2007 edition cover
|Cover artist||Les Petersen|
|Genre||Fantasy, Science fiction, Post-apocalyptic|
|Publisher||Penguin Books (AUS)|
|Media type||Print (Paperback)|
|Followed by||The Farseekers|
Obernewtyn is the first novel in the Obernewtyn Chronicles series by Australian author Isobelle Carmody. Carmody began writing it at the age of fourteen, and reworked the novel through high school and university. Much of the inspiration for the protagonist, Elspeth Gordie, comes from her own life experiences. It was published by Penguin Books in Australia in 1988 and shortlisted for the Book of the Year for Older Readers in the Children's Book Council of Australia Awards.
A science fiction-fantasy novel set in a post-apocalyptic world, the story follows Elspeth Gordie, an orphan with special mental abilities, who lives a life of fear and danger. When her abilities are brought to the attention of the ruling, totalitarian Council, she is banished to the remote mountain institution of Obernewtyn, where all "Misfits" are sent. The leaders of Obernewtyn are secretly searching for the old weapons that had sent the world to the brink of despair, and Elspeth finds herself embroiled in a plot that risks more than just her personal safety.
The book has been published in Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, and Portugal. The Library Journal stated it was a "thought-provoking tale of courage and sacrifice"; other reviews found it one-dimensional and difficult to follow. Adapted as a stage play by Caroline Heske, it was performed in Darwin, Australia in 2004 by the Corrugated Iron Youth Arts Theatre.
Isobelle Carmody began writing the book when she was fourteen, in 1972. She rewrote and developed it throughout high school and university. After briefly working as a journalist, she left to write full-time. Penguin Books agreed to publish the book when Carmody submitted the manuscript in her early twenties and it was published in 1987. Carmody has said that the character and life experiences of Elspeth reflect her own:
As a girl, I felt myself to be a Misfit. I was the eldest of eight children and I grew up in this tough neighbourhood where there were kids that beat up odd kids like me who read and wrote stories. I longed not to fit in and be like the other kids, but to find people who were like me. And of course like probably every kid, though I did not know that then, I longed to have something important to do. I longed to be special. I think this is the natural result of the powerlessness of children in a world of adults that don’t always seem to be looking after the world all that well.
Obernewtyn is set in a world recently ravaged by a nuclear holocaust, known to the survivors as "the Great White", later said by the Herders (leaders of the new religious order) to have been sent by Lud (God) to punish humanity. The surviving remote communities attempted to rebuild society, which over time developed into a totalitarian Council, and a religious order, the Herder Faction. Mutations of the mind also began to appear in some of the surviving generations; those discovered are either burnt alive along with the rebels or labelled as "Misfits" and outcasts. The resulting large group of children are placed in orphan homes and used for manual labour.
Voice and setting
The story is told in the first-person through the protagonist, Elspeth Gordie, a teenage girl who has secret mental powers such as telepathy and the ability to communicate with animals. The story begins at Kindraide orphan home, where she and her brother Jes live, before moving briefly through Sutrium, the capital, and the countryside. However the majority of the narrative is set at Obernewtyn, which lies in the northern mountains of the Land, the fictional nation in which the Obernewtyn Chronicles is set.
Elspeth learns from her premonitions, and her cat Maruman's prophecies, that a keeper from Obernewtyn, a feared institution where Misfits are sent to work, will come to take her there. Soon, when delivering tea to visiting Head Keeper of Obernewtyn, Madam Vega, Elspeth accidentally reveals she is a Misfit, though not to what extent, and is soon dispatched to Obernewtyn. Her first few weeks at Obernewtyn are spent in the kitchen, where she is worked to the bone. The cook’s daughter delights in tormenting her. The favoured Misfit, Ariel, and farm overseer, Rushton, immediately dislike her. Later reassigned to the farm, an encounter with a pair of Misfits named Matthew and Dameon reveals she is not alone in her particular abilities. She also befriends Cameo, a delicate, pretty Misfit of whom Matthew is very fond. Elspeth, plagued by nightmares, begins to feel there is a dark secret underneath their everyday tasks. While working, Elspeth decides to test the range of her telepathic ability, "farseeking", but beyond the boundaries of Obernewtyn, a strange machine, the Zebkrahn, traps her mind. She is only freed by combining her mental strength with another anonymous mind who offers assistance. Asked by Vega to look out for "special" Misfits, her interview reveals the Doctor is a defective simpleton; his "assistant", Alexi, has no interest in Elspeth in his quest to find the "right one" who will lead him to what he desires. Elspeth and Matthew later deduce that tortuous experiments on their kind are occurring, and they resolve to escape. Cameo begins disappearing from her bed at nighttime, and Elspeth fearfully suspects that Cameo is the subject of some of these experiments.
