Note: This is a discussion of the first nine chapters of Otherbound. It will contain spoilers, but I also try to avoid too many spoilers. Regardless, if you haven’t read this book yet, you probably don’t want to read this.
About the Book
Amara 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.
387 pages (hardcover)
Published on June 17, 2014
Buy the book
I’ve never done one of these read-alongs before, so bear with me while I try to figure out my stride and angle. Usually when I talk about a book it’s the whole book, and I’m finding myself kind of thrown with only talking about nine chapters.
Otherbound starts out with a bang. The first chapter is fairly short, but it’s packed full of tension and emotion. Readers are introduced to Nolan, who is understood (by society) to have epilepsy. It takes very little time to understand that he really doesn’t have epilepsy at all, but is connected (Somehow, perhaps to be explained later? I’m not really sure if the exact “how” in this case matters much.) to Amara, a woman who serves as a healer and protector for a princess in hiding, in an alternate world. Maybe a secondary world. I’m not sure yet.
The crux here, and part of what makes this book so incredibly captivating, is just how Amara and Nolan are connected. They sort of feed off of each other, and while Nolan’s payment for this connection is far more obvious, Amara has her own issues related to their connection. Nolan, however, has seizures, he sees Amara and her world every time he closes his eyes. In the first chapter it is established that every time he blinks, the song on the radio cuts out, so he’s never really heard a song the whole way through. He tries to keep his eyes open until they burn. But, as is established a few chapters later, he can’t even do something simple like folding laundry because, again, every time he blinks he gets sucked into Amara’s world.
His seizures are seemingly triggered by big events in Amara’s life that completely pull him under remorselessly. In the first chapter alone, all of this is established, and there is this huge ramping up of the tension as a sort of impending doom falls on Nolan. It’s heartbreaking to see him as he tries to do something simple like buy a notebook, and then fail at that as Amara’s world completely overtakes him. And then there is the emotional aspect of being watched while this happens, the misunderstandings, the feeling of failure as his mother has to come and help him, and he’s mentally calculating money and how they can’t afford any of this as he’s being dragged to a back room to deal with this in privacy.
And oh, I related to all of that in so many ways. The first chapter basically emotionally eviscerated me, and showed me just what Duyvis is capable of as a writer, with deft use of atmosphere and a compelling open to an incredibly unique book.
The second chapter is Amara’s story, and it also sets the stage for how the rest of the book will roll – with alternating chapters of Amara and Nolan. Amara is an interesting character. She’s a woman thrust into a role as healer and protector that is more of a yoke around her neck than the tattoo marking her as property on her neck. Her tongue has been cut out, and even though she’s a healer, she heals too slow and it takes longer for her to accomplish what it would take most others (at least that’s how she presents it in the book).
Amara had just been severely injured when her chapter opens, for being caught learning how to read, as that’s something servants aren’t allowed to do. The princess, a woman with cursed blood, is teaching her servants to read and write, despite the danger.
Everything about Amara’s story is complex. She can’t speak. She is tied to a princess who can’t bleed, so she spends most of her time clearing out hazards like splinters, and watching for papercuts. She has healing magic, but it apparently isn’t as powerful as she wishes it could be, and she lives life on the run and in hiding.
Where Nolan is hopeful, Amara felt depressed and stressed in these first few chapters, and with very good reason. It was interesting to me, however, how well the two characters balanced each other out in just about every way. Nolan knows he is connected to Amara. Amara doesn’t have a clue. Nolan is hopeful, Amara feels resigned. Nolan is sort of trapped in this half-life, and he feels huge amounts of resentment about that. Amara has ignorance on her side.
The chapters progress in alternating Nolan/Amara style. Nolan’s chapters are more personal and intimate. His sections are more about him – his struggle to be ‘normal’ when everyone knows he isn’t. His guilt over what his disorder is costing his family. How much effort it takes to simply exist. His relationship with his family. Much of one chapter focuses on Nolan as he processes the fact that his mother has to work two jobs to help their gainfully employed father cover his medical expenses, and the horrible guilt that causes him, because only he knows that none of the medical treatment will do anything to help his condition, but he can’t say that to anyone. His family holds on hope that he will get better with this next pill, and he knows its futile. His mother is working two jobs. His dad is doing his best to hold it together. And Nolan decides to help his mom do laundry.
It’s touching, and intimate, and with my own mounting medical bills, I completely, absolutely and fully relate to the guilt that Nolan feels, and the inevitability he faces. One thing that Duyvis does so well in these chapters is illustrate cause and effect, and play well on the very real emotions that people in these situations feel. Chronic illness is horrible, but one thing I’ve rarely ever seen depicted this well are the dark, depressing, guilty emotions that the person in Nolan’s shoes, in my shoes, feels on an intense, personal level. It was incredibly well done.
On the other side, Amara’s sections are more action packed and focused on plot. Amara is a fascinating character, and it’s wonderful to see how well she interacts with her world despite having her tongue cut out (she has enough of it to still taste some things), and communicate with others who understand how she signs. You feel the very real worry she feels over the curse in the princesses blood, and how watchful and wary she is and constantly on guard lest they be found. She has a relationship with someone else in her situation, and it’s sweet and romantic.
The blackouts, which are the first real thing that show that she has any connection to Nolan (and are obviously a huge plot point) aren’t really shown until around chapter 7 when she’s on the run due to their party being discovered by mages, and she gets injured and blacks out. This is when Nolan learns that he can slip into Amara’s body and control her a little bit.
Things progress from there, but not much as this is toward the end of the chapters. Amara is on the run and Nolan is reeling from his new knowledge and power. There is an adjustment for both of them. Where Nolan’s is, again, more personal and introspective, Amara’s is full of action and interaction. Again with the balance that Duyvis seems so good at striking.
In the last chapters there are some more revelations. Jorn, the sort of protector/leader/jackass of the group, is discovered to not be exactly who she thinks he is, though at this point the revelation just drops so I’m not sure what is going to happen there. On the other side, Nolan’s fight to live a normal life is giving people around him hope that his new medication is working, and he’s feeling empowered by the changes that he’s discovered in himself, and in his connection to Amara.
These first nine chapters sets a fantastic stage for what is left in a book that hooked me from the first page. Literally. This is some of the most complex, captivating, realistic portrayal of disability that I’ve had the honor to run across. This is also the first thing by Corinne Duyvis that I’ve read, and I can promise you it won’t be the last. For representations of disability, Duyvis is a powerhouse.
Bring on the next nine chapters!
Have anything to add to the discussion? Feel free to leave a comment!