she knows of life, and she isn’t quite sure what to do in situations where she needs to take charge. She doesn’t know how to treat Cilla, who is both her better and possibly a friend. Her uncertainty along with her hatred of feeling this way pervades the book. Though Amara may dream of freedom, she is aware that she might not be able to accept it comfortably.
Nolan has been seeing Amara’s world through Amara’s eyes since he was a child. He’s been in several comas, and he lost his foot in an accident once when sucked unexpectedly into Amara’s painful world. His parents, teachers, and doctors all keep a careful watch on him, often to Nolan’s frustration. He puts up a front to them all, giving out “teacher-smiles” and constant refrains of “I’m okay” to everyone expressing concern. Nolan knows that he doesn’t have epilepsy, and he knows the medications don’t work; however, he can’t tell anyone about Amara’s world, because he knows they wouldn’t believe him. So he simply lives with the pain of existing between two worlds: with his eyes closed he enters Amara’s world only to observe and feel her pain, and with eyes open he must attempt to live out some semblance of a normal life with people who can’t possibly understand him.
There’s a lot of depth to these characters. Even as the book progresses and the characters develop, they still stay themselves – the unity that Duyvis maintains in characterization is quite impressive. Amara acts only in ways that it is believable for Amara to act based on who she is, and the same goes for Nolan. Even by the end of the book, they are still not entirely okay, all of their problems and flaws not magically solved along with the conflict. This makes the book that much more real and convincing – you can almost believe that the Dunelands do in fact exist, if only you could forge your own mind link to see it.
The story itself was fascinating, and the plot twists were completely unexpected. Instead of just pulling twists out of nothing, however, Duyvis manages to make them flow naturally from the story. Once the twist happens, suddenly everything else you know about the story shifts, and you see how that made perfect sense; you can’t believe you didn’t figure it out yourself.
Duyvis’ worldbuilding was excellent; the Dunelands were detailed yet understandable. The details of this world came naturally throughout the story. I never once felt like something had happened or someone had spoken simply so the reader could learn information. One thing I found very interesting was the concept of language and communication in the Dunelands. Different races or nationalities speak different languages, and the mute servants use sign language to communicate, often having to spell out unfamiliar words. Though all languages used in the book are written out in English (even the sign language), it was interesting to see the character stumble a bit in trying to translate certain words, especially English words.
Overall, this book was excellent. It was a fantasy story taken to the next level by its combination with our world. Though it’s a standalone novel, I’d gladly read a sequel or anything else taking place in Amara’s world, if Duyvis ever chose to write such a thing. I loved the characters, and I’m sad to let them go. I’d recommend this book to anyone who likes YA fantasy (especially fans of Catherine Fisher’s Incarceron series or Half Bad by Sally Green) or anyone who is simply interested in a compelling story.
Nolan doesn't see darkness when he closes his eyes. Instead, he's transported into the mind of Amara, a girl living in a different world. Nolan's life in his small Arizona town is full of history tests, family tension, and laundry; his parents think he has epilepsy, judging from his frequent blackouts.
Incarceron is a prison so vast that it contains not only cells and corridors, but metal forests, dilapidated cities, and wilderness. It has been sealed for centuries, and only one man has ever escaped. Finn has always been a prisoner here. Although he has no memory of his childhood, he is sure he came from Outside.
"Highly entertaining and dangerously addictive."--Time MagazineAn international bestseller, translated into more than 50 languages