That night, Elspeth sneaks into the Doctor’s office to retrieve a map and compass, but on finding forbidden books and maps from before the Great White, the "Beforetime", she realises they must be searching for something from long ago. She leaves empty-handed. Rosamunde, a fellow orphan from the Kinraide orphan home, arrives at Obernewtyn and coldly informs Elspeth that her brother Jes had discovered he also had mental abilities, but was killed by guards in an escape attempt. Rushton comforts the distraught Elspeth, and asks her why she plagues him. Fearful that someone will soon be after her as well, her group’s escape plans begin in earnest. Elspeth returns a second time to the Doctor’s office, but when Vega, Alexi and Ariel enter, she learns Ariel is part of the Obernewtyn family, and that they are searching for a Misfit to help them find the location of Beforetime weapons. Pre-warned that two Councilmen are coming to fetch her for questioning by the Herders, at nightfall she makes to escape but Rushton stops her. He reveals a secret network of drains which gets her safely to the farms. Once she is safely through the drains after a close shave with Ariel's pack of mad, wild wolves, she finds that the path to the farms has been obscured by a blizzard and gets lost. She nearly dies, but a Misfit named Domick finds her and locks her in the farmhouse to return later to Obernewtyn. Overhearing a conversation between her captors, she discovers they are Rushton's accomplices and were to secretly meet with a rebel group, but Rushton has gone missing. Convincing them that her powers can help find him, she makes her way on foot through the blizzard to the far mountains, with Maruman as her guide.
Inside the cave network she finds a dying Cameo, who tells her the Beforetime weapons Alexi and Vega are searching for caused the Great White, but they do not know this. She also reveals it is Elspeth’s destiny, as the Seeker, to destroy them. After mourning her death, Elspeth overhears that Rushton, imprisoned in the next cavern, is the true heir of Obernewtyn. Suddenly, she is captured by Ariel, who ties her to a table next to the Zebkrahn machine. Elspeth is forced to hold the diaries of Marisa Seraphim, the wife of the founder of Obernewtyn and Alexi's stepmother, and use her abilities to discover what Marisa was thinking when she wrote them to determine the weapons’ location. Still withstanding the torture, Elspeth mentally enters Rushton’s mind and recognises the voice of her earlier rescuer from the Zebkrahn. Rushton gives his mental strength to her to endure the pain inflicted on her by the machine. In her despair at their threats to kill him, her resistance breaks and Marissa’s thoughts reveal the map to be carved into the front doors of Obernewtyn. At this point, the Zebkrahn overheats and bursts into flames. Something in Elspeth’s mind cracks and she uses this new power to kill Vega, who she saw standing over Rushton with a knife. She falls unconscious as Domick and Rushton’s other friends rush in. Alexi is killed, but Ariel flees into the night and is believed to have died in the blizzard. Now known to be the legal master of Obernewtyn, Rushton plans to build it into a secret refuge for Misfits.
- Elspeth Gordie
The series protagonist, Elspeth is the orphaned child of Seditioners (traitors to the totalitarian Council). She has lived in the Kinraide orphan home for many years, where she first met Maruman. After an audience with Madam Vega, she coerces Rosamunde to denounce her as a 'dreamer' (or one who has true dreams but is mostly harmless) and is taken to Obernewtyn. Elspeth is a Talented Misfit whose abilities are numerous - she can farseek, coerce people and talk to animals. Her manner is serious and proud. She is described as tall and too thin, with long black hair and bright green eyes.
An old, cantankerous cat, Maruman is Elspeth's oldest friend. He is prone to fey fits and temporary madness, where he disappears for long periods and wanders the land. He is the one who warns Elspeth that Madam Vega is coming to Obernewtyn, and tells Elspeth that her destiny is in the mountains.
