Four years in the life of an unloved English schoolboy who’s invited to a secret magical school and learns that even in fantasyland, real life is messier than books.
If Elliot’s story seems familiar, the impression fades quickly. Ginger-haired, white Elliot, an undersized nonpracticing Jew, is a total brat. When the 13-year-old crosses into the Borderlands and sees he’s more intelligent than most of the other kids—and adults—he’s quick to say so. He doesn’t form a circle of friends so much as an alliance of distrustful mutual advantage. With Luke Sunborn, a flaxen-haired, blue-eyed, white golden boy, Elliot tutors Serene, an ethereally beautiful elf with “pearl-pale” skin, who’s determined to excel twice as much as any other student. Elliot’s initial interest in Serene is despicable; he aims to fake friendship until she grows to love him. But over the course of four years training among child soldiers, Elliot, unsurprisingly, grows up. His slow development into a genuinely kind person is entirely satisfying, as is his awakening to his own bisexuality and to the colonialism, sexism, and racism of Borderlands society. Only one human character, the beautifully and sparingly drawn Capt. Woodsinger, appears to be a person of color.
A stellar, if dense and lengthy, coming-of-age novel; those with the patience to sit through our hero’s entire adolescence will find it a wholly rewarding journey. (Fantasy. 14-18)