Tags: obernewtyn

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Whither Obernewtyn

For my March reading goal - "a book that's more than 600 pages" - I chose Isobelle Carmody's 1100-page doorstopper, the long-awaited finale to the Obernewtyn series, The Red Queen.

And I made it! I slogged my way all the way through to the end, finishing up the last fifty pages this afternoon.

Honestly I'm almost glad that the final book was so long in coming, because I was so devoted to these books in high school - I lent my copies to all my friends & then checked the books out of the library repeatedly because I couldn't bear to be parted from them for so long - that it would have broken my heart to read this then. At some point around book five I think Carmody lost the thread of the plot, or her previously pretty decent ability to write plots, and never really got it back.

However, her plotting was never the strongest part of the books; what's more painful is that in book seven she seems to have lost her grasp on characterization, too, so the characters will have long philosophical/expository discussions during which they are all basically interchangeable. I repeatedly had to slow down to sort out whether Dragon or Dameon was speaking, because the names are visually similar and there was no longer any clear difference in their dialogue to help me tell.

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Wednesday Reading Meme

What I’ve Just Finished Reading

Mockingjay. D: D: D: TEARS FOREVER.

I also finished Miss Read’s Miss Clare Remembers, which I enjoyed very much for the sort of bird’s-eye view of English history that it offers. Miss Clare is reflecting on her life as she waits for a friend to visit, which covers everything from the 1880s to the 1950s, although it must be said that bulk of the book is pre-World War I and before.

What I’m Reading Now

Still The Red Queen. There are only two days left in March! WILL I FINISH IT BEFORE THE END? I’ve only got two hundred pages left, so I think yes.

The more important question is “How will Carmody pack in enough story to wrap up all the loose ends she’s got dangling?” Elspeth hasn’t even met Matthew again - I’ve been waiting for Elspeth and Matthew’s reunion since book 3, goddammit! - let alone restored Dragon to her throne, found the last sign of her quest, spoken the ancient promises in the place where they were first made, confronted her nemesis Ariel, disarmed the weaponmachines permanently, or led the animals to a new home where they will be free from the depredations of humanity.

I’ve given up on hoping that it won’t feel rushed. Right now I’d settle for Carmody managing to get all that in.

I’m also still reading Miracles on Maple Hill, which continues to be a delight. There are whole scenes which pretty much consist of Marly listing the different flowers or berries that grow on Maple Hill at a certain time of year, which sounds tedious when I write it like that but actually is wonderful. I feel like children’s books have really tapered off the natural history in recent years, which is really too bad.

What I Plan to Read Next

I was puzzling over what to read for my April challenge, “A book of poetry or a play,” BUT THEN I found a copy of Tolkien’s translations of the Middle English poems Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo. Problem solved!

And the TransPacific Book Exchange is back in action: soon I will have Norah of Billabong! YESSSSSSS.

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Wednesday Reading Meme

What I’ve Just Finished Reading

Progress on the Unread Book Club! I finished reading The Collected Raffles, which turns out to be only the first three Raffles books, but fortuitously it turns out that the fourth is available freeeeeeeee on Kindle so of course I shall read that. I find these books awfully charming.

What I’m Reading Now

Still slogging through The Red Queen. Good news! Halfway through the book - this book, let me remind you, is 1100 pages long - Elspeth and company have finally started to move. If the pacing continues as it has been, then Carmody is going to have to cram Elspeth’s confrontation with Ariel into ten pages at the end.

I don’t know if I’ve been so disappointed in the conclusion of a much-loved series since Harry Potter. And in fact, this is giving me new appreciation for the seventh Harry Potter book: whatever flaws they have, at least they did not include Harry indulging in pages-long speculations about what might happen next, only to conclude with him abruptly ceasing to speculate on the grounds that it’s useless. YOU DON’T SAY.

