This has been on my shelf, unread, since uni, when I picked it up second-hand after reading and loving The Day of the Triffids, recommended to me by mThis has been on my shelf, unread, since uni, when I picked it up second-hand after reading and loving The Day of the Triffids, recommended to me by my mum. I can't believe I waited so long to read this amazing book, and if there is one book you should read in your life it is this one.
It has been a long time - how long no one can say, though surely centuries - since God sent the Tribulation to the Old People (us), near destroying everything we had built and learned. The Tribulation continues: the wilderness - vast tracts of land covered in what looks like black glass - and the Badlands beyond the Fringes, absorbs most of the world. Pockets of civilisation, such as it is, survive with their own form of understanding the past. Genetic mutations of plants, animals and people continue, and everyone has their own idea of what the "true form" should be and focus their energies on zealously destroying the Deviations.
Davie lives in Labrador - at least, that's what they think the Old People called it - and at birth passed inspection. The Bible and a book written after the Tribulation, the Repentances, clearly outline what the True Form should be, and that Mutants are an abomination to God and Man. Even at a young age when none of this is really understood, though, he instinctively keeps his ability to think-speak with several other children in the area, including his half-cousin Rosalind, a secret. It is only as he grows older, especially after he loses his friend and playmate Sophie, whose parents have done all they can to hide the six toes on each of her feet, that he really begins to understand the dangers of being a Deviant.
This book is beautifully, subtly, skilfully written. For that alone it is worth reading. Characters are rarely described yet vividly portrayed through their words, their speech-patterns, their reactions. The feeling of suspense and danger overshadows a Little House on the Prairie kind of lifestyle, and the small-minded bigotry comes across clearly in the small details as much as in the story itself.
What is even more fascinating, though, is the world Wyndham has created here and the philosophies grounded in it. That everyone has their own ideas of what is right, that Davie's people are studiously trying to recapture the Old People's way of life without understanding the significance of that way of life being visited by climatic and genetic destruction, speaks loud and clear. Davie is taught that:
"...mankind - that was us, in civilised parts - was in the process of climbing back into grace; we were following a faint and difficult trail which led up to the peaks from which we had fallen. From the true trail branched many false trails that sometimes looked easier and more attractive; all these really led to the edges of precipices, beneath which lay the abyss of eternity. There was only one true trail, and by following it we should, with God's help and in His own good time, regain all that had been lost. But so faint was the trail, so set with traps and deceits, that every step must be taken with caution, and it was too dangerous for a man to rely on his own judgement. Only the authorities, ecclesiastical and lay, were in a position to judge whether the next step was a rediscovery, and so, safe to take; or whether it deviated from the true re-ascent, and so was sinful." (p.40)
Davie himself begins to question this wisdom, after hearing from his Uncle, an ex-sailor, that other societies in other parts of the world have a different understanding of the True Form; he also feels scared and troubled by his Aunt's baby, who because of a tiny blemish will be taken away and never spoken of again, while his Aunt will be expected to do penance and pray not to have a mutant baby again, or will even be replaced, de-certified and cast off (it's always the woman's fault, isn't it?).
Another interesting (and damning) perspective comes from one of these other societies, called Zealand, one that has advanced and re-built and where think-speaking is treasured and encouraged - a utopia, in fact, for Davie and his friends:
"...we can make a better world than the Old People. They were only ingenious half-humans, little better than savages; all living shut off from one another, with only clumsy words to link them. Often they were shut off still more by different languages, and different beliefs. Some of them could think individually, but they had to remain individuals. Emotions they could sometimes share, but they could not think collectively. When their conditions were primitive they could get along all right, as the animals can; but the more complex they made their world, the less capable they were of dealing with it. They had no means of consensus. They learnt to co-operate constructively in small units; but only destructively in large units. They aspired greedily, and then refused to face the responsibilities they had created. They created vast problems, then buried their heads in the sands of idle faith. There was, you see, no real communication, no understanding between them. They could, at their best, be near-sublime animals, but not more." (p.156)
Aside from the disparaging remark about animals, whom I tend to respect more than I do humans as a species, this is such a damning view of us Old People, yet so spot-on. Even written in the 50s, it's clear that we as people and societies and other groups, are not learning. Most post-apocalyptic fiction, that I've read anyway, is entirely plausible (though Day of the Triffids is a bit odd in that respect): it's easy enough to follow the path we are on, all the paths, to their worst conclusion. What the people of Zealand are really saying is that communication leads to understanding leads to co-operation and can avert catastrophe.
Despite the religious overtones and the philosophising, this is not a lecturing book, it does not try to tell you what to think or judge you. As the blurb says, it is "A terrifying story of conformity and deformity in a world paralysed by genetic mutation" and, in true fantasy/sci-fi form, every reader will take something different from it, or nothing at all. I personally was thoroughly engrossed in this classic, and find it broadens and strengthens my understanding of the dangers of taking things too literally, in strict interpretations. Freedom of thought and debate is one of our greatest strengths as a species, and without it we wallow, stuck, on the same path, repeating the same mistakes again and again, blinded by our own arrogance and lack of imagination. ...more
Merlin wakes up in a helicopter that has crashed in a forest. The pilot is dead, there's a metal collar around her neck with a broken chain hanging frMerlin wakes up in a helicopter that has crashed in a forest. The pilot is dead, there's a metal collar around her neck with a broken chain hanging from it, and her memories are patchy and impersonal. Not to mention that these memories - memories of the world as we know it - do not match the world in which she finds herself: asphalt roads almost disappeared beneath grass, crumbling buildings and skyscrapers swallowed up by vigorous forest. It is silent and deserted, and Merlin wanders lost and confused until she meets Ford, a young man who looks nothing like the people in her memories.
So begins Scatterlings, one of my favourite books by one of my favourite authors. It's fantasy with, I guess, a sci-fi bent, and philosophical underpinings. I love the twist at the end. Ok, it's not a "twist" like in Fight Club, but it's a perfect resolution to the mystery of Merlin.
This review contains some spoilers of the first book.
It has been two years since the climactic events of the first book, Obernewtyn, occurred. ElspetThis review contains some spoilers of the first book.
It has been two years since the climactic events of the first book, Obernewtyn, occurred. Elspeth is about seventeen years old and still recovering from the burns to her feet and legs, not helped by the aching cold of the mountains in winter - the same mountains and weather that keep Obernewtyn, now a safe refuge for misfits with unique powers, safe. Under the new master of Obernewtyn, Rushton Seraphim, the Misfits - as the ruling Council has named them, and would Burn them if caught - have organised themselves into guilds, based on their different powers. Farseeking, Coercing, Empathy, Beast-speaking, Healing and the Teknoguild are some of the groups, and Elspeth, being the strongest Farseeker, is guildmistress. Few know she can also Coerce and Beast-speak, and has some minimal Futuretelling abilities, premonitions that rise unbidden.
With Rushton back from a trip to the Lowlands with news, a hasty Guildmerge (meeting of Guild leaders) is called. Rushton wants to establish a permanent contact, or spy, in the capital of Sutrium and has chosen Domick, a Coercer, for the task. Elspeth proposes a joint expedition: the Teknoguild want to find a hidden library in a ruined city near Aborium, on the south-west coast, and the Farseekers have discovered a strong Misfit talent in the same location that they want to rescue and bring back to Obernewtyn. A small group is picked to go, including Elspeth and her Farseeker friend Matthew, Domick, Healers Louis Larkin and Kella, and Pavo from the Teknoguild. At the last minute, a recently rescued Herder novice called Jik and his dog, Darga, are added to the group because the Futuretell guildmistress Maryon has Seen that Jik is instrumental to the success of their mission, though she cannot See why, and that they must make it back to Obernewtyn before the next winter or their safe haven will be gone forever.
With such responsibility resting on their shoulders, the group sets forth with the leader of the equines, Galtha, and a few other horses to lead the caravans. Disguised as gypsies, they make their way into the Lowlands, looking for an Olden pass they believe to be there, but are taken captive by the Druid's men. This is just the start of their troubles and new discoveries, in a story brimming full of adventure, suspense, delight, and excitement, as the unique world Carmody has crafted comes alive with every step of the journey.
