This YA-but-not-YA book about a blunt young man who finds out he is a select few from our world who can cross into a world with mermaids, elves, dwarves, and harpies (not to mention trolls) exist was a lovely surprise. It’s a well-worn trope: Elliot ends up in a “Borderland” military camp where world walkers either learn to be soldiers or councilors. Elliot loves books, is too blunt for friendship, and very self-centric. He’s also emotionally stunted from having a missing mother and a father who is indifferent to his existence.
He soon falls in with the most beautiful girl of his year– the sole female elf soldier ever to enter the Borderlands (Serene) who comes from a matriarchal society that joyfully turns gendered nonsense on its head like “men are too emotional to be leaders” and is scarily competent at everything she does. Of course Elliot is in love with her. The other main member of this trio is Luke Sunborn, the golden athlete and leader of an important family of soldiers. He hangs around despite Elliot calling him “loser” and insulting him at every turn.
Elliot is very focused on saving his athlete soldier friends by brokering peace, and being good enough to be loved by them despite being resigned to the fact that no one in their right mind would EVER pick him over Luke or Serena to love.
He also, strangely, goes through several different lovers and this is where the not-a-YA book comes in. This isn’t steamy. There’s kissing and a bit of heavy petting but its mostly day after innuendo. Elliot is open to a variety of lovers…and that might put some people off this book which would be a shame. Brennan does such a good job of portraying someone discovering their own lovability and sexuality whilst being supremely bad at judging other people’s emotions and intentions.
At the heart of this is Elliot (and the final love interest) figuring stuff out about how to be with people and how to love and what role they’re willing to take in society. It fulfilled an itch I’d had since Kathleen J. Cheney’s King’s Daughter series more or less finished off the main characters’ time in military school.
This is terrific, and I loved it and I wish there were more!