I have also started my next Unread Book Club book, although as often happens this is more of a “I read this so long ago I no longer remember anything about it” book, Miracles on Maple Hill. Young Marly and her family are moving out to the old family farm in hopes that the fresh air, wide open spaces, and ability to avoid cranky-making strangers will help her irritable father recover from the trauma of being a POW in World War II. WILL IT? I think probably, although it did win the Newbery which also gave us the miseryfest of Out of the Dust, so who knows.

What I Plan to Read Next

Netgalley has come through for me with a book called Touring America by Automobile in the 1920s, which is a published diary about family road trips to the National Parks in the 1920s. Road trips! In the 1920s! On the mess of a road system then in existence! To the National Parks! Aaaaah I hope there are descriptions of campfire cooking and middle-of-nowhere diners with surprisingly good pie.

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Wednesday Reading Meme

What I’ve Just Finished Reading

Diana Pavlac Glyer’s The Company They Keep: C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien as Writers in Community, which I quite enjoyed. I am a total sucker for books about writers groups/writers friendships in general, and the Inklings in particular, and I recommend this for people who are interested in either.

As often happens after reading a book about the Inklings, I feel a strange urge to read one of Charles Williams’ novels, even though every description I have ever read of them - even the most affectionate - note that his prose is super opaque and unclear and all around difficult to read. No, self, don’t do it!

I also finished Miss Read’s Village School; the Miss Read books continue to be lovely and restful. This book had the added interest of a sequence where the characters put on a British history pageant, starting with the Romans and working their way onward from there. It reminded me very much of Rosemary Sutcliff’s books & the sweep of history that they cover - I somehow always assumed that this was Sutcliff’s own unique conception of history (probably because it’s so different than what one might call a popular view of history in the US), and discovering that it actually ties to a vision of history that was popular at the time makes it even more interesting to me.

What I’m Reading Now

Still slogging through the final Obernewtyn book. I still feel like there’s a good story in here struggling to break free of the morass of unnecessary logistical detail with which it has been cumbered - no, we don’t need a step-by-step description of how Elspeth gets every place she goes! (spoiler alert: there’s a lot of walking) - but damn. That’s a lot of morass.

In happier news, I’m still reading The Collected Raffles, which continues to be delightful. Raffles and Bunny have just spent a week living in someone else’s house on the sly while owner is away on holiday, possibly for no better reason than because Raffles wanted to read the owner’s collected volumes of Kinglake. (Kinglake, the magic of wikipedia informs me, is a Victorian travel writer.) He has been neglecting Bunny disgracefully in favor of Kinglake, in fact, and Bunny decides to retaliate by… cross-dressing in the clothes of the absent lady of the house? Clearly that will get Raffles’ attention! The slash is still practically writing itself.

What I Plan to Read Next

My “read a book that won a Pulitzer” challenge isn’t till December, but I’ve picked out a book for it when it comes: Tom Reiss’s The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo, which is about Alexandre Dumas’s swashbuckling father, Thomas-Alexandre Dumas. How could I resist that?

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Wednesday Reading Meme

What I’ve Just Finished Reading

I don’t believe I finished anything this week. I started playing a Facebook game and it vacuumed up all my time. I should probably erase it.

No, wait, I did finished The Family at Misrule! Which I had 90% completed last Wednesday. Sorry, Facebook game, we had good times together but you must go.

What I’m Reading Now

Isobelle Carmody’s The Red Queen, a thousand page behemoth that I am becoming increasingly certain could have been edited down to five hundred pages if not less, if only Carmody could have been trusted to return the manuscript in a timely fashion if the editors gave it back to her. (I doubt they dared. The last book came out nearly thirty years after the first was published. They were probably terrified that they might wait another decade if they sent the manuscript back.)

I’m 250 pages in and Elspeth and co. have made no progress on Elspeth’s quest to save the world by dismantling the weaponmachines that already caused one apocalypse and might yet cause another. Instead, they are stuck in a weird little dystopian community, and under other circumstances I would be all for exploring weird dystopias, but I have been waiting half my life - literally half my life! - to read the ending of Elspeth’s quest. I’m probably as impatient as Elspeth herself for things to get a move on.