Like the first book, I had read this several times in the past, but not for many years now. I was thrilled at how much it felt both like reading a new and exciting book, and like being reunited with a beloved old friend after many years apart. There was lots I had forgotten, and yet as I read it all came back to me, but only up to the line I had read, so the overall story was still hazy in my mind. I could remember bits, scenes mostly, but few details. There is a lot going on in The Farseekers, it's a rich post-apocalyptic world and like the misfits, we are feeling our way in it.
Narrated by Elspeth, we only learn about this world as she does, though with our knowledge of our own time there are some things we can deduce or figure out ahead of her. The past has been banned by the Council and denounced as evil by the Herder Faction, so the people are largely ignorant and easily spooked by anything from the past. Elspeth is cautious and not at all keen to unearth the past: she alone knows that the machines that caused the Great White are still here, slumbering in their hiding place, ready and able to unleash yet another apocalypse. And it is her mission, her lonely quest, to find them and destroy them before this can happen.
Small spoiler I had forgotten about Ariel. In Obernewtyn, he is only 12/13 years old and already a manipulative, cunning little devil in angel's guise. He escaped at the end and was believed to have died in the winter storm, but they never sent out a search party to confirm this. Now he's reappeared, and it's hard for me to imagine a boy of about fifteen, having that much influence with the Council and Herders. But, such is the strength of his character. It was never said that he had any mutant gift, or why he was sent to Obernewtyn as a Misfit in the first place. Elspeth never tried to read his mind, but she also never wonders and that is a bit strange to me. I also can't remember him from the next two books (which is as far as I got in my reading of the series; I'm two books behind overall), which is partly why I wanted to re-read all of them before starting the ones I haven't read yet; I'd forgotten so much. /Spoiler
The philosophical and moral dilemma faced by the misfits in this world is a strong theme throughout the series. When Elspeth meets Brydda, a rebel against the Council and Herders, and has to reveal some of what the misfits can do, he's excited and wants an alliance.
I agreed to try to organize a meeting between him and Rushton, but I was not sure our aims coincided. 'At the bottom of everything we are Misfits, and few men would have reacted as you did. Can you say for certain all your people would think as you do? Not be disgusted by us, or frightened?' Brydda looked thoughtful at this. 'I don't know. Maybe the thought of someone who could talk inside your head, or make animals do anything they want ... would seem frightening.' I had told him little about our abilities, letting him assume he had seen all there was. 'If people are frightened, it is because of their ignorance and Herder lies about mutations. They could learn,' Brydda said at last. 'Maybe, but we have to be sure,' I said. 'There is no good in our exchanging one kind of tyranny for another.' [p.193]
This is the ultimate goal and driving force of the Misfits at Obernewtyn, especially of Rushton, and it's so sad that Elspeth has been given this other task, one she might not survive, that she can't share with anyone, or tell anyone about, and so maintains her aloofness, her loneliness. She can't even see that Rushton loves her - she's so rusty with trusting people, being close to them and friends with them, that she misses or misunderstands the signs. As a young reader, I always felt close to Elspeth, and a bit sorry for her too. She never complains, she strong and stoic and comes across as patient and considerate, but every now and then one of her companions will make some comment about not being able to really get to know her, and you realise how much apart she keeps herself. She's good at making decisions, and leading others, even if she doesn't realise it. After everything she's been through, you want some happiness for her. Some peace. So her mission, and Obernewtyn's ambition, becomes yours.
There's so much to love in this book, and this series. I love Dragon, her ability is awesome and how they found her is pretty cool. Uncovering the buried library, very cool. Rescuing her friends from the Herders, very exciting. Discovering Lidgebaby, a bit scary and with mind-boggling implications. The truth of Jik and Darga's inclusion on the trip, sad. There is quite a bit of sadness in this story, in the series, it's like a light coating over everything, which just makes you empathise with them all the more. Their situation is so precarious, their fate so terrifying if caught, the stakes so high on everything they do, that you forget for a while that these are just children and teenagers, for the most part (being the easiest to come to terms with their mutant abilities; adults tend to have closed minds and fight their knowledge, seek only to pretend to be normal). So much rests on their shoulders, and they're so young.
When I read these books, I live inside the pages, in this world. Like a ghost or spirit that follows Elspeth, untouched physically but present nevertheless. It's the ultimate in reading experience, the way you hope to connect with every book you read, when you start it. I couldn't ask for more. Oh, except for the final book to come out! Let's hope it doesn't get pushed back, again! :) ...more
Re-reading the third book in the Obernewtyn Chronicles, I was quickly reminded of why it was my favourite for such a lonThis review contains spoilers.
Re-reading the third book in the Obernewtyn Chronicles, I was quickly reminded of why it was my favourite for such a long time: things REALLY start happening, on so many levels.
A year has gone by since the events of The Farseekers, making Elspeth about eighteen years old (I'm determined to keep track of her age this time, as it's never mentioned since she was first introduced to us at the age of fourteen). There are again rumours of a soldierguard camp planned for the Highlands, putting the secret community of talented Misfits living at Obernewtyn at risk of discovery. If caught by the oppressive Council or the fanatical Herders, they would be Burned. Keeping a low profile is paramount, so when Elspeth rescues a gypsy woman from being burned at the stake for practicing Herbal Lore, she risks not only her own life but that of everyone at Obernewtyn.
That deed sets Elspeth on a new, dangerous path, one with personal implications. The Guildmistress of the Futuretellers, Maryon, has foreseen that within seven days, Elspeth herself must return the gypsy to her people in Sutrium, the capital and the home of the Councilcourt - a dangerous mission. But Maryon has also foreseen that Elspeth must discover the meaning of "swallow" or she will die.
With only her friend and fellow Farseeker Matthew for company, as well as the horses Gahltha and Jaygar and Elspeth's long-time companion, the half-mad cat Maruman, Elspeth journeys quickly to Sutrium on the far south coast, in their usual disguise as gypsies. But as they search for their dying gypsy's people, Elspeth learns that there are half-breed gypsies, despised and hated, and the Twentyfamilies gypsies, the original race who came from over the seas and made a pact with the Council that gives them wealth and prestige, but prohibits them from settling.
Also in Sutrium is the Misfits' rebel friend, Brydda, or "the Black Dog". He has been working on getting the different rebel groups across the Land to unite, and an uprising against the Council seems imminent. Rushton, the master of Obernewtyn, has been hoping for an alliance with the rebels, for when the Council falls the Misfits will just be trading one enemy for another if they can't be allies first. Elspeth finds herself entangled in Brydda's aim to find the elusive man behind the lucrative slave trade, Salamander, and meets with the rebel leaders in an effort to show that she's no halfwit Misfit. Things do not go as planned, and as a select group of Misfits travel with Elspeth to the newly-opened desert land of Sador, there to compete in the Battlegames to prove their worth as rebel allies, everything is at stake, including Elspeth's understanding of her role in the fate of Obernewtyn.
Cover Commentary: I have the first edition - the inscription inside reads "To Shannon, Happy 16th Birthday, Love from Mum and Dad. 30.11.95" - and it has to have the worst cover of all the editions of all the books (and they went through four cover changes). Here's a story for you: only a few months before this book came out in 1995, Isobelle Carmody came to my rural high school to do a workshop with us grade 10 students (can't count how lucky I was to be at high school at this time! One year later and I would have missed out!!), but first she gave a kind of presentation on her writing and the publishing industry, which was fascinating. She held up a copy of the cover design that she'd recently received from her publisher and remarked that she really didn't like it (I can't remember the details of why). I couldn't see it very well at the time, being about two rows back (yes, hiding from my favourite author, that's how shy I was! Still don't know that I'd be able to say anything intelligent, articulate or interesting to her today, either), but once I got my copy for my birthday, I could see why. Two things stand out the most for me: Elspeth and Matthew. Elspeth is wearing pretty cool clothes, but her face is kinda squashed and ugly, and her hair!! She practically has a mullet. I don't know what Connell Lee, the artist, was thinking. Even worse though is Matthew, behind her. He's only a couple of years older than Elspeth, which would make him about 20, but he looks at least 35 in this image. Details like that always bug me. In contrast, the horses are so beautifully rendered! And I'm not entirely sure what the artist was aiming for, with the planets in the sky like that.
