Tag Archives: Isobelle Carmody

The Keeping Place – Isobelle Carmody

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The fourth volume in Isobelle Carmody’s Obernewtyn Chronicles was going to be my last for a while. I found the first four books at the library so decided to try them–and they are a really good fantasy. This latest one leaves so much hanging that I wish I’d found all eight. In The Keeping Place, war comes to the land and the Misfits reluctantly agree to aid the Rebels in an elaborate plan to take over the Council Lands in a carefully orchestrated series of maneuvers. But traitors have infiltrated the Rebels, treachery among the Rebel factions threatens mayhem, Rushton, the lord of Obernewtyn has gone missing, and Elspeth is under pressure to find the machines that destroyed most of earth in the Great White before they can be used again.

That’s the short version. Elspeth is in charge during Rushton’s absence and Obernewtyn’s protection is beginning to unravel. The various guilds are inventing new ways to perform their duties–one has created diving gear to explore an underwater ruin from the Beforetime, another is split in two groups and part of the guild is training itself to be knights and spies. Dragon, the powerful feral child Elspeth found on a previous journey, is still in a deep coma but her tortured dreams transfer to everyone in Obernewtyn and no one can sleep easily. Maruman, the old cat-medium who is devoted to Elspeth and her fated quest, delivers more urgent exhortations to find the clues to the whereabouts of the deadly machines. Ariel, the angelic sadist who left Obernewtyn to join the religious cult, the Herders, appears in Elspeth’s dreams and threatens her life and all she holds dear.

When Elspeth receives disturbing news about Rushton, she knows it is time to act. The Misfits had voted to abstain from any rebellion and pursue a path of peace in their mountains but they are drawn into the battles and into grave danger. Many things don’t seem quite right and suddenly real horrors and betrayal rip apart fragile coalitions and unimaginable depravity comes to light. Elspeth re-connects with Swallow, who is now king of the elite band of gypsies who are indebted to her. She travels the perilous dreampaths to search for clues and to attempt to heal Dragon and bring back Rushton. Her dreams are increasingly troubled, increasingly violent and increasingly real. Being in charge means having the power of life and death and Elspeth is a reluctant but decisive leader.

When a daring move uncovers a major clue to the location of the death machines, the impact is muted by the terrible human tragedy a different search unearths in a Herder cloister. It seems as if many more Misfits will die before Elspeth can disable the system to destroy the planet for good–and those who are left are damaged, possibly beyond repair. So I’m quite curious to see what happens next. Obernewtyn is a complex and well-drawn world full of compelling characters, unexpected plot developments and chilling detail. I’ll have to prowl the YA section to discover 5-8 so I can learn the ultimate fate of a heroine whose journey equals that of any male protagonist in a fantasy/sci-fi fiction.

The Keeping Place: The Obernewtyn Chronicles 4   Isobelle Carmody | Random House   2008

Ashling – Isobelle Carmody

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An ashling is a dream that calls you to a task. That is wisdom from the language of the beasts whom Elspeth can communicate with through a silent mindspeak that is one of her Talents. Elspeth is a Misfit, a human with powerful mental abilities that make her a pariah to the untalented people who rule her world. What is left of earth after a blinding holocaust called the Great White is a poisoned, treacherous, mistrustful and power-mad place in which anyone who is different is at terrible risk. Rather like our own civilization, as a matter of fact.

In Ashling, Isobelle Carmody continues the fantasy saga of Elspeth and a cast of original characters, including a cat who has visions and a horse who styles himself Elspeth’s protector. The Misfits live in a remote mountain compound called Obernewtyn, led by a latent Talent named Rushton who is a direct heir of Obernewtyn estate’s founders. His ancestors include people who ived before the Great White and seemed to know about, and likely possess, some of the Talents. Elspeth is the Seeker, the one selected to find the death machines used centuries before to destroy much of the planet and disable them so they can never be used again. She is not the only one interested in those machines.

But this heroine’s journey is a long and winding road and in Ashling Elspeth saves a gypsy woman about to be burned at the stake by Herders and is sent by a prophecy in a dream to a stronghold of the Council to return the comatose gypsy to her people. The adventures that ensue cost lives and threaten hers, put her in the crosshairs of some extremely nasty people, see one good friend sold into slavery and badly damage the mind of another, and connect Elspeth with a mysterious gypsy who holds her to a mutual pledge of support in the coming wars and rebellions.

The Misfits from Obernewtyn end up traveling to a desert culture to participate in fierce battles with some cruel and hostile rebel factions who regard them as worthless freaks. They fail to win the support of the rebels. But the experience reveals who and what the Misfits are meant to be and shows them there will be no easy solutions to their problems. Elspeth learns that her life is driven by the portent and burdens of her calling but that her challenge is to find the courage to live in-between the dangerous quests. She develops some odd method of healing grievous wounds to her own body, doubtless a useful skill as she seems to get bloodied and battered a lot.

I do think this third book ratchets up the tension nicely and the series is convincing and worth reading. One more book to go of the first four I checked out of the library in a batch. I do want to finish all eight but I’ll probably take a break and read some different novels before I go looking for the remaining Obernewtyn Chronicles.