Matthew is the first person Elspeth meets with a Talent like her own - in fact, he is a farseeker, or telepath, like her. The first human with whom Elspeth communicates mentally, he becomes Elspeth's first human friend. Matthew forms an instant connection with Elspeth after calling her 'Elf', a nickname bestowed upon her by her older brother in happier times, which Matthew had seen in her mind. He speaks with a highland accent and is enamoured with Cameo. He has a romantic, adventurous nature. He walks with a limp and is described as tall, thin and sharp-eyed. Matthew develops an intense hatred of Ariel after Cameo's death, and vows to kill him.
A Talented Misfit whose ability is to feel and influence the emotions of others, or empathy, as he calls it. He was the son of a Councilman, but when his father died his cousin denounced him as a Misfit to get Dameon out of the way so he could inherit the lands of Dameon's father. Dameon is a friend of Matthew's and later befriends Elspeth also. When the three of them decide to escape Obernewtyn together, Elspeth and Matthew both nominate him to be their leader. Dameon is blind, and described as tall and pale-eyed with a freckled face.
- Rushton Seraphim
Originally thought of by Elspeth as little more than a surly farm overseer, Rushton is revealed in the book's climax to be the true heir of Obernewtyn. He is described as tall and well-built, being about nineteen years old.
- Madam Vega
The Head Keeper of Obernewtyn, Madam Vega has traveled the Land in search of Talented Misfits to aid her and Alexi's quest for the Beforetime weaponmachines. She is described as beautiful in appearance, with 'hypnotic' eyes that are blue as the 'summer sky'. When in the Cave of Zebkrahn, she is told by Alexi to kill Rushton when they realise that Rushton is help Elspeth withstand the Zebkrahn. Elspeth uses the dark power in her mind to kill Madam Vega before she can kill Rushton.
The unofficial head of Obernewtyn who is in league with Madam Vega. He desired more than anything to find the weaponmachines that were discovered by his adopted grandmother Marisa Seraphim, but he killed her before realising that she had not recorded their location in any of her notes and diaries. Thus, he and Vega began to search for Talented Misfits who would be able to decipher the thoughts behind Marisa's words and lead them to the weaponmachines. He was killed by Rushton at the end of Obernewtyn.
Though he was a child, and described as 'angelic' in appearance, Ariel was one of the most sinister people Elspeth had ever some across. He was defective and had a love of inflicting pain on people, which was part of his cruel and manipulative nature. He had a pack of wolf-dogs which he has tortured into madness and trained to tear a person apart on command. He was favoured by Madam Vega and Alexi, and was part of their plans to find and use the Beforetime weaponmachines. He fled from the cave to the outside and was presumed to have died in the blizzard.
Cameo is a Misfit who occasionally has true dreams. She is small and slender with delicate features. She is so gentle and delicate that Elspeth is shocked that anyone would ever denounce Cameo as a Misfit. When Cameo begins to receive 'treatments' from Madam Vega and Alexi, she retains no memory of them and is confused when questioned by Elspeth. Cameo forms a tentative relationship with Matthew, but rapidly declines, losing weight and colour, as the treatments progress. She disappears from Obernewtyn one week and is later found by Elspeth in the network of caves around the Zebkrahn, where she dies, but not before imparting upon Elspeth the importance of her destiny.
A somewhat sullen Misfit who is one of Rushton's friends and collaborators. His Talent is coercing, or mind control. He finds Elspeth in the blizzard, and not knowing that Rushton sent her down to the farms, is suspicious of her and locks her in one of the rooms in the farm hut. Later, he appears with Rushton's other friends to save Elspeth and Rushton in the Cave of Zebkrahn.
- Louis Larkin
A crotchety, unTalented old man who works on the farms. He is also one of Rushton's accomplices, and was the first to divulge to Rushton his true identity as the rightful heir to Obernewtyn.
Elspeth's older brother, with whom she has been estranged for many years. However, they reconciled just before she left for Obernewtyn. Elspeth and Jes had a rocky relationship: while she detested the Herders and the Council because of the death of their parents, Jes became fascinated with the Herder Faction and at the beginning of Obernewtyn is made assistant to one of the priests. Ironically, it is only after Elspeth leaves that Jes discovers his own mental powers. Filled with renewed hatred for the Council and Herders, Jes joins a band of rebellious orphans. Their escape plan goes wrong, and Jes is killed by one of the soldierguards, though not before demonstrating his Talent and drawing suspicion to himself (and thus, Elspeth).