In fact, Elspeth keeps expressing her frustration that she can’t make any progress. I think this was a sign from Carmody’s subconscious that this part of the book could have been edited down to like 50 pages, tops, but alas she did not heed it.

Instead we get endless relays of - Elspeth finds out a bit of information; she chafes at the fact that she can’t tell her friends because most of the settlement is bugged; at last they gather at one of the non-bugged spots, and she tells them what she learned (which we the readers already know) and they suggest further avenues for inquiry (many of which we the readers have already thought of, although of course we have the advantage of having read dystopian fiction before), and then Elspeth chafes because she can’t get away to investigate, and then she finally gets away to investigate and the cycle starts all over again and GAAAAAAH SOMEONE COULD HAVE EDITED THIS SO HARD. SO HARD.

On a brighter note, I’ve been reading Sherwood Smith’s Miss Eleanor Tilney: or, The Reluctant Heroine, which as the title suggests is pro-fic of Austen’s Northanger Abbey, and a total delight. I really enjoy Smith’s Regency romances - I almost hesitate to call them that; I feel like Regency romance as a subgenre riffs off of Heyer, and Smith is riffing directly from Austen - the book is written in quite credible Austen pastiche - which gives them a very different feeling.

What I Plan to Read Next

I’ve added all of Sherwood Smith’s other Austen pastiches to my Amazon wishlist to add to my Kindle when I get the chance, but first I must read Nora Murphy’s White Birch, Red Hawthorn, a Netgalley book that is a memoir... essay collection... thing about the conquest of Minnesota.

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100 Books, #13: Alyzon Whitestarr

If I had to recommend one Isobelle Carmody book, it would be without doubt Alyzon Whitestarr. I couldn’t put hand to heart and swear it’s the very best thing she’s written, because how could I ever decide between all the good things she’s done? But it does have the unconquerable benefit of being a standalone, which, as Carmody has completed none of her four series to date - four! four! FOUR! unfinished series! - is an important consideration for a fulfilling reading experience.

Reason #1 to read Carmody: she has a lovely, rather old-fashioned voice; I think might appeal to Sutcliff fans especially. It works wonderfully in her fantasies but might seem like an odd fit for a book about a contemporary teenager. However, it didn’t bother me a bit when I first read the book at seventeen, and honestly I think adult people getting snitty about teen books because “teenagers don’t talk like that” is rather silly.

Reason #2, and really at the heart of it: Carmody has a wonderful way with characters, and particularly with creating a feeling of good-fellowship which simply makes her books wonderful to slip into. There’s a sense of richness to Alyzon’s social world, the feeling that there are lots of layers to her life.

“It starts with my family,” Alyzon begins the book, “and in a way, that’s the whole story.” It’s a big family, four teenagers and one baby: and the way that they band together to take care of Alyzon’s baby brother, as well as Alyzon’s mother, who isn’t quite well - she’s physically fine, but she doesn’t seem to be quite all there emotionally - is gently lovely.

Alyzon herself starts off as an average Australian teenager (assuming Australian teenagers are pretty generally delightful, which is the impression I get from Australian teen fiction anyway). Then she gets conked on the head, goes into a coma, and comes out of it with the ability to smell auras.This sounds like a rather odd power, but it becomes enthralling. Also, if you are the kind of person who likes to sort people into Hogwarts houses or contemplates what daemons your friends might have...this is similarly good for hours of entertainment.

With her new essence-smelling ability, Alyzon is so drawn to her classmate Gilly’s sea-scent that they become best friends, and they chat about saving the world and the nature of evil, like you do. (One thing I like about Carmody books is that they dive headlong into the big questions, even if they are sometimes heavy-handed with the answers.)