Ashling: The Obernewtyn Chronicles 3   Isobelle Carmody | Random House  2007

The Farseekers – Isobelle Carmody

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In the second of Isobelle Carmody’s Obernewtyn Chronicles, The Farseekers, Elspeth leaves Obernewtyn on a quest to find a mysterious new Talent, a Misfit so powerful that the hidden community will not survive without it. The stakes are sharply higher in this book, as the ragged band of people with extraordinary mind abilities battles the Herders and guardsmen of a repressive regime, a settlement gathered around a patriarchal figure, Henry Druid, that contains secret Misfits of its own, the violent storms and unpredicatble weather that is the result of the Great White that nearly destroyed the planet, and the treachery of a renegade Misfit with a murderous grudge against Obernewtyn and its inhabitants.

Most of this book is a journey through tainted lands, perilous settlements and the events of deadly prophecies. Elspeth discovers that the beasts, the animals of the Obernewtyn farm and the surrounding countryside and mountains, have minds and abilities as formidable as the humans. In a library buried by ruins and ash for centuries, she finds evidence that the Misfits are an evolution of humans that was underway before the Great White, and not a freak result of the destruction that occurred as a result of the cataclysmic detonations from poisonous weapons. She also finds out that Rushton, the heir of Obernewtyn and the leader of the community there, harbors felings for her that go far beyond collegiality and admiration.

But Elspeth is the Seeker, the one who is fated to find the old machines that caused the Great White and destroy them before they can be used again. She permits herself no thoughts of a personal life while that terrible fate controls her life. The journey to the coast is full of misadventure, heroic rescues, astonishing discoveries, treachery and painful death. Evil is often outwitted but inevitably exacts a high price in suffering. Some appealing characters don’t survive. Other characters are revealed as unexpected allies.

The Obernewtyn Chronicles are an accomplished mix of fantasy and science fiction–with Tolkienesque rhythms and themes, believable characters and enough surprises to keep things interesting.  As I am overwhelmed by too much Real Life right now, and finding hours each day for reading is a challenge, I’ll probably finish the four I have–I might not recommend reading all of them in a marathon but they are entertaining and go quickly. By the time I finish (and I am not hunting for the rest of the books in this series just yet), I’ll be able to knock out a futuristic fantasy of my own. The pattern isn’t hard to discern, a fact that might inspire me to space the books more if I had the time.

The Farseekers: The Obernewtyn Chronicles 2   Isobelle Carmody | Random House  1990

Obernewtyn – Isobelle Carmody

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Our accommodating library had the first four of the Obernewtyn Chronicles sitting on a YA shelf and they looked interesting so I checked out all of them for the rare experience of reading a series in order without gaps as the author struggled with writer’s block, etc. etc. Obernewtyn, the first story, was good. Isobelle Carmody has created a believable and ominous world that exists after some devastating event that sounds like nuclear catastrophe. Nevermind that nuclear catastrophe seems rather old-fashioned in the looming  armageddon of planetary meltdown, Obernewtyn is plenty dark and creepy.

Elspeth is a Misfit, someone who might be a mutant derivative of the holocaust known as the Great White–or just a gifted person with paranormal powers and hypersensitive intuition. We are given to believe her powers are freaky but she keeps them well-hidden because discovery could mean exile or fiery death. Her brother Jes is better at masking whatever talents he has–even from Elspeth. He is favored by the Guardians and other functionaries of the authoritarian regime that runs what’s left of civilization. And it’s not too civilized. Both siblings are Orphans; their parents were incinerated for sedition. 

Elspeth’s precarious existence is upended, maybe fatally, when she is marked as a Misfit and sent to Obernewtyn, a fearful place of dark legend in the mountains. She pretends to be injured by some tainted water and not a congenital Misfit but her strategy endangers her brother and his girlfriend who are left behind. And when Elspeth arrives at Obernewtyn, what she finds is more horrible and dangerous than rumor or imagination supplied.

Carmody has merged the commonplace rythms of farm life with the conventions of a prison-like boarding school and the menace of a dire plot to find a lost map that could re-awaken the terrors of the Great White. The compound and its labyrinthine estate house and impenetrable maze are straight out of classic murder mystery. The quasi-science seems a bit dated in a world where CERN announcements about finding the god particle are heralded with global champagne toasts and broadcast live worldwide. But there are strong, likable (and repulsive) characters, excellent pacing, enough surprises and decent tension. Many of those jammed together SF words like “the Beforetime” and “soldierguards” but I’m not going after them as I may resort to that hoary old trick when I ever get around to writing my own YA dystopian fiction so I will say it isn’t a problem.

It didn’t take forever to read the book, although that is not a complaint. Carmody writes fluently and her story moves well. Obernewtyn was engaging enough to keep me up until 2:30 finishing it and I think I’ll attempt the other three volumes in order to see what happens in this twisted world of blackened landscapes and snowblind mountains.

Obernewtyn: The Obernewtyn Chronicles 1   Isobelle Carmody | Random House  1987