Obernewtyn Chronicles Review (Books 1-3)

Hi everyone! I am finally back from my holiday hiatus which was much needed and great fun! So now it’s time for the book review someone way back when said they were interested in reading… Australian author Isobelle Carmody’s Obernewtyn Chronicles.

To make this review fair, I need to give you all a bit of background. I first read Obernewtyn when I was nine or ten for the NSW Premier’s Reading Challenge. I was climbing the walls having to read the books off that list as few were fantastical. Isobelle’s was one of the only books on there other than Emily Rhodda and the absurdist Lemony Snicket. It was torture.

At nine, I found Obernewtyn absolutely terrifying. It is the story of a young girl living in a harsh post-apocalyptic world. Fear of radiation sickness and poisoning has led to a fear of those with paranormal abilities as a result of the earth’s previous destruction. Protagonist Elspeth is caught in a thriller situation as she is sent to the mysterious mountain retreat Obernewtyn. Everyone is afraid and no one wants to go there, but why?

As an older teen I came back and reread the series after my Mum bought me the three in one omnibus. It is now one of my favourite series and I even had the wonderful opportunity of meeting Isobelle herself once. When it comes to her books, I am therefore incredibly biased. The last book in the seven part series comes out sometime next year, and the sixth book The Sending came out October 2011. In preperation for these books, I have reread the chronicles again from the start.

In my opinion, Obernewtyn reads differently to the rest of the series. I suspect this is because Isobelle wrote it at 14. It is a series written in the first person, from a young adult’s perspective of being “the outsider” and I suspect too, this is why it resonated so well with young adults in Australia. The story is a fairly short, quick read and seems on the surface to be quite a straightforward fantasy/sci fi thriller. There are very interesting characters (I still sympathise immensely with Elspeth Gordie and have alot of love for characters like Cameo, Matthew, Sharna and Dameon) but the story seems thin for a sustained fantasy series.

When you read The Farseekers (Book 2), it becomes obvious that the story is much more complex than a mad scientist and experiments. Elspeth has a quest to fufil. She must seek out the weapons that destroyed our world following signs left by an enigmatic gypsy before the elusive “Destroyer” gets there first and sets off a second apocalypse. At the same time as this, Elspeth is caught up in the fight for the misfits at Obernewtyn to gain freedom in a repressive land. Elspeth’s journey with other misfits to rescue a Misfit Talent leads her to find the head of the Rebels in the land, to Henry Druid, councilman resister (but is he friend or foe?) and a little girl conjuring up frightening visions at a Beforetime library. Futuretellings (visions) of what will be and the intervention of the ancient Agyllian birds only adds to the epic feel of this second outing.

Ashlings (Book 3) is one of my favourite in this particular series. Talk of rebellion in the land is rife and misfit’s must find their place in this potential new land. But how can they prove themselves to people who have long viewed them as dangerous and corrupted? The slave trader Salamandar complicates matters, as Elspeth’s old enemy Ariel returns briefly. Is he diabolically mad yet harmless? Or are his growing relations with The Council, the fanatical Herder faction and Salamandar pointing to something more sinister? A journey to Sador might prove to the rebel leaders the value of misfit powers but at what cost? And just how many strands of past, present and future weave together to point towards Elspeth’s quest? She must find the signs to destroy the weaponmachines but in championing her fellow misfits, can she find the time for both?

The first two books may feel a bit slow but once this epic gets started, I truly believe it is one of the best of its kind around. I love the way that the past and future become so closely linked as Elspeth’s quest unfolds in a complex puzzle. I love the way that Isobelle doesn’t take the easy way out with the plight of the misfits and shows how black human nature can be, and yet at the same time, how astonishingly compassionate.

The Obernewtyn Chronicles are at once a cautionary tale of human kinds capacity for self destruction, a morality tale forcing us to think about how we treat people who are different, a tale of the ethics of having powers that others don’t have, a quest story involving talking animals, gypsies, powers, and cryptic clues, and finally, a story of a young woman growing up.

So if those things aren’t your cup of tea, this series isn’t for you, but if it is… what are you waiting for?


About InkAshlings

Maureen, Australian, young aspiring writer.
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6 Responses to Obernewtyn Chronicles Review (Books 1-3)

  1. Carol says:

    Great review! I’m only reading them for the first tie…they weren’t around in NZ when I was growing up. I’m up to The Stone Key and am loving the series, even if they are YA books! I can’t believe I haven’t read them before. I just love Maruman, too.

    • InkAshlings says:

      The Stone Key amazes me for how much Isobelle fits into it narratively! I love the way the past intertwines with the present. She did the same thing with Darkfall etc but in a less cool way imo.

      My friend and I have a photo with Isobelle with us wearing screen printed t shirts with Maruman printed on them!

  2. jaymountney says:

    It sounds nicely complicated! I’m really interested, because I’m writing a YA fantasy series myself (details in my blog) so I need to look at good role models!

    Welcome back from your holiday – hope you had a good time.

    • InkAshlings says:

      Isobelle is THE major young adult fantasy player in Australia atm. She has written alot. I also highly reccomend The Gathering and Alyzon Whitestarr (two stand alone books). The unfinished Legend Song trilogy is for older readers but was also very good.

  3. Welcome back,

    Of the series I think Obernewtyn remains my favourite. For the most part it has a single driving theme with the two(or is it three) themes that run through the series only introduced right near the end. Come to think of it, that may be another reason why it seems different than the others. by the end Elspeth has achieved the goal of personal security that was her driver and the later books move onto the more esoteric goals of regime change, misfit-species survival and the hinted at(for far too long imo) threat of a second apocolypse.

    • InkAshlings says:

      I think I am so addicted to my childhood with the chronicles that I can no longer really be objective about them. I know that Isobelle has;
      a) taken forever to finish the series
      b) drawn out the series with each new book

      but damn I still love them anyway. Part of the fun for me is the minute details of the character’s lives. I actually enjoy the slow burn of this series and there is so much else going on that I rarely ever feel bored (the one exception being The Keeping Place. I mean… what was that Isobelle?)

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