The questions, discussion topics, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to enhance your group's discussion of The Other Lands, the spellbinding sequel to David Anthony Durham’s award-winning epic fantasy Acaia: The War with the Mein.
1. The Other Lands
unfolds through the stories of several different characters, moving from place to place and focusing in turn on an array of cultures and peoples. What effect do the frequent changes in location and points of view have on the flow of the novel? To what extent do the separate narrative threads represent different literary conventions and genres? How does Durham draw on the conventions of fantasy adventures and quests; historical fiction; espionage thrillers; family sagas?
2. Do the actions of secondary characters like Sire Neen, Barad, Mór, Rialus, and Delivegu play as vital a role in the novel as the decisions and exploits undertaken by Corinn, Mena, and Dariel? In what ways do their attitudes, ambitions, and the secrets they hold determine the courses followed by the three siblings?
3. When the Santoth unleashed their “twisted magic” on the world, it caused the maiming and deaths of human beings and animals and the creation of the foulthings Mena hunts [p. 25]. What does the appearance of the strange creatures suggest about the consequences of war for both the vanquished and the victors? About the clash between human civilization and the natural world?
4. What do Corinn's descriptions of Mena, Dariel, and Aliver [pp. 108–110, 116], Mena's description of Corinn [p. 85], and Dariel and Corinn's conversation about his mission to the Other Lands [pp. 61–64] reveal about the complicated emotions that color the siblings' views of each other? What do their interactions share with the dynamics of more ordinary families?
5. Has Corinn's ascension to the throne eroded her moral compass? Do the demands upon her as a ruler justify her sending Mena and Dariel on their risky missions, her reaction to the establishment of islands for breeding slaves [pp. 42–43], and her reasons for reintroducing mist [p. 63]? Are her devotion to Aaden as well as her ambitions for him self-serving or do they reflect genuine maternal feelings? To what extent is she motivated by patriotism and the desire to perpetuate the family dynasty?
6. How would you characterize the leaguemen? What qualities have helped them achieve their power? What is the significance of the trading of slaves for “mist,” a drug that numbs the minds of ordinary people? Are there similarities between these wily traders and the corporations and politicians involved in the global market today?
7. Barad, the rebel leader, speaks of Prince Aliver with great respect [pp. 69–73]; Melio muses about what the world would have been like had Aliver lived [p. 84]; and Kelis provides highly personal tributes to Aliver's appeal as a man [pp. 120–121, p.391]. What insights do these and other passages in the novel offer into Aliver's character and his strengths as a leader? Does Corinn’s knowledge of history and the real problems she faces as queen make her a better judge of Aliver and his dreams of remaking the world [p. 323]?
8. Barad declares that the defeat of Akaran rule will come from “ a unity of action among the common people. . . . We will win because we are right, our cause is just, and the world cannot remain blind to it forever” [p. 142]. Does Barad's belief that his charge was “given to him by the Giver and through Aliver's voice” [p. 143] strengthen his case and his resolve? Why is he eager to enlist King Grae as an ally [pp. 221–232]? Compare Barad's motives, strategies, and the tenor of his speeches to those of historical and contemporary figures who have led—or tried to lead—popular uprisings.
9. What does Dariel learn about himself and the limits of power and position during his captivity [pp. 256–263; pp. 359–369]? How does the time he spends with Tunnel, Skylene, and Mór alter the assumptions he previously held? What is the relevance of the physical and ethnic differences within Mór’s resistance movement? Does her ability to unite such a diverse group demonstrate that class divisions play a more powerful role in society than do ethnic or racial differences?
10. What is the nature of Mena and Melio’s relationship? What does each one of them contribute to the marriage? Are you sympathetic to Melio’s point of view [p. 182, p. 489–491]? Why does Mena’s bond with Elya so profoundly affect her and her views of marriage and motherhood?
11. “That’s what wrong with the Auldek. They thought they had bargained for a blessing; instead they got an everlasting curse. They live on, bodies the same, souls more and more twisted. That’s the curse of the soul catcher” [p. 441]. Using the Auldek as a starting point, discuss the impact immortality might have on an individual and on society as a whole. Why is the inability of the Auldek (and the People) to bear children a powerful metaphor for the condition of oppressed people?
12. Corinn contemplates the nature and burdens of power throughout The Other Lands [p. 36, p. 49, pp. 274–75, p. 374, p. 521, for example]. Do her opinions change or evolve, and, if so, what influences these changes? Is she driven entirely by external events, or does she develop a better (or different) understanding of human emotions and needs? Are the decisions she makes at the end of the book—giving her subjects a new powerful narcotic [pp. 525–526]; imprisoning Dariel’s pregnant concubine [p. 533]; creating a vast military force led by Mena; and singing the Song of Elenet, by which she “peeled back the barriers between life and death” [p. 597] —necessary to the preservation of her empire?
13. The interplay of human nature and magical forces in the fates of individuals is a common theme in fairy tales and folklore. What familiar tales or myths do the events, creatures, or characters in The Other Lands bring to mind? Does Durham add new elements or twists to the classic model?
14. Throughout the novel, the leaders of various factions use ancient legends to explain or defend their positions. What role do national mythologies play in political life? How are they used or misused by the those in power and by the opposition in The Other Lands?
15. There is a strong spiritual element in the novel, from the mystical aura surrounding the Santoth to the miraculous power of The Song of Elenet. What does the song signify within the spiritual traditions of the Known World? In what ways is it comparable to holy books (the Bible and the Koran, for example) of real-world religions? The story of Elenet and the biblical story of Adam are almost identical [p. 305]. What other biblical echoes appear in the novel? Discuss, for example, the qualities Shen shares with revered figures in the Judeo-Christian tradition [p. 198, pp. 306–307, p. 386–387]; the meaning of the Santoth's journey into exile [p. 394]; and why and how the Santoth become Shen’s guardians and protectors [p. 469].
16. One of Durham’s previous novels, The Pride of Carthage, was set in ancient Rome. Are there similarities between the society and government depicted in The Other Lands and what you have read about (or seen in movies) about the Roman Empire? What other historical references are there and how do they contribute to the authenticity of the imagined world of the novel?
17. The Other Lands also presents situations that mirror those of contemporary times. What economic and environmental problems correspond to those of our world today? What family, sexual, or social issues are explored? Does the treatment of these issues shed light on our own behavior, failings, and prejudices?
18. If you have read Acacia: The War with the Mein, consider how the main characters have developed? Have Corinn, Mena, and Dariel achieved more or less than you anticipated? Does The Other Lands provide answers to questions raised in the first volume? In what ways has Durham broadened the focus and theme of the epic in this sequel? What are your predictions for the third volume in the series? Which characters do you think will become more important?
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