Isobelle Carmody’s The Sending is Book Six (Australian version) in her popular Obernewtyn Chronicles, Book One now itself a Penguin Classic. This review is therefore not pitched at new readers, but rather at those who are already invested in the series; people who are no doubt wondering, “Is The Sending what fans have been waiting for? Does it further Elsepeth’s quest to disarm Sentinel? And does it leave one clamouring for more?” The answers are, in fact, not so simple. This review has taken me a long time to put together. Why? Because the answer to these questions depends entirely on what it is you, personally, get out of the Chronicles.
Much like Jaclyn Moriarty’s Dreaming of Amelia (excellent Australian book by the way), this is one of those books where the title and back cover quote metaphorically tell the reader all. From the blurb;
“It came to me then, like a chilly draught from an unseen gap, that I had always known in my deepest heart that it would be like this; a slipping away from a life full of people I had come to love, in a place I had helped to shape, in a land I had helped to free.”
(copyright Isobelle Carmody and Penguin Books)
With the future of the Misfits at Obernewtyn stable, the Land free from faction and Council rule, it is Elspeth, and Elspeth alone, who now matters in this tale. This is a journey chapter; both physically and metaphorically; a bridge to the home run of The Red Queen if you will. So, if you are looking for huge plot developments and revelations that pertain to the wider story arc of Kassandra’s keys, Sentinel and The Destroyer in The Sending, you will be disappointed in this new entry. Pacing is uneven and plot resolution scant. Think of it as akin to the camping in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and you’d be about on the same wave length as this book in terms of plot progression.
So, what does this book have to offer, if anything, then? It is the story of Elspeth leaving Obernewtyn and dealing with that, it is about her gaining human relationships, even as we all know she may well lose them later, it is about Elspeth accepting her Sending at long last, and going willingly, despite the emotional and very personal price she must pay in doing so.
I remember reading somewhere that Isobelle writes stories with this kind of dualistic driving force in mind; the two pronged attack of having a big conflict that affects the many, counterpointed by the personal trials and tribulations of her main characters. In the Obernewtyn Chronicles, there is an esotoric, grand, large scale conflict which draws multiple characters and lives into its folds, but at the same time, there is the very real human conflict occuring on a smaller scale, but no less important to the character this impacts upon. The Sending seems to be that person centred calm before The Red Queen conflict and quest driven storm.
To take my initial Harry Potter analogy further, I imagine this book to be much like the film version of Deathly Hallows Part One. Quieter and more character driven then the second movie, it was not a hit with everyone. In my opinion, however, the second part could not have felt so emotionally resonant without that first part, no matter how actionless that first movie proved to be. A sister to The Keeping Place, The Sending is a book of momentary lull before the action packed punches of the final chapter of this series.
So yes, The Sending is big on characterisation, and slow on events progressing the physical quest story. This was only a minor drawback for me, but I can see that for some fans, this will be a turn off. Though I concede that better editing throughout the Obernewtyn Chronicles might have made for a tighter story, especially in light of Isobelle’s emotional attachment to the series, such is her imaginative vision and thematic power in this series, I am prepared to forget and forgive.
Young adult fantasy is producing some of the best speculative fiction around at the moment, and Isobelle Carmody’s Obernewtyn Chronicles have long held me in thrall. Carmody dares to challenge us not just with, ‘who do we want to become?’ but also with ‘what have we become now?’ and ‘Is this who we truly want to be?’ It is for this reason that I will faithfully read The Red Queen next year. Fiction can be a form of cultural critcism. The moral and philophically rich questions that the Obernewtyn Chronicles asks us about our world, are ones that I definitely don’t want to miss!
The Sending: 3/5 stars