This book moves both fast and slow: the pacing deftly balances a busy bundle of plot-lines while also taking the time to focus, think and reflect. This is Elspeth's story, and as the narrator, we get her perspective on it all. Elspeth has grown again: she's colder, more distant, and quick to anger in this book, but she's also learning - learning to temper her words, her tone of voice, to notice how others are feeling and to think about what they might be going through. It's not that Elspeth has been a very selfish person, no more so than any of us. It's that she's always held herself aloof, due to her orphan upbringing (it's dangerous to make friends in an orphanage) but also, especially now, due to the added pressure of the mission the Eldar of the Guanette birds, Atthis, has given her: to find and destroy the weaponmachines that caused the Great White Holocaust, before another on the same path discovers them and releases a new Holocaust, one that will end everything.
I've always loved the philosophical elements of Carmody's storytelling; she skilfully weaves thought-provoking ideas and social commentary into her stories, something that tends to be sadly lacking from a lot of YA these days. This series touches on a great many relevant themes: environmental destruction, proliferation of "weapons of mass destruction", human greed, religious dogma, fear of the Other, censorship, the notion of human superiority, not learning from our mistakes, the welfare of animals, freedom, love, friendship, loyalty, home. Having a home. And that's one of the things that Elspeth learns at the end of this book: that she has a home, and that she doesn't have to cut herself off from everyone because of her secret mission, a mission she probably won't return from, alive.
Which bodes well for a relationship between her and Rushton. The romance in this book is light and delicate, as fragile as what is growing between the two of them. Elspeth takes a long time to own up to her feelings, and to not be afraid of them, and it's handled in such a realistic, believable way, that you can practically hear the gears ticking over in her brain as it catches up to her heart. The anticipation - and the uncertainty that anything would actually happen between these two (or anytime soon) - made their moment of coming together extra special. And tt's not the only kind of love that Elspeth has to grow to understand. Her thoughts on the cat, her protector on the dream paths, Maruman, reflects that:
Was [Maruman] wandering, mindless, in Sutrium? Again, I wondered if I should have restrained him for his own good? Since I loved him, hadn't I the right to stop him from harming himself?
With something of a shock it occurred to me that this was the sort of thinking that had caused Gahltha to try to stop me helping the little mare, Faraf. And which had once caused Rushton to forbid me to go on dangerous expeditions.
I would never exchange safety for freedom, I thought, regardless of the danger. I had the right to risk my life as I chose.
"Truly danger is part of freedom/freerunning," Gahltha sent unexpectedly, sounding as if the thought startled him. "It is easy to forget this when it is not us/me."
[...] "It's easy to have one rule for others and another for myself but there's no honour in such double standards," I sent mildly.
"Honour?" Gahltha snorted. "That is a littleword for a great thing. Funaga have freerunning thoughts. But instead of admiring/joying in them, you would cagethem with words. Some things will not be tamed to words."
[... I]t was not enough for me to admire words and ideas as beautiful abstractions. I had to see how they could be applied. And I knew only too well that what worked in words was often very different when you tried to apply it to a real situation. In essence, freedom of choice sounded a fine and noble thing. But in reality? [pp.245-6]
This is such a subtle theme, slipped in there, but an important one: the balancing act of love and repression, or love and freedom. And I love the "alien" (non-human) perspective the animals give, their different way of thinking, it works so beautifully and feels so believable. Elspeth finds that the animals have decided she is Innle, the one who will free the beasts, and the horse Gahltha is her special daytime protector.
The other concept that really sticks out in this story, as it's meant to, is Elspeth's understanding of what the outcome of the Battlegames in Sador means for the Misfits of Obernewtyn. Because of their compassion and loyalty, they lose the games. But as the templeguardian points out:
"As for the Misfits, if they are truly represented by these before me, they are no warriors. They care too much for life and for one another. They are not stirred by the glories of war, and the shedding of lifeblood brings them sorrow, whether it be of beast or human, friend or foe. All their instincts are for defence and so their great powers are all but useless. They are not cowardly or weak, but their minds appear incapable of allowing their great powers to serve them as weapons.
"Witness that they used the incredible ability which they call empathy to its greatest effect in a song, rather than to turn their enemies' hearts to terror.
"They will never have the rebels' singlemindedness of purpose, nor therefore their driving force, because they cannot see things in terms of simple goals."
He turned in the dead silence wrought by his powerful oratory, and faced the rebels. "We here in Sador value the earth above all life - humans and beasts alike are short lived and unimportant. This you know. We have thought that Landfolk valued their own lives too much, regarding themselves as the chosen of their Lud. But these Misfits seem to value all life and this is strange for us to contemplate. But think you this. You rebels opposed alliance with the Misfits because you thought them monsters and inhuman. Ask yourselves now which team has this day shown the keenest humanity and which has shown itself to be more monstrous." [pp.496-7]
I love that speech. I had wanted the Misfits to win, oh so badly - to prove their worth, but also to show that they could fight alongside the unTalented, and be respected by them. It's exciting but hard to read the Battlegame scenes because they seem so unfair, and because they lose. But Elspeth comes to a stronger realisation: so they're not warriors, but the Battlegames taught them what they couldn't do, "so that we could begin to think of what we can do." [p.514] Which means, indeed, starting again from the beginning, with a new plan. It also means they now have the rebels as enemies, or most of them - and unlike the Council, the rebels know some of what they can do, and the ones that hate them, fear them.
The fun thing is, is that I cannot remember ANYTHING that happens in the next book, The Keeping Place. I'm not sure how many times I've read it in the past, but unlike with the first three books, the entire plot has slipped my mind. This makes me super excited to read it again, from that perspective, but also because I have NO IDEA what path the Obernewtyn Misfits will take, what choices they now have, what decisions they'll take. I am keen to learn about the fate of Matthew - I feel sure he will survive his misadventure, and be wiser for it. There are lots of clues about Dragon's origins and why she fears water, though Elspeth hasn't yet realised that she's discovered this (she doesn't tend to trust her dreams). And Rushton and Elspeth's fragile romance... sigh. They have a long road ahead of them.
The Obernewtyn Chronicles is some of the best Fantasy-Dystopian-Post-Apoclayptic Young Adult fiction out there, and while some little slips that should have been caught in the copy-editing stage would normally bug me, with this beloved series I just don't care. Start reading it and learn why those of us who began reading the series as children are still faithfully, and with great pent-up excitement and enthusiasm, awaiting the final book. Yes, it's been that long. Eat your hearts out, A Song of Ice and Fire fans!
Note: You can get Ashling and The Keeping Place (books 3 and 4) in a single volume called The Rebellion in the U.S. It's over a thousand pages long. You can get them in separate volumes as well, though....more
Spring is arriving to the highlands, where Obernewtyn - the big sprawling mansion and farm that is home to a large grouThis review contains spoilers.
Spring is arriving to the highlands, where Obernewtyn - the big sprawling mansion and farm that is home to a large group of Talented and unTalented Misfits and animals - lies protected by the mountains and a snowed-in pass, but the events of the previous year are still fresh in everyone's minds. Much has changed: understanding their pacifist nature, they have turned to devising ways of using their skills and Talents (Farseeking, Coercing, Beastspeaking, Healing, Futuretelling, Empathy and the Teknoguild) to bringing a more subtle kind of change to the Land. If they can't change people's prejudices towards Misfits, then they'll be no better off when the Rebels strike and the Council falls.
