It was in year 6 when my friend Elspeth came to school for book character day dressed in a dress, a cape, and from memory, holding a toy cat. I, on the other hand, was dressed as Wilma Flintsone, in a costume my mum had constructed for me from calico. I won the class prize that year, but I remember thinking I shouldn’t have. It should have gone to my friend in the makeshift costume, who was dressed as the book character no one in the class knew — Elspeth, from the Obernewtyn Chronicles, by Isobelle Carmody.
I think the problem was that no one knew what book she was talking about; it certainly wasn’t one of the popular ones at the time. I know I didn’t have any great desire to read it. But perhaps because I felt she should have won, or because she kept talking about it, or maybe because we used to play the best games and I trusted her judgement, I read the book Obernewtyn. And then I read the second book in the series, The Far Seekers. And when it came out I read the third book, Ashling, and then no more, because there weren’t any more to read.
I remember thinking about the series once or twice over the years, but it wasn’t until last year when I heard that it had finally been finished, that I decided to read them again. Knowing I could finally get some closure for an adventure I began 22 years ago, was rather appealing.
There’s something quite magical, about going back to a series from your childhood. All the old memories flood back, including those of the friend who introduced you to the books in the first place. The past six months I’ve been immersed in the world of Obernewtyn and it’s been quite wonderful, but I was also glad to turn the last page and read how it finally ended. Not exactly how I expected, but not surprising either way.
I had considered sharing book reviews of each of the books as I went, but in the end opted to wait till now. So here you have it: the 7 books of the Obernewtyn Chronicles in brief.
Book 1. Obernewtyn
Elspeth Gordie is an orphan girl with telepathic powers, who is forced to go and live in the mysterious Obernwtyn residence in the mountains. Thankfully it turns out to not be as bad as she thought, even if the landlords are trying to work out how to end the world. She makes some friends, her cat comes with her, and she doesn’t work in the kitchens forever. #winning
Book 2. The Farseekers
Intent on Obernewtyn being a safe haven for misfits, Elspeth and others go on an expedition to save someone they’ve never met. (They do that often.) Lots happens in this book, including firestorms, travelling through underwater cities and meeting a character that you’re sure would give great hugs. Elspeth’s personal mission to save the world from the death machines is reaffirmed by mystical birds.
Book 3. Ashling
There’s more exploring in this book as Elspeth and her friends travel to the capital of the Land, and then end up playing war games in the desert. There’s a whole rebellion being planned, slave traders kidnapping people, and Elspeth even gets a tattoo. The end of this book is lovely, and was a great spot to finish reading if you’re going to wait 20 years for the next instalment, just fyi.
Book 4. The Keeping Place.
Not my favourite of the series, this book involves lots of time in Elspeth’s mind as she wanders the ‘dream tails’ looking for past clues to her secret mission. (It’s actually pretty convoluted and well done on Isobelle Carmody’s part.) There’s also a bit of action to break up the more quiet parts, including a kidnapping, a betrayal and a giant glass sculpture. While less thrilling than the others, this book sets up the rest of the series well and is worth coming back to.
Book 5. The Stone Key.
This one was my favourite for so many reasons. It was heartbreaking in the kind of way that made you wonder if a happy ending was even slightly possible, as well as heartwarming when you start to believe that it just might be. Elspeth did a lot of crazy, stupid-brave stuff in this, but also managed to liberate an entire island and save the country from a pandemic. There were boat rides, and horse rides and even several dolphin rides, and at the end of it all, pretty dresses and fabulous hair. Key parts of the mission are walked through as well and it’s at the end of this book that everything starts heating up for the final quest.
Book 6. The Sending.
Aka, the book that will make you cry. This one got to me. The injustice of injustice had me asking real life questions that weren’t just related to the book. This will make you think about why people do the stupid things they do, and how it hurts everyone when the greed for power is allowed to rule above all else. There are also some truly lovely moments in this book, even if they are bittersweet. There’s also grumpy wolves, psycho bats and some breathtaking views.*
*Views are imaginary.
Book 7. The Red Queen.
The conclusion of the series lies in this mammoth book that introduces two entire social systems and leaves you, at times, wondering how the whole thing is going to play out. This one is most fresh in my mind so it’s problems are clearer, as are its good points. It is long, and there are times when it feels like there is too much information in some parts of the story, and not enough in others. Key plot points could have been resolved in more detail, and there were a few questions left hanging at the end. The ending was… well it was satisfactory. Without giving things away, I would have done one major thing differently, and then I think it would have been almost perfect. (Which sounds vaguely conceited I know, but I’m being honest.) All in all, though, it did end well. There were sad tears and happy tears. A joyful goat, a forlorn owl and a robot named Hendon. And most of all there was hope, which was what the whole series had been about really. Finding hope for the future.
So that’s it: the Obernewtyn series in a nutshell. 32 years from go to whoa, all on the suggestion of a girl named Elspeth.
Was it worth it?
Yes. Absolutely. For in spite of the slower parts and the grammar issues that were more obvious than they should have been, and the fact that it took 30 years for the story to be done, it’s a good series that makes you think and hope that as a species, we do better than we could do. Than the people in the book did.
Also, it’s got a strong female character who doesn’t need to chase the knight in shining armour because she’s too busy being it.
But mostly, it makes you want to do better. And that’s a good thing.
So thanks, Elspeth, my friend, wherever you are in the world, for introducing me to Elspeth and Obernewtyn. I’m glad you did.
Read any great books lately?
Have you read the Obernewtyn Chronicles?
Are you inspired too?
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