A few months ago, sale I read Obernewtyn and The Farseekers by Isobelle Carmody. When they were first published in the U.S. (she’s Australian), allergist there was a big fuss about how amazing it was that there was this awesome fantasy author from Australia and she wrote these amazing books. I see the fervor’s cooled a bit and I feel like I know why.
It isn’t that the books aren’t good — they are, albeit a bit reservedly. Tropes abound: the orphan who turns out to have super-de-dooper magical powers and is of course so important that she’s going to save the world; even a bit of the romance novel trope that has her falling in love with the first eligible man she meets. (Well, okay, he falls in love with her, but so does everyone else, really. Although she doesn’t recognize it, her feelings are reciprocated with this first guy.) I’m not totally against tropes; they exist and work for a reason in the fantasy world as well as, oh, every other realm (romance, military thrillers, whodunits, even ‘lit fiction’). The orphan who turns out to save the world, though — that one’s a little overdone. (I’m looking at you, Harry Potter, for beating it to death the final time.) Also, the plot runs a little X-Men-y. I don’t really know if that’s a good thing or not.
In the world where there’s a Special Orphan (her name is Elspeth), there are Misfits — mutants, because of a nuclear holocaust. Of course these mutants-Misfits are feared and usually burned. But then, on a mountain, there’s a place called Obernewtyn where they take special Misfits for unknown reasons. Elspeth is sent there and has to discover what’s really going on. Fast forward to the end of the book, where we discover that there’s a machine (cleverly not called Cerebro) that enhances certain Misfit abilities. Farseeking, Beastspeaking, Empathy, Healing, Coercion — they’re all fairly common Talent/Gift types (they call them ‘Talents’ in this book) in fantasy novels. Anyway, her destiny is tied in with the nuclear holocaust, and that’s all I’m going to say about that.
The characters are interesting, human as well as equine and canine; they are, largely, one-dimensional, though. With one exception, people who seem to be bad, are, and people who seem to be good, are. I understand that it’s a children’s fantasy, but good lord, in Harry Potter we had the multi-faceted Snape and even frickin’ Narcissa Malfoy.
It’s in first person, which annoys the crap out of some people and bothers me occasionally. People talk in dialect sometimes, which also annoys people, and these two books are books 1 and 2 of what’s at least six books, which annoys the crap out of ME. Book 3 is available in the U.S., sort of, and book 4 isn’t. Book 5 is to be published in Australia in a couple months and book 6 is being written, I guess. (The author’s writing another trilogy, I see, for about the same age-group, and another for younger readers. She’s awfully prolific: check out her Wikipedia page.) So that’s why I think she’s not being lauded as a goddess anymore — the series is sort of spinning out into many books rather than a trilogy or a quartet. Yes, okay, the Harry Potter books were seven, but I think we knew somewhat after the first one came out that they’d be seven, so we were okay. A closed-end series can help, especially with kids. (Or adults, even more. Ack!)
I also suspect she was among the first of this current crop of Australian fantasists to be exported to the U.S. There are several more I could mention (and will, in subsequent entries) and at least one of them puts her to shame.
That having been said, I enjoyed them, and book 2 didn’t go exactly where I thought it would, although book 1 did. I’d assign them collectively 3.5/5 stars — 3 for book 1 and 4 for book 2.