Rushton has left for a sudden and unexpected meeting with the Rebels in Sutrium, the capital, leaving Elspeth, Guildmistress of the Farseekers, in charge of Obernewtyn. She pushes aside her niggling worry that borders on premonition, by focusing on the many demands on her attention. Dragon, the wild girl Elspeth rescued from some Beforetime ruins in The Farseekers, still lies in her coma, locked in her recurring dream of the past that she had sealed off in her mind - only Elspeth now realises that Dragon's powerful empathy-coercer talent is letting her dreams affect everyone at Obernewtyn, and no one is sleeping well. They dreams of Matthew, the Farseeker who was taken by slavers, toiling in a far-off, hot red land, and their details match. And they dream of a dragon, though no one has been attacked by it except for Elspeth. Maruman, the mad old cat who guards Elspeth's dreams, protects her as best he can.
In the half-submerged city built by the Beforetimers under the mountain Tor, the Teknoguild have worked obsessively to uncover the secrets of the past, secrets that connect Obernewtyn to the mission Elspeth is secretly on: to find and destroy the weaponmachines that brought the Great White and nearly destroyed the world, before the Destroyer finds them and activates them, ending life for good. Elspeth has come to realise that her mission and the destiny of Obernewtyn are entwined, and the puzzle of the past becomes an important part of understanding how to find the clues she needs as the Seeker. Her dreams aid her as she witnesses the past, though they are also dangerous, not just from the manifestation of Dragon's insanity, but from the Destroyer himself, who turns out to be Ariel, the beautiful but cruel Misfit who fled Obernewtyn all those years ago and now works his twisted magic on both the Council and the Herder Faction.
Rushton, on leaving Sutrium, is kidnapped, and the Misfits of Obernewtyn have been ordered to join the rebellion or he will be killed. Elspeth has no choice but to set them on the path they had collectively decided not to take. But there are traitors within the Rebel ranks, and many Rebel leaders despise the Misfits, so that they are betrayed more than once. And who kidnapped Rushton, if not the Rebels? And why - who else would want them to join forces? The answer surprises, and puzzles, them all.
Well! I can't believe I couldn't remember a single thing that happened in this massive, eventful volume, from the last - first? - time I read it when it came out in 1999. Unlike the previous three books, I think I must have read this one only once, though that seems unlikely. Maybe twice. How could I have so completely forgotten it all? Incredible. But good, because re-reading it now it was almost like reading it for the first time (I say "almost" because, as things happened, I remembered them - but I still couldn't recall what would happen next, so it was full of surprises for me!).
Elspeth is about nineteen or twenty years old at this point - I'm still keeping track, because if you remember, the only time her age is mentioned is at the very beginning of Obernewtyn, when she's fourteen. Almost the entire first half of The Keeping Place is focused on Elspeth running Obernewtyn, and the dreamtrails. It's busy and richly detailed, fleshing out how the Misfits live at Obernewtyn and giving us some much-needed time with Elspeth away from dire predicaments. She's always been a wonderful and fascinating character to me, and it's very interesting to see how far she's come and how her time as an orphan - isolated, too fearful of being denounced to make an friends, and secretive - has shaped her (as well as helping her face the solitude of her task, one which she doesn't expect to survive). She now makes an effort to empathise and give comfort, though she feels awkward doing it. She's still aloof, and when they get the news that Rushton has been taken, she makes a big effort not to fall apart for the sake of Rushton and Obernewtyn, even while she knows that everyone will think her cold and unfeeling (except the Empaths, I'm sure).
I was always disappointed that this volume didn't have more Rushton in it - like, they finally get together at the end of Ashling, only to be separated again for almost the entire book, here. I always felt so cheated! There's a different vibe to this one, perhaps because of Rushton's kidnapping, but also because after much talk, there is action. There's a subtle kind of tension, a gnawing anxiety that something's not right - Elspeth feels it but doesn't really heed it, though for all her suspicions about the Herders, it's hard to believe that she still can't see them for the dangerous enemy that readers can clearly see. I was also surprised, and disappointed, that she couldn't see that Malik, one of the Rebel leaders, was up to something. I couldn't remember what, until it happened, but I had that sick feeling of dread that he was going to do something really bad to the Misfits, first chance he got. Elspeth had a gut feeling there too, but there wasn't much she could have done about it. Oh except realise that the trap the Misfits were going to lead the soldierguards into was also going to be a trap for them! Remember the lesson from Ashling, that they are nice and compassionate and humane people - bordering on naive at times, because their imaginations fail to encompass the malicious hatred of someone like Malik.
The second half is planning and action for the rebellion, and things move swiftly. I loved that the rebellion wasn't The End that solved everyone's problems: the people are so downtrodden and afraid that, as the Sutrium Rebel leader explains, you have to bring change gradually, and let the people be in charge of it as much as possible, or they won't see the difference between the Rebels and the Council that ruled before. They are putting a democratic system into place - not only does the Obernewtyn Chronicles tackle the rights of animals, or modern warfare, or human greed, or the environment - it also takes on politics, and the motivations behind power machinations. All highly relevant to our time and what our countries get up to. I love fantasy like this, the kind that subtly connects dots and, even, not so subtly waves little red flags over certain issues. I rather think that that's what fantasy is for, in a way - you've heard me go on about that before on other reviews.
This is a complex world, one that is intricately fleshed-out, and not at all predictable. The best thing is, I have reached the end of the books that I had previously read. Next up, in October, I am reading The Stone Key, and in November The Sending (the final book in the series, The Red Queen, isn't due out until late 2013). I have no idea what happens next but I can't wait to find out! It's so exciting! ...more
Ellie and her friends Corrie, Robyn, Lee, Kevin, Homer and Fi live in and around a small rural town in an undisclosed part of Australia. They decide tEllie and her friends Corrie, Robyn, Lee, Kevin, Homer and Fi live in and around a small rural town in an undisclosed part of Australia. They decide to go camping, to “go feral” and spend a weekend over the Christmas holidays up the bush instead of at the showgrounds with the townsfolk. Some of them, like Ellie and Corrie, are close, but not all, so over the weekend they get to know each other a lot better. Ellie and Homer are both from farms and Ellie’s family’s property is the closest to the trail; on coming home hers is the first place they reach, only to find that the dogs are dead. Not only that, but her parents aren’t home, the place is eerily quiet and the power’s off. There’s nothing but static on the radio.
Homer’s farm is the same. With the regular rural life so frighteningly disrupted, they’re quick to realise something is very wrong and they could be in danger. They learn that everyone in the town and from the farms have been locked up at the showgrounds, or rounded up and sent there. The big houses in town have been taken over by the invading enemy – an enemy that is faceless and nameless throughout this series, thus adding to the tension and avoiding fear-mongering at the same time. Ellie and their friends hide wherever they can, eating whatever’s left over in people’s kitchens that’s safe to eat, and trying to locate their families. They find another friend, Chris, in hiding and he joins them, filling them in on what happened.
This is the first book in the Tomorrow series and follows Ellie, who narrates, and the others as they try to survive, stay one step ahead of the enemy, and inflict what damage they can. Together they pool their resources – their knowledge, and create deadly bombs out of lawnmowers, sabotage the enemies ships by putting sugar in the fuel and other such things. Deaths occur, and the death of one of Ellie’s friends at the end of a later book is a scene I’ve never been able to forget. The first enemy soldier Ellie kills face-to-face nearly undoes her. It’s not surprising that when, after seven books, the war finally ends and they all try to pick up their lives again, nothing is the same, they aren’t the same, and a spin-off trilogy called the Ellie Chronicles adds a whole new level of tragedy to her life.
I didn’t read this series until year 11 but it’s popular with all ages. It’s exciting, it’s empowering, and it brings to light the knowledge and resources teenagers possess that they’re not even aware of, that are put into a whole new perspective in the face of an invasion (for example). It shows that you know more and you’re capable of more than you thought you did. There's a real theme in YA lit of teenagers surviving on their own, using their own resources and growing up too fast in the face of threat, violence and adversity - I love these kinds of books! It shows the strength of friendships, honesty, perseverance and fortitude, and while the premise may be fictional, the reality of what some children and teens must live through in some parts of the world, and the qualities they have that go unrecognised, unappreciated and unrewarded, make this book and the entire Tomorrow series relevant and familiar.