An orphan from Kinraide, Rosamunde initially reached out to Elspeth because of her feelings for Elspeth's brother, Jes. To lessen the danger to herself, Elspeth coerced Rosamunde into denouncing Elspeth as a 'dreamer'. After Jes' death, Rosamunde was sent to Obernewtyn as one of his collaborators, and never fully recovered.
A dog who lived on the farm at Obernewtyn, though he was born and raised in the wild. Elspeth befriended him, and he died saving her from Ariel's mad wolves.
On the whole, Obernewtyn has been positively received. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly called it "a promising new series" and stated that Carmody evades stereotyping by imbuing her characters with conflicting interests. The Library Journal stated that it is a "thought-provoking tale of courage and sacrifice".
Lloyd Alexander, an American fantasy author, commented that it is a fantastically imaginative novel. He cited intricate detail, in-depth character development, and skilled use of language as some of the strengths of the work. American Young Adult fantasy writer Tamora Pierce expressed that the novel is "a dream date for [her]", given the novel involves a courageous girl of many talents and animals with "minds of their own".
However some reviewers have criticised aspects of the book. A reviewer writing for Kirkus Reviews said that the novel is "pedestrian and one-dimensional". Victoria Strauss, of SF Site, felt the emotional detachment of Elspeth, despite her loss and grief, robs the novel of some of its impact. John Foster felt Obernewtyn is hard to follow due to the complexities of the language and plot.
Awards and nominations
|Year||Country||Publisher||Media Type||Cover Designer||Pages||ISBN|
|1987||AUS||Puffin Books||Paperback||Geoff Kelly; Cathy van Ee||248||0-14-032231-0|
|1993||AUS||Puffin Books||Paperback||Connel Lee; Ann Wojczuk||264||9780140178548|
|1994||UK||Point SF||Paperback||David Scutt||321||0-590-55494-8|
|1994||AUS||Penguin Books||Paperback||Miles Lowrey, Ellie Exarchos||248||0-140-34769-0|
|1999||US||Tor Books||Hardcover||Donato Giancola||253||0-312-86958-4|
|2007||AUS||Penguin Books||Paperback||Les Petersen||245||9780140178548|
|2010||UK||Bloomsbury Publishing||Paperback||Les Petersen||256||9781408806975|
|2010||AUS||Penguin Books (Popular Penguins)||Paperback||Eric Gill; Jan Tschichold; Edward Young||264||9780143204787|
|Year||Country||Title||Publisher||Media Type||Cover Designer||Pages||ISBN|
|2000||US||Obernewtyn & The Farseekers||Science Fiction Book Club||Hardcover||Judy York||440||0-7394-1211-6|
|2002||AUS||The Obernewtyn Chronicles (Books 1-3)||Penguin Books||Paperback||Miles Lowrey||1078||9780734305022|
|2011||US||The Seeker (Book 1&2)||Bluefire||Paperback||Les Petersen||544||9780375871139|
Foreign language publications
|1988||Louis Braille Productions||Obernewtyn ||Diana Greentree||Cassette||9780732002015|
|1989||Royal Blind Society||Obernewtyn ||Mary Haire||Cassette, Compact Disc||OCLC 220811098|
The Corrugated Iron Youth Arts Theatre in Darwin, Australia, produced Caroline Heske's stage play adaptation of Obernewtyn, directed by Jeremy Rice, at the Brown's Mart Theatre from the 3rd to 7 November 2004. Rice stated that the original novel has "that imaginative streak that suits theatre".
- Cassada, Jackie. Obernewtyn. Library Journal, Sept 15 1999, Vol.124(15), p.115
- Yeung, Miranda (27 April 2008). "Hope in the darkness". South China Morning Post (Hong Kong). Retrieved 6 October 2011.
- Ali, Derek (8 March 1995). "Tales Cast Spell - Author Speaks, Signs Books on Horror in Centerville". Dayton Daily News. Retrieved 6 October 2011.
- Broadhead, Heidi (14 December 2008). "Becoming Better Humans: An Interview with Author Isobelle Carmody". Omnivoracious. Amazon.com. Retrieved 30 August 2011.
- "Fiction Review: Obernewtyn". Publishers Weekly. 30 August 1999. Retrieved 31 August 2011.
- "Obernewtyn - Isobelle Carmody". Macmillan. Retrieved 10 October 2011.
- "Obernewtyn: Vol. I of the Obernewtyn Chronicles". Kirkus Reviews. 1 July 1999. