by Isobelle Carmody
In a world struggling back from the brink of apocalypse, life is harsh and secretive. But for Elspeth Gordie, born with enhanced mental abilities that would see her sterilized or burned if discovered, it is also fraught with danger. There is only survival by secrecy, and so she determines never to demonstrate her forbidden powers. But it is as if they have their own imperative, and their distribution inevitably brings her to the attention of the totalitarian Council that rules and controls the Land with sadistic intentions.
Sent to the remote mountain institute of Obernewtyn where escape is impossible, she must throw off her safe cloak of concealment and pit herself against those who would resurrect the terrible forces of the Apocalypse.
Only then will she learn most truly who and what she is.
Fans of Isobelle Carmody who wants to take a look at her younger/more juvenile works.
I'm conflicted with rating this book. On the one hand, I would give it two stars and nothing more, but compared to the other two-star rated books I've read, Obernewtyn was somewhat better. But it's not quite three stars, you see. I gave three stars for Lips Touch by Laini Taylor, and I thought that was infinitely better than Obernewtyn.
On the other hand, I wanted to like this. I had high expectations for it - which probably just added to my disappointment. So I suppose for me, this book lies somewhere between two and three stars.
There are several beefs I have with Obernewtyn. The first being that new information is constantly dumped into the narrative whensoever it is conventient.
Oh, so you need people to think that your misfit abilities is a product of contamination and not something you suffered from birth? But you can't tell them that yourself because they won't believe you?- here, have some coercive powers so you can coerce someone to rat out to people that you've been afflicted by contaminated water during a misfortunate accident.
Oh, so you need some way of progressing the plot forward and discovering some imminent, threatening force in Obernewtyn?- here, have some outer-fucking-body-astral-projection abilities so you can uncover a terrible machine that's capable of capturing one's mind and controlling his body -- and at the same time, meet a mysterious ally!
Oh, so you need some way of seeking information from the past?-here! Have some psychometry powers while you're at it! Here! Take it! TAKE IT!!!
There were so many more instances, and not all of them related to Elspeth's powers. All of these information just jumped out at you, as if it had always been there, but was just never actually mentioned to us. It made the book seem unplanned, as if Isobelle Carmody had just been writing and writing, never having a complete idea of what would happen and where her story would lead.
My second problem came with the lack of action. I would say almost 90 per cent of this novel was telling instead of showing. Here is a (not so brief) demonstration of what I was reading most of the time. It's very long, so I've cut a few bits and pieces out, but rest assured this went on in a continuous flow:
One morning, there was a rumor at firstmeal that someone had broken into Madam Vega’s chamber. (...) There was no way they could trace the matter to me, but it meant I must wait a time before going back for a map. (...) We were stealing and hiding food and supplies in a hole concealed beneath a loose board in one of the barns. (...)
During this period, Louis told us that things were becoming unsettled in the highlands. There were even rumors that the ghosts of the Oldtimers had been stirring restlessly on the Beforetime ruins at the edge of the Blacklands.
A ghost of a different sort, Selmar now drifted about Obernewtyn like a gray wraith, unsmiling, silent, and pale. (...)
Perhaps the strangest thing of all, though, was the relationship that arose between Rushton and myself. (...) I had found out from Louis that he was a paid overseer who had been given the job by Madam Vega when he came to the mountains after his mother died (...).
Ariel was another matter entirely. He had a queer mania that made him hurt people just to see them cringe—as though he wanted proof of his superiority. It had been even worse since he had brought Selmar back. (...) He seemed to have forgotten about Cameo, but one day, near the end of the harvest season, he came to Cameo and bade her go with him to the doctor’s chamber.
We watched her trail after him with dread.
That night, she was in her bed, but not the next night or the one following. Soon her nightmares recommenced. I tried again to make her talk to me about what was happening to her, as did Matthew, who tortured himself with dreadful speculations. He could not bear even to look at Selmar. But Cameo refused to speak.
One night, she woke me with her mental cries, but when I went to comfort her as I had done before, I was appalled to see that her eyes were again the fierce eyes of a stranger.
Everything was so passive, even the action scenes were boring and dull. I suppose this comes from having such a dull heroine.
This of course leads me to my third complaint: the characters were (1) flat and one-dimensional. We read things from Elspeth's perspective, but I never really understood her as a character.
Elspeth started out suspicious of everyone around her, making her seem like a paranoid character. She didn't even want to be seen talking to people for God's sake - like, I don't even know why talking would be forbidden even in a post-apocalyptic world. But once she arrives at Obernewtyn, it's like she changed to a completely different person. She was chatty, she was sharing secrets, and it's all so puzzling, this sudden turn of events.
If her inconsistency didn't bother me, her stupidity surely did. When Madam Vega, the lady from Obernewtyn, came to inspect the orphan home for some prospective misfits to take back with her, what does Elspeth do? Instead of laying low, instead of being - you know, prudent for such the paranoid parrot that she is, she actually tries to penetrate into Madam Vega's mind to see what she's thinking. This while they're both practically the only people in the room.
Well of bloody course you're going to be discovered, you stupid, stupid girl.
And even if her stupidity didn't get to me, her blatant disrespect for privacy certainly did. The second she meets her new friends at Obernewtyn, she goes around prying into their minds, digging into their thoughts, like it's any of her bloody business.
She does this every so often I want to backhand the bitch and teach her a lesson or two about manners and basic human decency. I mean, she didn't even have any reason to pry into their thoughts. It's not like they were evil masterminds and she needed to uncover their secrets to rescue the world. Shit, she didn't even try to do any of that to the real evil masterminds.
Asides from being little more than human cardboard cut-outs, the other characters were also (2) unbelievably stupid. They're telling each other secrets, conspiring to escape. Between Elspeth, Matthew, and Dameon, they knew each other's secret abilities -- which may prove fatal for one another if one was captured.
And then Rosamunde, a friend of Elspeth from the orphan home, comes to Obernewtyn (for some uncanny reason), and of course she knows everything there is to know about Elspeth - even things about her older brother.
What I'm saying is, it's not really a brilliantly kept secret, is it? And if Madam Vega and her cronies had an ounce of brain power, they would've just shuffled through all the misfits at Obernewtyn and questioned them one by one. They would certainly find the person they were looking for in a matter of days. Stupid is as stupid does.
I mean, why rely on "informants" when you can just as easily find things out for yourself? They had no moral reservations against torture. They also had no problem "wiping" peoples' memories, if that were necessary. So I mean ... ... this book, and its characters, made no sense.
And what about the plot? you ask me. What about the actual story?
It was mediocre, in my opinion. The world was there, but it didn't seem so engaging for me. It's obvious the "Great White" was a product of human wars instead of some God's wrath. It's not so obvious just how advanced they were before the apocalypse, though.
The main tension of this book was uncovering the mysteries of Obernewtyn, and once discovered, it was ... ... very anti-climactic indeed. I mean, we found out who the antagonists were long before the end, but it took chapters upon chapters just ... planning for a (never actually performed) escape and looking for something very important indeed, which Elspeth managed to do in a full three seconds with her conveniently convenient psychometric abilities which I didn't even know she could do.
So I guess, overall, I thought Obernewtyn was a very random novel. The type of story I would narrate out to my younger brother just before bed time, pulling it right out my arse just as I went along, waiting for him to drift asleep.