Instead of a long introduction and all sorts of flowery things I could say, I’m just going to jump on in this week. If you’re reading this discussion, chances are you’re in it for the long haul, so enjoy, and please add your insights!
Chapters 10-18, in many ways, change the entire narrative of Otherbound, and because of this, I really, really enjoyed them. This is where Duyvis took what she was building up in the previous nine chapters, kind of smashed it all together, shook it a bit, and made something new.
Amara, Maart, Cilla, and Jorn are on the run. Tensions are high, and Amara is incredibly worried about her blackouts. There is tension between Amara and Jorn. She’s worried about how much he knows about her blackouts, and she’s concerned with how she will handle the information she learned about Jorn being allied with the mages.
Nolan, on the other hand, starts out this section much the same as the previous sections, though there is the added benefit of his medication possibly working. He’s trying to get closer to his sister, and trying to function better, but he’s still getting pulled into Amara’s world and he resents that a bit.
Things move pretty quickly after those first two chapters. Amara has another blackout where Nolan gets himself to somehow control her body. He communicates through her, assuming she’s “gone” when she’s actually there the whole time witnessing the exchange. Her terror is acute, the confusion of her companions and tension of the revelation also completely changes the dynamic of this group. Amara is terrified and angry. Her companions are confused and obviously wary. All this stuff is going on all around them and the Nolan drops in, changing everything.
On the other side, Nolan feels empowered. Taking control of Amara gives him headaches and makes him feel sick, but if he can do that, it kind of liberates him in some weird way. He’s not a passive participant being sucked in anymore. He has the option to be an active one. Neither of them can understand why or how their odd relationship is happening, but it is happening, and now that both sides are fully informed. This is the first time either Amara or Nolan are completely aware of their connection, and how active/passive they can each be in it. And while Nolan takes control of Amara’s body, suddenly the roles are reversed.
There is, of course, emotional backlash from this. Nolan has spent most of his life hating Amara for being connected to him, sucking him into her world, and thereby ruining his life. Amara is terrified and uncertain. Suddenly she’s aware of the fact that she’s never alone, she’s never been alone, and everything she does is always being witnessed by some strange boy she’s never met.
So Amara lashes out, and forcefully kicks Nolan out of her mind (somehow). Nolan is suddenly free. He closes his eyes, and sleeps for the first time in years. He doesn’t flash to Amara’s world. Suddenly he’s free, and the emotional high is deep and felt throughout his chapters. He’s been burdened and beaten down by his connection to Amara, and now – BAM – she’s not there, and he’s got the opportunity to be a normal, regular kid.
On the other hand, Amara isn’t sure if Nolan is there or not because she never knew he was there until he tried to control her. However, things come to a bit of a head when Amara and company get in a hairy situation. Cilla is cut and starts to bleed, activating her curse. Amara ends up cut, and usually her cuts heal and she can heal Cilla, but now she can’t.
Through this situation, the push-and-pull nature of Amara and Nolan’s bond forms. Amara needs Nolan to be there to be able to heal. Nolan doesn’t quite feel whole or fully himself unless he has Amara is there as well. Nothing is simple. Neither of them can just walk away from this, and once Nolan is back, Amara heals. Questions are asked over which one of them – Amara or Nolan – is actually the mage. No one really understand what is happening, but there is a confused sigh of relief when they are back together.
This new Nolan and Amara relationship/bond thing that is going on in these chapters adds an interesting group dynamic to Amara’s side of the story. Suddenly no one is really sure about her anymore. Her place was pretty secure, if not very comfortable. She had her role and it was understood. People knew her and knew her capabilities. Now, suddenly, Nolan is in action and everything is upheaved a bit, in understandable ways. All the sudden, Amara isn’t just Amara, and there’s obviously something going on that is important, and no one really understands it. On her side of the equation, Nolan is a wildcard. Who is he? What are his motives? Is he going to hurt her/them? Can they trust him? And since he is tied to Amara, all of those uncertainties reflect on her a bit. It’s interesting, and unsettling, and the subtle undercurrent was very well done.
Some interesting political and world building developments take place here as well. First, we get a small view into a typical school day with Nolan, where he’s suddenly interacting with other people normally, and he’s feeling nice and liberated. He learns a bit about how his fellow students see him. His relationship with his sister and his family are improved. Nolan is less sick and tortured, and more just a kid in these sections.
On the other side, Amara’s world gets some steampunk-ish elements, which I enjoyed as I thought this book was a pretty typical (if politically confused) secondary fantasy world. There is mention of an airtrain, which is steampunk if anything is, and though it’s a small detail, I liked it. It made this world a bit different, a bit more interesting than I first thought it was and shows constant development, even this far into the novel.
The politics are also getting pretty fleshed out in some odd ways. There’s still a huge focus on mages, but there’s more of an emphasis on magic itself, how it works, why it’s important, and how it directly impacts Amara’s life. The relationship between Amara, Cilla, and Maart is explored in more depth. Jorn remains shadowy and rather forbidding, and Cilla’s royalty is both more and less emphasized. In a lot of ways, Cilla is portrayed as just a woman with a horrible curse on her. In other ways, Cilla is a royal woman, and that royalty is a wedge that is driven between her and Amara, and sort of dominoes through all of her relationships, even that of Amara and Maart.
But there is Jorn, and Jorn is mysterious. He shows up and helps when the tension mounts. He directs their movements, and keeps them more or less safe, but there’s still the fact that Amara basically caught him cavorting with the enemy before. He’s an enigmatic lynchpin at this point.
Cilla’s curse gets activated in this section, which is also about when Amara discovers that she can’t heal without Nolan being with her. Toward the end of this section, you have all sorts of slowly developing situations coming to a head. Nolan and Amara’s relationship, Jorn’s mysterious nature, Cilla’s curse, tensions mounting between Amara and Maart, and all the emotional upheaval that this now known connection between Amara and Nolan springs up.
So things have developed, and things are still developing, but now we have an official direction the plot is moving in, and all of the things that have been developing now feel more fleshed out. Duyvis is using all these slowly building elements to create a plot that completely and absolutely absorbed me. This book went from unique and interesting, to unique and captivating in these nine chapters.
Perhaps one of the things I enjoy the most is the fact that these characters, all of whom have disabilities, never really fall into the trope of only being disabled to support the plot they are put in – if that makes sense. Their disabilities also don’t define them in unbelievable ways. Amara is so able bodied and capable, that it is incredibly easy to forget that her dialogue is done through sign language. Nolan is a bit more locked in his own head than Amara can be, but it’s hard to picture him any other way. That’s just who he is. And in my mind, that’s the true test of a disabled character – could they be represented any other way believably? Is the disability just there to support the plot/move things along? I don’t really think so in this case. Duyvis created a bunch of characters, all of whom happen to be disabled, but she also does an amazing job at showing how real they are. In many ways, I think the way Duyvis portrays disabilities could easily be used as an example for authors interested in creating disabled characters. I really haven’t seen it done better than this very often.