I’m always looking for new YA books to read, but recently, everything I’ve found seems to about old plots spun in, well, uninteresting ways. That is, until a friend told me about Otherbound, the recently released, rollicking debut novel by Corinne Duyvis. The most interesting thing about Otherbound? The mysterious connection between Nolan and Amara.
Ever since he was very young, Nolan Santiago has been told he has a rare form of epilepsy—one that comes with both visual and auditory hallucinations. But he knows that’s not really the case. Each and every time he closes his eyes, whether it’s just blinking during the day or while sleeping, he sees through the eyes of a girl, Amara, who lives in a different world entirely. He can experience everything she experiences. At first, that seems like it could be fun: Amara is a mage who can heal all damage done to her own body, which is why she was chosen as a servant to guard and protect the outcast princess Cilla. However, Cilla has been cursed by rogue forces who don’t want her to return to her throne—if she spills even one drop of blood, the earth itself will reach out and kill her. Here’s where it sucks for Nolan: every time Cilla gets injured and Amara draws Cilla’s curse toward herself, every time the earth crushes Amara’s bones and forces the breath from her lungs, Nolan feels it. Amara isn’t aware of him, but Nolan feels the pain as if it’s happening to himself. And he can’t do a thing about it—until one day, he can.
Slight spoilers for Otherbound below.
Otherbound spends much of its time jumping back and forth between Nolan’s and Amara’s worlds, often in the same sentence, and in the hands of any other author, it would be incredibly confusing. There’s a reason why you’re taught not to switch POVs in the middle of a scene. But Duyvis handles the convoluted narration with exquisite skill: everything feels real and personal, whether it’s Nolan speaking Spanish with his family or Amara sneaking through the marketplace with Cilla. What’s happening is never unclear. Through this lens, relationships are even more sharply drawn: in one fun aside, Nolan wonders what romance would be like as a guy, because he’s spent his life as an unwilling voyeur into Amara’s relationship with fellow servant Maart and he knows of her feelings for cursed princess Cilla.
When Nolan is able to control Amara for the first time, the two of them manage to have their first conversation. Nolan’s been so affected by her pain that at first, when he realizes he can finally control the source of his pain, he’s a little too excited. (As a child, he lost his left foot to an oncoming car when Amara was being choked by tree roots, as he couldn’t make his brain focus on his own world long enough to avoid the car.) But it doesn’t take him long to remind himself that Amara is a person, not a doll. Amara, for her part, is furious and embarrassed to learn of Nolan’s existence and to hear that he’s been, however unwillingly, spying on her. Now that she’s aware of him, they work out a system where Nolan is able to stay away for short periods of time and she can have at least a little privacy.
This only brings up more questions, though: since Nolan now has the ability to control Amara’s body, does that mean it’s something he should be doing, even under the guise of helping? As he’s spent so much of his life being Amara, will he even know how to function in his own life if he does manage to separate them? Most importantly, why did this connection happen in the first place?
That last is why the magic in this book is so interesting. Rather than being a typical fantastical adventure where the goal is to put Cilla back on her rightful throne, the real mystery of Otherbound is why Nolan and other such “travelers” can do what they do. (Did you think Nolan was the only one? Psych.) The magic—the melding of Nolan’s hot Arizona summers with Amara’s castles and prisons—is integral to the story’s uniqueness. It’s not urban fantasy, because none of the magic is in our world, but it can’t be a straight-up fantasy either, because of the travelers’ involvement in Amara’s world. Otherbound is a truly distinctive story idea supported by a diverse cast and some incredibly detailed worldbuilding. You should definitely go read it.