And they meet Gilly’s friends, who become Alyzon’s gang as well. Not only does Alyzon have a large and splendid family, but she also gets this great group of friends, with whom she eats homemade pizza by candlelight in a conservatory and tests computer games and chats about the nature of evil and how to defeat it.

Even quite minor characters become vivid and interesting. Carmody’s ability to juggle so many characters, to make them vivid and distinct so that you remember who Sylvia Yarrow is even though two hundred pages have passed since we last saw her - and not just remember, but care about her story - is something I admire intensely and attempt to emulate in my own writing. I count every comment about a tertiary character as a minor victory.
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100 Books, #12: Obernewtyn

Hey, remember this 100 books project? The one I dropped like a hot potato when grad school began? Yeah, I’d forgotten it too. But writing my The Sending review put me in mind of it again, because the Obernewtyn books were such an important series to me when I was a teenager.

I could write a lengthy review - indeed, a monograph! - of things that frustrate me about this series; but I have come to praise Caesar, not to bury him, and I’ll focus on the things that made me love the first three books so powerfully when I was young.

The whole idea of Misfits, for one thing: telepathically Talented young people (they all seem to be young) who are persecuted by the cruel Council, which thinks they are mutants caused by the nuclear holocaust. This was like crack for thirteen-year-old me.

Our heroine Elspeth is the arch-Misfit. She is, I own, a somewhat eye-rolly character on the face of it. Not only is she the most powerful Misfit ever (notwithstanding her lack of empathic Talent), and a guildmistress of the Farseekers at the age of fourteen, and so incredibly poised and gorgeous that 90% of the men fall in love with her; she’s also the heroine spoken of in the gypsies’ ancient promises, and at the Sadorians’ Earthtemple, and the fated deliverer of the animals who will lead them to freedom from the funaga (humans), and the savior who will prevent a second nuclear holocaust from killing all life on earth.

This is a great deal to pile on a single character. It helps that a lot of it creeps up on you: book by book, she becomes entangled in more prophecies and more strongly enmeshed in the Obernewtyn community. At the beginning, she’s just a fierce, frightened orphan girl, acerbic and lonely and aloof from the people who surround her. Although she gathers about an enormous number of friends - I honestly could not keep track of them all by The Sending - she never quite loses that sense of fierce aloofness. (No wonder her best and oldest friend is a cat!) That independence is, to me, at the center of Elspeth’s appeal.

But much as I love Elspeth, the biggest draw in the books is that community that she gathers around herself. From her isolated beginning Elspeth manages to build an enormous web of social relationships, chosen family and friends and allies who are scattered across the Land. They radiate from her like concentric circles, and at the center of it is Obernewtyn, which started as a prison for Misfits and becomes their haven.

One of the things that is good about The Sending, I thought, is Elspeth’s sense of loss as Obernewtyn opens itself to the outside world. She notes, correctly, that if the Misfits are to be accepted in the Land, then Obernewtyn can’t continue to be totally cut off from everywhere: but she’s also right that in losing that hermit aspect, Obernewtyn will lose something precious. There’s a sense of warmth and trust there, of absolute acceptance, which may not be lost entirely when it opens to the outside world - but inevitably, will weaken.

(Also, how about that ravek scene in Ashling? I thought that simply the height of romantic. I ought to do a whole post on Ashling: it’s my favorite Obernewtyn book, with Domick and the plans for the rebellion and Sador.)
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Book Review: The Sending

The Sending was supposed to be the last book in the Obernewtyn Chronicles. A lot of books were supposed to be the last book in the Obernewtyn Chronicles - I think this trend goes all the way back to Ashling (which is totally the best: the ravek scene still makes me swoon a little) - but The Sending really was supposed to be the last one.

The Sending has been split into two books. The last book - really the last book in the series, like for real this time - is supposed to come out in 2013.

OH MY GOD WHAT IS THIS I DON’T EVEN AAAAARGH.