This is one of the most amazing books I've ever read. I simply can't get over how fantastic, informative, well-written, and mind-opening it is. Wow, wThis is one of the most amazing books I've ever read. I simply can't get over how fantastic, informative, well-written, and mind-opening it is. Wow, where do I start?
The book revolves around the hypothetical question: What would happen if all humans disappeared tomorrow? Would anything we created survive? Would anything miss us?
The short answer is: very little, not really. It's a blow to our ego perhaps, but true nevertheless. The only creatures who are dependent on us for survival are the miniscule mites that live on and in our bodies, eating our dead skin cells before we suffocate in them, and nasty bacterias.
This is not a doomsday book. It's actually playfully optimistic, and is more of a history and science lesson than a judgement on our sins. Though the evidence is plentiful that we are in fact killing the planet that sustains us.
Weisman covers everything from our leaky homes - describing in detail exactly how they would fall apart without our constant care - to the early years of home sapiens and our impact on wildlife; from art to nuclear power to the oceans. I learnt so much, my head is literally buzzing. Some of it is downright scary, but I'm not one to put my head in the sand and expect someone else to take care of it all.
If you're interested in history, science, environmentalism, impressing people at dinner parties with your knowledge or just plain interested: this is the book for you!...more
Through a twisted landscape of blackened trees and ash a man and his young son make their way along the road, pushing a shopping trolley of their fewThrough a twisted landscape of blackened trees and ash a man and his young son make their way along the road, pushing a shopping trolley of their few supplies. They are trying to make their way south through the United States, to the coast where perhaps, the man hopes, it will be warm. They are starving and frightened and filthy, just like everyone else - but unlike almost everyone else, they have not resorted to cannibalism in order to survive. His only reason for living is his defenceless son.
While there is no explanation, only a few vague hints, as to how the earth ended up like this, it seems clear that it's an ecological disaster. It is the worst outcome, because the earth itself is ruined. It may recover, but not until a long, long time after the last remaining survivors are gone. When the last scavenged tin has been cracked open, the last bit of gasoline or diesel used up, the last clothes rotted away, there will be nothing to replace them with. And with ash coating the ground even ten years later (I estimate the boy to be about that age, and he was born after the apocalypse), nothing can be grown.
There are stories that you read because they're great stories - the plot and the characters are all. And there are stories that you read because of how they're written, and you visit them again and again because of the language. The Road is the latter. It's like reading poetry - poetry that makes sense. It has a sparse quality, and the near-absence of commas, apostrophes, em dashes, speech marks etc heighten this. It is one of those books where the way it was written, and how it has been formatted, echoes the story within. It reads like the present tense even though it's in past, giving it a timeless quality that is as frightening as the people kept locked in a basement, slowly being eaten by their captors.
I love the line, spoken by an old man they encounter on the road and, against the man's better judgement, feed, where he says: "Where men cant live gods fare no better." (p.172) I know what my interpretation of this is, but like the best of art there's always more than one.
This post-apocalyptic world is literally hell on earth. McCarthy doesn't moralise or pass judgement, he simply tells this stark story and lets it speak for itself. I could read it again and again and get more from the language each time. The story itself is quiet, unassuming, with moments of tension and heartache. I would especially recommend this to anyone interested in writing or studying creative writing, because even if you don't like the story or the way it was written, you can still learn an awful lot from the masterful control McCarthy has over prose. He wields words like the steps in a dance, every nuance precise, every letter meant to be there.
Three hundred years after an apocalyptic-sized disaster that reshaped the world, Tally is about to turn 16 and pretty. In her contained, isolated, selThree hundred years after an apocalyptic-sized disaster that reshaped the world, Tally is about to turn 16 and pretty. In her contained, isolated, self-sufficient city - just like all the other contained, isolated, self-sufficient cities - the operation to make her pretty will be intensive, extreme and, as far as she and everyone else alive is concerned, absolutely worth it. Once she's pretty, she'll go to live across the river in New Pretty Town and party the nights away, loved by all.
It's a shock to her, then, to find that her friend Shay doesn't want to be pretty, and doesn't think she's ugly now. Of course she's ugly - everyone's ugly before the operation. But Shay runs away to the mysterious, secretive Smoke where her friend David awaits, leaving Tally a set of cryptic directions in case she changes her mind and decides to go too. But Tally has no intention of running away: turning pretty is all she wants, so she can be with her friend Peris again across the river, and be noticed and listened to because beautiful people cannot be ignored.
But on the day of her own operation, she is taken instead to Special Circumstances, where cruel pretties with lethal reflexes bring her to Dr. Cable. They want to know about Shay and the Smoke and where it is located, but Tally keeps her promise not to tell. Even when Dr. Cable tells her she won't get the operation and be turned pretty until she does what they ask, she does not yield. Not until Peris unexpectedly visits her in Uglyville, and reminds her of the promise she made him, that she would be with him again, a promise that predates the one she made Shay. Latching onto this ray of hope - for she doesn't want to stay ugly the rest of her life - Tally is sent to spy for Special Circumstances and give them the location of the Smoke by sending a transmission via a heart pendant given her by Dr. Cable.
When she arrives, though, it's not that simple. Yes, the people are all ugly, and that takes a while to get used to. But there's something else about them, something sharp and clear at odds with the vacuousness of all the pretties she's ever known, including her own parents. And then there's David, who was born in the Smoke and is definitely not pretty ... but who teaches her that she's beautiful because of who she is, not what she looks like.
I really enjoyed this book. It reminded me a lot of Isobelle Carmody's books, her heroines especially, and also Ellie from John Marsden's Tomorrow series, and a host of others. She's a quick thinker, afraid yet brave, resourceful and caring, faced with a choice no one at sixteen would want to have to make. The writing style is clear and descriptive without wasting a word, the characters deftly portrayed. While the themes and messages of the book may not be subtle - nor are they meant to be, since we're talking about the structure of their world here - there are depths to the concept, and nothing's black-and-white. There are also little digs about our own lifestyle (we are the "Rusties" in the book - because what's left of our cities are just rusty ruins), about how we clear-fell forests and waste resources and genetically modify plants. The entire concept could have fallen flat on its face for being too contrived and as superficial as the operation itself, but Westerfeld holds it all together with a great heroine in Tally, a dark sci-fi underworld beneath the glitter and party fun, and an examination into what price we really want to pay for the things we hold most dear....more
This month, June, marks the start of the Obernewtyn Chronicles Reading Marathon! Each month we are reading a book in the series, though predictably thThis month, June, marks the start of the Obernewtyn Chronicles Reading Marathon! Each month we are reading a book in the series, though predictably the release date for the final book, The Red Queen, has been pushed back to next year - no surprises there. I decided to go ahead with the read-along anyway, because it has literally been YEARS since I last read them and there's so much going on that I had forgotten about, I've been itching to start from the beginning again.
Forgive my daggy 1993 second edition pictured here, it is the least attractive cover of them all (I believe it has gone through about five covers by now, a new one each time a new book is released) - bear with me and I'll try and convince you how awesome this book, and the series, really is.
Some time in our future, we nearly destroyed the world. After the Great White, and the Chaos, only the farmlands were untouched by the poison that ruined so much else. The farmers rallied against the influx of refugees fleeing the cities, banding together and forming a Council that meted out death to the incomers. To further cement their growing hold on the land and its survivors, they gave power to a fledgling religion, the Herder Faction, which decreed that the creator, Lud, had sent the Great White as punishment for the wickedness of the Beforetimers, their machines and books and meddling. Such things were outlawed. People who spoke out against the Council or the Herders were labelled Seditioners and either sent to Council Farms or burnt.
Such was the fate of Elspeth Gordie's parents. Now she and her older brother, Jes, are Orphans, living in a home in Kinraide. Their future is uncertain, they have no friends, and because of Elspeth's growing mutant mental powers, she has become estranged from her brother who seeks favour with the Herder Faction. If anyone were to find out that she is a Misfit - one of those "deformed" by the taint of the world - she would be sentenced and possibly burned, and Jes' hopes of being independent, a free man, would be ruined.
