Shared worlds are something that’s becoming a bit more common among today’s authors than it was ever before. Maybe that’s from the onset of online communities and collective creative endeavors, maybe it’s because access to other authors is now instantaneous and easy. Whatever it is, it’s fun to read different author’s takes on a joint world.
The Bordertown short story collections, which came out in the 1980s, are the first shared world I remember reading in. And when those shared short stories expanded to novels, I was there! Elsewhere, by Will Shetterly, is the first novel I remember buying, so we’ll start with that one.
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Ron has run away from home, looking for his brother Tony. He knows where Tony was headed though: Bordertown, the city where our real world of technology meets the elven world of magic. Runaways can get there by heading toward the nearest big city, where the borders meet. Not every runaway can find their way there though, it takes a special blend of skills and expectations. In Bordertown, technology and magic coexist, although not always easily.
Ron manages to hold his own against a couple of elves on motorcycles just outside the city. They’re amused by his attitude, and bring him with them to Castle Pup, a place where runaways from both worlds congregate. There, he makes friends with other kids who are human, elves and everything in-between. He gains a “big brother” in the half-elven Mooner, and falls in love with the aptly named Wiseguy. The Castle Pup kids are mostly rock-and-roll fans, hanging out at the music bars at night. But partying at night won’t support anyone, so Ron finds a job in a bookstore, and even becomes a protective “big brother” to Florida, a tiny waif-like girl who also lives at Castle Pup.
Life in Bordertown isn’t easy, but it is interesting. Some humans tend to develop latent magical talents when they live there, but Ron doesn’t seem to be one of those kids…yet. Ron settles in and learns about the music, the magic and the mysteries. He still looks for Tony, but learning where he fits takes up much of his time. Figuring out how life works on the border, protecting his friends and understanding how the bookstore works become as important, if not more, than finding Tony.
But Bordertown isn’t without it’s dangers, and Ron is still searching for his brother. There are different gangs that run parts of the town–elf gangs, human gangs, mixed gangs. Ron has to check with all of them to see if anyone has seen Tony, and he is unfortunately not the most diplomatic person. If you run afoul of the more powerful elements of Bordertown, bad things can happen.
Ron learns that when he insults the wrong person, and everything changes for him and for everyone at Castle Pup. Will Ron rescue his friends, or will he be one of the casualties of the dangerous mixture of Bordertown?
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Elsewhere was first published in 1991, and is still in print. Ron and other characters in the story are older than that though, appearing in short stories the Bordertown anthologys of 1986, which are sadly out of print, difficult to find, and expensive if you do find them. These books are probably among the first (if not the first) urban fantasies to be published. Now, of course, urban fantasy is everywhere.
Will Shetterly created Ron, but other characters that come and go in Ron’s story were created by some of the best adult and YA fantasy authors writing in the 90s: Steven Boyett, Emma Bull, Charles deLint, Ellen Kushner, Midori Snider, Terri Windling and more. Many of the current crop of YA fantasy writers were fans of the original Bordertown series, and last year, Holly Black and Ellen Kushner released Welcome to Bordertown, a new anthology with stories from some of the original authors as well as authors like Neil Gaiman, Cassandra Clare, Patricia McKillip and Jane Yolen. (It’s just come out in paperback.)
Elsewhere is definitely a coming of age story for Ron, who undergoes a transformation that is physical as well as emotional and spiritual. He matures and takes responsibility for his actions as those actions resonate through a group of runaways, changing all their lives. And he does his best to improve their lives, knowing that the changes are his fault.
There is a sequel to Elsewhere, called NeverNever, also by Will Shetterly. In it, Ron must deal with the changes of what has happened to him and to his friends. It’s also a great read. Finder, by Emma Bull, is another Bordertown novel that explores another group of human and elven characters, but Ron and his friends make appearances and weave their stories around Finder and his story.
Elsewhere is definitely a novel for teens, and I would recommend it for readers in upper middle school and high school. Kids who enjoy music (especially rock, fold and punk music) will appreciate the way it is worked into the story. There is action and adventure, magic and romance, violence and betrayal. It’s the story of a boy finding out who he is and who he wants to be.
So try Elsewhere, and see what you think. There are several online sites where stories of Bordertown are still being written, so if you’re a teen writer, you could try your hand at adding to this shared world.