I would feel better about this, except nothing happens in The Sending. There are two hundred pages in the middle of the book which could be summed up, God help us, just like this:

“Day after day Gahltha and I walked deeper into the mountains, ours heads down against the icy winds. I ate as little as I could, but our food supply dwindled, and I worried how I might feed myself once it ran out. For now, we might forage in the mountains, but what could I eat once we reached tainted ground? And what would I drink? For I had brought only two gourds with me.

But whenever I ran low on water, we found a new stream. Perhaps acceptance was one of the lessons that I must learn from this journey if I were to complete my quest. (This book positively valorizes unpreparedness. I get that there’s something about faith going on, but, uh, I really don’t believe the world will take care of you if you fling yourself blindly into it, so I’m not sure why the book blithely insists that it will.)

I knew that I would never return to Obernewtyn, yet that knowledge ached less than it once had. As we followed the crumbling Beforetime road through the thin, clear mountain air, I felt as though my old life were falling away from me. Even the thought of my love Rushton pained me less.”

Ta-da! Two hundred pages summarized! Two hundred pages that could have been filled with actual plot! Two hundred pages wherein Elspeth could have found and interpreted at least one of the signs she’s supposed to find, which will help her defeat the deadly weaponmachines that will otherwise complete a total nuclear annihilation of her world!

It is testament to Carmody’s skill, really, that despite the fact that nothing happens for two hundred pages - and precious little in the two hundred pages on either side - the book never drags. I kept turning pages, eagerly floating along the inconsequential stream.

***

You may be wondering, given my frustration, what I found so intoxicating about the first few Obernewtyn books. There are a lot of long-winded answers I could give, but the short version is:

At the beginning of the series, Obernewtyn is a remote mountain fortress whence people with strange powers are banished. These people are called Misfits.

Misfits. With Capitalization! Is there a word more ordained to draw the attention of a disaffected thirteen-year-old?

***

So, yes. Isobelle Carmody. A very good writer, but she never finished her series, so at this point I don’t feel comfortable recommending anything she’s written except Alyzon Whitestarr. It’s fun, it’s got cool telepathic powers - Alyzon can smell people’s auras! - and a wonderful group of friends: I love Gilly and Harrison particularly.

And, most of all, it’s a standalone.
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Books! Excitement! Shazam!

YOU GUYS YOU GUYS YOU GUYS my parents are bringing me the latest Obernewtyn book from New Zealand! (They're on sabbatical. They have the best sabbaticals when I'm not around. They went to France for a year once. This was before I was born.)

It's apparently not actually the last Obernewtyn book, because the series is NEVER GOING TO END OH MY GOD. But NONETHELESS. After all these years of waiting, I finally get the next installment! Maybe some things will actually wrap up. Maybe they'll find Matthew! Maybe Mirrim will reappear! Maybe Elspeth and Rushton will finally be together for more than three pages!

No, that's probably too much to hope for.

I will be seeing my parents on Saturday. I can probably hold off diving into the book long enough to say "Welcome home."

***

Finally: I've finished rereading! The Realms of the Gods! It only took me...a month and a half. *facepalm* I finally added it to my to-do list because clearly it wasn't happening any other way.

Most frustrating thing about this book: Daine and Numair realize their Epic Love for each other halfway through. Then they discuss reasons why their Epic Love might be troublesome. He is twice her age! And he is her teacher! Also, Daine just fell off a cliff and nearly got eaten by spidrens and maybe has a head wound, and therefore is in no shape to be starting a new relationship! Okay, they don't discuss that last one, but it's worth keeping in mind.

And then! And then! They drop the subject and NEVER DISCUSS IT AGAIN.

I am not sufficiently invested in Daine/Numair to want fic addressing this, but...I mean, if you're going to bring it up, you really ought to deal with it, right?

Most awesome thing about the book: darkings. They are shamelessly adorable. I should be irritated at being so manipulated, but I am way too busy going "ADORABLE INKBLOT CREATURES. Awwwwwwwwww."