On a routine trip to collect the highly toxic substance called Whitestick, a task given to Orphans because they are dispensable, Elspeth falls into a stream and strikes her head on a rock. The headaches she experiences are less because of the fall and more to do with a premonition coming upon her, but the excuse serves. Only when a woman from the mountain keep of Obernewtyn arrives, looking for Misfits who the Master of Obernewtyn can practice his cures on, does Elspeth feel in danger. Caught out by the woman, Madame Vega, she is denounced as a Misfit - though she uses her power to make it known that tainted water from her fall is the cause of her Dreaming, not a genetic or hereditary mutation that would cause her brother to be suspected of it too.
Sentenced to Obernewtyn, a place far away in the mountains rife with rumour and a gothic reputation, Elspeth feels for once strangely free. To be finally "caught" and labelled Misfit, something she has always worked hard and struggled to avoid, is like sloughing off an old skin. But the Orphan way to avoid being friendly with others and to always hold your own counsel is harder to do away with. It takes weeks for two boys at Obernewtyn to befriend Elspeth, a loner and a secretive one at that. Matthew and Dameon have their own Misfit abilities: like Elspeth, Matthew is telepathic and can "farseek" - mentally reach out over distance, though he is not as strong as she is. Dameon, a blind boy and the son of a Councilman, is Empathetic, able to feel the emotions of others.
Making friends for the first time in her life, Elspeth is far from relaxed at Obernewtyn: the farm overseer, Rushton, seems to openly dislike Elspeth for no apparent reason; Madame Vega has yet to return from her tour of the Lowlands, collecting Orphans, but in her absence a favoured twelve-year-old boy with an angelic face, Ariel, rules the roost with his haughty arrogance and sly cruelty. A girl about Elspeth's age, Selmar, wanders the halls of Obernewtyn with a vacant look on her pale face; touching her mind, Elspeth discovers she is mentally broken and half-derranged.
Through her new friendship with Matthew and Dameon, they start to piece the puzzle together: that the Master of Obernewtyn is collecting Misfits for some terrible purpose, that they are searching for something dangerous. And it is not long before Elspeth realises that she is the one they are looking for, the one strong enough to unlock the secrets they are after. Knowing that it could only be a matter of time before she too is taken away every night and turned into another brain-dead Selmar, her thoughts turn to flight. Only no one has ever escaped Obernewtyn and lived.
I first read this book in primary school - when I was in, what, grade 5 or 6. So, a couple of years after it came out in 1987 I think. I used to scour the school library's shelves every week, looking for something new to read. Most of the books were old paperbacks from the 70s and early 80s; new books were less common, since funding was so pitiful. But this book, with its unusual cover, jumped out at me. And when I started reading it, I was instantly hooked. It became one of my favourite books ever, alongside Thunderwith and a couple of others that held places close to my heart. These were books that touched me personally, that felt like friends, that seemed to have been written for me alone. Like I was waiting all my life for them. That's what reading Obernewtyn the first time felt like, like being reunited with someone dear to you. Like it was a key that made things click into place for you. You never know what book will do that to you, and it doesn't mean that it will do that for anyone else, but when you come across such a book they leave a lasting impression.
I've since read this book about five or six times now, and it never grows old or stale. It always has the same magic. Now, my edition has some typos, some missing punctuation, and at one point an important piece of dialogue comes after Elspeth's thoughts on it (page 186), but I expect they've been cleaned up in the later editions and I can never hold such things against a beloved book or such an awesome story.
For this is just the beginning. From here it gets ever so complex and stunningly original. You never know where Carmody's imagination will take you, but it always comes together beautifully. When this book first came out in 1987, you didn't really get Fantasy books about kids with mind powers, or even that much in the way of post-apocalyptic fiction (U.S. publishers today would blindly label this "dystopian" but while there is a repressive regime, it's not really about that. It's much more fantasy than anything else). For all the fantasy I've read in my life, this series is still original.
Part of it is Elspeth. She is always a loner at heart, restless, not wanting to be cooped up or stationary. She is always secretive by nature, holding her innermost thoughts and desires close. In this book she learns, to her surprise, that it is rude to read the thoughts of other people, especially if they are Misfits like her. Having always believed she is the only one to have such powers, and that she needed to do whatever it took to survive, she never had any qualms before.
My mind was reeling with the things he had said. In one moment he had changed my life. Not only were there others like me, but there were people who had different sorts of abilities. Surely that would mean we were not isolated Misfits. I realized I had been rude taking a thought from [Matthew's] mind. It was different when they did not know. I would have to be more considerate. I knew then that I had decided to trust the boy and his blind companion. In one sense I had no choice, but my sudden desire not to invade the thoughts of another person was new, and told me that I had accepted something I had previously thought impossible. I was no longer alone. [pp.100-101]
She is about fourteen or fifteen in this book (her older brother Jes, we know, is sixteen), but thinks like a much more mature person. Considering all she's been through in her life, and how suspicion and finger-pointing leads all Orphans to keep their own counsel and grow up fast, it's not surprising. For all that Elspeth changes and grows over the course of the novels and the years, these traits remain with her and mean that her relationship with Rushton is one you'll need a lot of patience to see through - it moves slowly.
Oh Rushton. Another great character who never really has large roles in the books, but tends to steal your attention away whenever he's present. I always had a thing for him, as a teenager, and that never really died. Feeling the chemistry brewing between him and Elspeth over the years (it certainly felt like years and years because each book took such a long time to come out!!), the slow-burning anticipation of something more was enough to keep you reading, let alone all the other qualities of the story.
If you're a fan of Young Adult fantasy, post-apocalyptic fiction, dystopian fiction, science fiction or any good genre fiction really, you absolutely have to try Obernewtyn. The book does bear the subtle marks of a first novel, and one originally written when Carmody was 14 - no matter how many times you re-write and edit a first book, it tends to read less smoothly than later works. This is the introduction book to the series, the "setting the scene" book: if the concept and the characters do not draw you in as thoroughly as they do me, you should still read on: every book is better than the one before it. My favourite series from my favourite author, I am of course incredibly biased. But for good reason. Come discover the magic for yourself.
If you have read or are reading Obernewtyn, feel free to stop by the read-along post and join in the discussion....more
This is a great follow-up to Uglies, but it's always hard to talk about sequels without giving away the plot of the first book. Well, I'll just say thThis is a great follow-up to Uglies, but it's always hard to talk about sequels without giving away the plot of the first book. Well, I'll just say that I love how the characters and the plot is evolving, and some of my thoughts regarding the underlying themes of the first book are much more apparent here. Loved it, eager for the third....more
Wonderful end to the trilogy (haven't looked into Extras yet, not sure how it fits in). The ethical debate that's at the core of these books comes morWonderful end to the trilogy (haven't looked into Extras yet, not sure how it fits in). The ethical debate that's at the core of these books comes more strongly into play here, and I loved how it ended - I felt quite relieved actually! Though it's hardly a resolution.
Very well written, entertaining, wonderful characters and thought-provoking plot....more
Set in a post-apocalyptic North America - an apocalypse that, in a way, came after a long drawn-out apocalypse of gradual disintegration that was alreSet in a post-apocalyptic North America - an apocalypse that, in a way, came after a long drawn-out apocalypse of gradual disintegration that was already well established - the story is told by Snowman, once called Jimmy. Not very many years have passed since everyone died, and his memories are a constant companion. His only reason for going on is that he promised Crake and Oryx to watch over the "Crakers" - a group of genetically modified "humans" that Crake created, improving them and removing impulses that lead to reverence and creating graven images (graven images, Crake's theory goes, lead to all the bad things in humans - an interesting and plausible theory, though it saddens me that Art could be indirectly to blame for genocide etc., when Art is one of our saving graces).
