Otherland by Louie Stowell
|Otherland by Louie Stowell|
|Category: Confident Readers|
|Reviewer: Alex Mitchell|
|Summary: A darkly funny deconstructive take on your typical young readers fantasy story, featuring two well-developed protagonists who each grow in their own ways over the course of the story.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Maybe|
|Pages: 272||Date: May 2021|
|Publisher: Nosy Crow Ltd|
Myra and Rohan are like Yin and Yang – Myra is loud, bright and hates rules, while Rohan is very polite, serious and worries about the tiniest things. Their only connection? Being born and briefly dying at the same time at the same hospital on Midsummer's day. And so, every year their families get together to celebrate the two's birthday/deathday. But when Rohan's little sister Shilpa is taken by the fairy queen, they must journey to the Otherland, a magical realm full of fairies, vampires, dragons, and Gods. It's going to be the worst night of their lives.
It is both a straight example of a children's adventure story, but also a kind of deconstruction of the typical setting of a book like this. Two children journeying into a magical world isn't exactly anything new, but many of them focus on the wonders rather than how dangerous those wonders can be. This book takes the time to show all the dangerous things that can hurt our heroes, but also describes them in a darkly funny way. One example of this is the Meantime, a manifestation of humanity's crushed hopes and dreams. Ordinarily these would be quite horrifying and/or depressing, but the narration talks about them with such glee and wry humour that you can't help but chuckle.
The story is told from Myra's point of view. Her mother doesn't believe in disciplining, preferring to let Myra find her own limits, which has caused problems on more than one occasion (such as Myra setting off fireworks inside Rohan's shed and burning the entire thing down). As such, when she first enters Otherland, she immediately loves it. However, there are hints that she has some self-worth issues, and the denizens of Otherland are more than willing to use them against her. Over the course of the story, she begins to realise that chaos is not as fun as she previously thought and grows a new appreciation for things like rules and discipline. Rohan, meanwhile, starts the story as a very by-the-book young man, a bit of a doormat and perpetually worried about getting into trouble. Over the course of the story, he learns to grow a spine and stand up for himself more. The banter between the two makes up a lot of the comedy in the story, and seeing their characters grow and develop is very enjoyable to read.
As I mentioned before, Stowell has taken what might be a typical younger readers' fantasy wonderland and showed how terrifying a place like that would be to visit. The main magical creatures in the setting are fairies; however, these aren't your typical cute Tinkerbell-like fairies, these are closer to older depictions of the fae or fair folk. They're absolutely manic, viewing life as one big party, but their methods of partying are more often than not fatal to humans. They can't reproduce naturally so they resort to stealing children from humans and turning them into fairies, which is what kicks off the plot. Even Mab, Myra and Rohan's fairy godmother, still regards them as lesser beings and becomes disgusted at the thought she may be becoming more human. Not only are, but there are also Gods; well, one in particular, his name is Tony, and he guards the Cave of Lost Things (mostly odd socks, as to be expected). There are also mentions of vampires being a part of Otherland but Myra and Rohan never meet any – although if they're anything like the other inhabitants of Otherland, I'm sure they're better off not meeting them. Overall, I really like Stowell's take on what would otherwise be a fairly generic pre-teen adventure story, showing it in a much more realistic light.
In conclusion, Stowell has taken your average pre-teen adventure setting and shown just how horrifying it would be to actually visit, while playing the ensuing horror for dark comedy.
Similar books by other authors:
The Dragon in the Library by Louie Stowell and Davide Ortu (Illustrator) - some of the author's previous work.
Coraline by Neil Gaiman – another dark pre-teen fantasy adventure story.
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