The world that Snowman left behind, where he was Jimmy, was futuristic, one where pharmaceutical companies, cosmetics, biotech, gene-splicing and fake foodstuffs inventors, are the rulers. If there's a government it's not mentioned, it's implied that these all-powerful and wealthy companies, locked away in their Compounds where the air is purified, run the show. Down from the Compounds are the Modules, and at the bottom of the rung are the Pleeblands, places of filth and pollution and corruption (not that the Compounds aren't corrupt as well - as Crake discovers, they're putting virus's and things into medication to make people sick so that they buy more medicine - if you've cured everything, no one would need medicine anymore - I'm sure there are conspiracy theorists who believe this is already happening).
Jimmy grew up within a Compound, where his father worked on gene-splicing - things like the pigoons which grow human organs inside them, and the rakunks, a blend of racoon and skunk, and the wolvogs. His best friend Crake is a genius and rises quickly in their world, while Jimmy struggles along. Oryx was a child from south-east Asia sold into slavery, who ended up in kiddie porn movies before being sold to a man in San Fransisco. She ends up working for Crake, teaching the Crakers.
Told in a mix of present-day and flashbacks, Oryx and Crake is an excellent example of master craftsmanship - the prose is in the third-person yet reflects Jimmy/Snowman's personality, and is a mix of beauty and grit and tension with moments of sheer coarseness and brutal honesty, while the plot is clever and very carefully dolled out. While the present-day is told in present tense (a perfect example of how to use it, because present tense gives everything an equal importance, and grounds the reader completely in the here and now), the flashbacks are told in past tense, which gives it a solid finality. You know the shit's going to hit the fan, just not how or when or what's behind it all. You can piece it together as you read, and that makes it a kind of puzzle, which I loved.
The past world of this book is frightening and believable, because if we go too far in one direction it's exactly where we're headed. With very little real food left, most of it is replica food made from soy (ugh), and the point of the world, of success in this world, is to come up with new drugs and new ways of prolonging human life, youth in particular, and getting one up on your competitors. People's values have changed, and those few who try to break out of it are shot for treason. The web sites that Jimmy and Crake watch when they're teenagers are live feeds of assisted suicide, people on death row getting their sentence, porn of all kinds, and all manner of sick things. It's a none-too-gentle dig at our ridiculous penchant for reality tv and where it could lead us.
All in all, you could see Oryx and Crake merely as a vehicle for Atwood to express her scorn and a warning or two, but it's a bloody good vehicle. She's an exceptional storyteller, both in terms of writing style and creativity of plot and characters. It helps that I love post-apocalyptic fiction - I'm not sure exactly why, except that it fascinates me to explore the various scenarios where we could end up, and it's satisfying, in a way, to be punished. As much as I wouldn't want this kind of thing to happen, I also wouldn't want the world that was destroyed (in this book) to happen either. Remember Twelve Monkeys, the Terry Gilliam movie? This is a bit like that, except that the world that was destroyed really deserved it. Most post-apocalyptic fiction doesn't go so far into the future first, it takes our own world as the sacrifice. But it's all part of the plot and I wouldn't want to give it away....more
The spring thaw has come again to the Highlands and Elspeth is once again leading a group of Misfits to Sutrium, the capThis review contains spoilers.
The spring thaw has come again to the Highlands and Elspeth is once again leading a group of Misfits to Sutrium, the capital, in time for the first elections since the Rebels freed the Land from the oppressive Council and the fanatical Herder Faction. But not all the Rebel leaders want to relinquish their power in a free election, and the Rebels have a tenuous hold on the Land west to the Suggredoon. On the opposite banks, Soldierguards and Herder warrior priests called Hedra man the new border, and with their ships burned by the fleeing Herders, the Rebel alliance has no means of attacking the West and freeing the citizens there.
There are problems with the Rebel leader Vos, currently holding Saithwold, who has barricaded the people in the town and is censoring communication going to and from the area. When Elspeth and Zarak, another Farseeker, take a detour to see Zarak's father, Khuria, she learns that Vos is merely a puppet for her old foe, Malik, who is using Saithwold's isolation to work out an invasion plan with the Herders. In working to defeat him, Elspeth finds herself trapped on one of the three ships the Herders use, and on her way to Herder Isle.
Luckily, she isn't the only Misfit who snuck aboard a Herder ship - a number of Coercers disguised as Hedra are also aboard, and together they work to take over the Herder Faction from inside, discovering hoards of dangerous Beforetime weapons and a library of Beforetime books for the priests to study - books they publicly denounce and burn on the Land. From the One, the mad, obese leader of the Herders, Elspeth discovers that Ariel has gone to the West coast with plague seeds, to unleash a plague that will kill everyone. She is desperate to stop him, her nemesis, the Destroyer to her Seeker, to save the people trapped in the West.
As a summary, that's just the tip of a mighty iceberg. Truly there is so much happening in this book it's hard to know where to start (though I've already given away quite a bit!). This was the first time I've read this volume (book 5 in the Obernewtyn Chronicles), and I knew nothing going in - I didn't even read the blurb on the back. It was full of nail-biting tension, mystery, excitement, adventure, danger and discovery. The plot really moves forward, and there are many changes.
I was stunned and delighted that Elspeth infiltrated the Herders - and before the Coercers appeared to save her life, I felt such fear for her. Actually, the fear didn't end then either. I can't remember when was the last time I was so emotionally and intellectually engaged in a story - really feeling it, y'know? The atmosphere here is just so compelling and vivid, in that stone fortress of a compound/cloister, a mini city in its way, with secret passages in the thick stone walls and mute "Shadows", slaves, many of them with their tongues cut out, who Elspeth realises belatedly are all female. It's quite interesting, actually, that for a story that shows time and again that things aren't black-and-white, that life is more complex than that, the Herder Faction truly is out-and-out evil.
Ariel, though, is becoming a very complex character. I think he must be quite mad - what's the word that was always used to describe him? Defective, that's it. A Misfit term, one used when the Misfits don't have any powers - though it turns out he has a twisted form of Empathy and Futuretelling powers. You can really start to see the pattern of the dance he and Elspeth are playing now. She knows that he knows she is the Seeker, and she figures out that the reason he makes sure she's never killed or harmed, is that he needs her to find the Weaponmachines, and if she fails to turn them off or whatever she needs to do, it will be his turn, and he'll set them off and destroy the world. So far, his only motivation is his own kind of insanity.
One thing though, on this topic - considering how much time Elspeth spends thinking through things, going over the clues and connecting the dots, the one thing she hasn't mentioned in a long time is the one thing that started it all: seeing Marisa Seraphim's map of the Weaponmachines cache, seeing exactly where the weaponmachines are located. She's never shared with us any details of this - whether it's a place she recognises, or what exactly she saw (and how did Marisa come by it, anyway?). She is instead on a mission set out by Kasanda, the Beforetime Seer - Cassy Duprey - to find the four clues Kasanda left for her, things she will need to complete her task as Seeker. I can only surmise that these things, or information, will help her to disable the weaponmachines, not to find them - since she has that knowledge already, right? But has suppressed it?
Elspeth is a character I've always loved, and I felt such compassion for her in this book: the Herders and Ariel did something to Rushton that seems to have killed his love for her. She learns that it's not actually dead, but that Ariel tortured him and turned Elspeth, the very image of her, into a trigger, with Rushton the bomb. Ariel doesn't want to kill Elspeth - he needs her - but he has a lot of interest in causing others pain, always has done. His plan is for Rushton to try and kill Elspeth, but with Elspeth safe, she will instead watch her beloved die. Only by doing something Ariel couldn't have foreseen - his unfamiliarity with love, compassion, generosity etc. renders his forethought weak - can Elsepth save Rushton.
They have had such a hard road together, it seems like at the beginning of every book, something happens to tear them apart. One step forward, four steps back kind of thing. Elspeth has always struggled to balance her secret mission with everyday living, with being open with others, especially Rushton. She's been holding herself back, she realises, even when she thought she was giving herself, so that she still seems so isolated and lonely. She's aware, sardonically, cynically, how other people, especially the Misfits, look up to her and mythologise her, which only makes her feel even more isolated. I've been keeping track of her age, and I figure she's twenty or twenty-one in this book - she has changed a great deal over the years, and with each successive book, maturing at a nice, steady pace, in tune with her adventures and self-awareness. It's wonderful character development, and the story wouldn't be the same without such a strong protagonist.
The story is awfully long, though. It could probably have been tightened up a fair bit, and there were quite a few typos - names were often wrong (Ode instead of Aris, Port Oran instead of Halfmoon Bay), but I honestly didn't mind very much, it was just distracting and was hopefully fixed for later editions. It's very fleshed-out and involved, and again, it touches upon ideology and social issues. The nature of power, for instance, is always relevant:
"It is also that the Faction sets itself up to appear impregnable. That is a defence in itself, for if something appears impossible to break, then no one even tries to break it. But that same appearance of invulnerability is a weakness if those maintaining it believe it, too. Th Herders believed their Compound was so fearsome that no one would dare to enter it save those who had no choice, and so they did not defend themselves within its embrace. In a way, taking over the Compound has been like taking over the Land in the rebellion. The Councilmen had run things for so long they could not imagine truly being challenged, yet most of the Council's power rested on our accepting that it could not be challenged."
"When you speak of it in that way, it seems that power is like some ... strange agreement between the oppressed and the oppressor," Elkar said.
Cinda lifted her hand, and as it flickered, Elkar translated, "She says that power is not a real thing, like a ship, but an idea. And only by accepting the idea, do we make it real. She says that freedom is the same sort of thing: an idea that is nothing, until people believe in it enough to make it real." [p.481]
I love it when Fantasy fiction explores relevant issues and philosophy like this, examining the way society works. It's like Lloyd Alexander said, "Fantasy is hardly an escape from reality. It's a way of understanding it." (I really should think about reading one of his books!) Carmody does that and more, which is why she's been my favourite writer since I was in primary school and first read Obernewtyn.
Note: I read the Australian first edition. In the UK and North America, this book has been split into two volumes: Wavesong and The Stone Key.
There are some books where, as you are reading them, you can actually feel them enrich your life, broaden your mind, wow you with their awesomeness. FThere are some books where, as you are reading them, you can actually feel them enrich your life, broaden your mind, wow you with their awesomeness. For me, Blindness is one such book.
This is a classic example of "highbrow" literature because the way it is written is an artform, and just as important as the subject matter, but I wouldn't want that to put you off. It's not an alienating book, I don't think; it's not that it's difficult to read as such, just plays with conventions a lot.
Set in an unnamed city in an unspecified but modern country, the characters are unnamed and their voices are "lost" amongst the prose. There's no punctuation except for commas and full stops, and only one question mark which came from the undisclosed narrator rather than the characters themselves. The premise is simple: on an ordinary day, while waiting at the traffic lights, a man suddenly goes blind. Not black blindness, but white blindness. A bystander drives him home then steals his car. His wife takes him to an ophthalmologist. In the doctor's waiting room are a boy with a squint and his mother, an old man with a black eyepatch, and a girl wearing dark glasses who has conjunctivitis. These characters are the first to go blind, and because each person they come in contact with goes blind in turn, the government decides it must somehow be contagious, and rounds them all up to put into quarantine.
The first such place is an abandoned mental asylum. The doctor and his wife are the first inmates. The doctor's wife is the only person in the entire country (it's unclear whether any other country suffered this epidemic of blindness) who never goes blind. She lied in order to stay with her husband, and then keeps it a secret, knowing that she'd be a slave to the blind people if they knew.
Conditions at the institution are worse than horrific. Put inside without any "seeing" person to help them, and then watched by soldiers, the halls fill with filth, they are unwashed and often starving, especially as food production diminishes and then stops altogether. When the population inside the building expands a group of men led by a man with a gun (the only man with a gun), takes possession of the food and demands payment - first in all their valuables, then in women.
I won't give any more of it away - that's more than I would prefer to say of the plot except that it seems necessary somehow. The doctor's wife is the most likely candidate for main character/protagonist, but the genius of this novel is how the people, when they lose their sight, seem to lose their substance as well. Reading it, you often feel like you're blind to an extent as well. Descriptions of people are few, but the environment is vivid. And as I mentioned before, dialogue blends, and there are no names, only descriptors. As one minor character says towards the end of the book, "Blind people do not need a name, I am my voice, nothing else matters." (p. 290)
Reading the dialogue is a little challenging, as the only clue as to where one person stops speaking and the next starts is a comma and a capital letter - not helpful when their first word is "I". This and the sparse paragraph breaks make Blindness a challenging read, because it does take some concentration, but it also gives you somewhat of a handicap, which adds to the empathy you feel for the people in the story.
Now, I'm hesitant to "wax lyrical" about the stylistic devices used here and how they intertwine with the story itself, adding depth and symbolism, because the last time I did that with The Road I discovered that the author always writes like that so it lost its impact considerably. I have the sequel to this book, Seeing, and I can tell you that it is written in the same style, but I haven't looked at any of his other books.
Still, fantastic book, I highly recommend it, whether you're a fan of apocalyptic books or not (I am, you'd think they'd be depressing but they're not). I'm also interested in seeing the movie, ever since I found out it's directed by Fernando Meirelle, who did City of God and The Constant Gardner, both amazing films, visually stunning, and the latter one was a powerful, fantastic adaptation of the book, so if anyone could make this book work as a film, Meirelle could....more
The Droughtlanders is the first book in the Triskelia series and the premise is frightening - because it's so possible. It is set sometime in the futuThe Droughtlanders is the first book in the Triskelia series and the premise is frightening - because it's so possible. It is set sometime in the future, untold decades or centuries after the Group of Keys has essentially dominated and manipulated the rest of the world and wiped out 92% of the world's population by weather control, water rights and biological and environmental warfare.
The Keys are a group of otherwise isolated walled cities dotted around North America (whether Keys exist in Europe and elsewhere isn't mentioned), and between them all is a parched wasteland where impoverished, disease-riddled Droughtlanders scrape a living, often brutalised, raped and murdered by the Guards from the Keys, who think of Droughtlanders as little better than rats.
With so few people left, factories, mines and sweatshops ceased and our technological and consumer goods disappeared - but the Group of Keys established a new leisure class, ressurecting "tea parties on perfectly manicured lawns, stormy nights spent playing cards in cozy parlours, afternoons at the piano or with friends, a pantomine at Christmas" (p.31) with the healthiest of Droughtlanders to serve them.
Triskelia is a mythical place harbouring an equally mythical group of rebels. After Eli sees his mother talking and hugging a Droughtlander through a gap in the wall one night, he learns that his mother is a rebel, a Triskelian, just before she dies in a bomb blast orchestrated by his father, the Chief Regent for Chancellor East. No longer able to live with the lies, his horrible twin brother Seth who wants nothing more than to join the Guard, or his autocratic father, Eli flees into the Droughtland with a horse, his dog Bullet and vague directions to the woman who buried his mother, in the hopes of finding legendary Triskelia. On the way, he's forced to reexamine all his assumptions and prejudices about Keylanders and Droughtlanders.
This is a vivid book, tightly plotted, perfectly paced and very well written. It draws you into this world from the very first scene, and is familiar enough to be scarily believable. The post-apocalyptic premise is a logical outcome from one particular path we might walk down today, and the way different groups - the privileged and the underprivileged - would evolve to meet it also rings true. Mac has a great handle on her prose and her characters, especially with Seth and Eli, who are recognisable teenagers going through great changes and forced to rethink things - not always to great or positive effect.
The scenes of both Eli and Seth travelling in their separate ways through the Droughtlands were my favourite parts. The Droughtlands is the most interesting part of the story, for me, and the most heart-wrenching. The brutality meted out by the Guards is shocking, but helps reinforce the belief the Keylanders have that the Droughtlanders are less than animals. The Triskelian rebels aren't cliched, and the ending was quick and sudden, which worked well.
If you're looking for something new in YA fantasy, this'd be a good one to try. And - because I can't resist any opportunity to plug my favourite author - if you like this or you like these kinds of stories, I also recommend Isobelle Carmody's Scatterlings, which is one of my favourite books....more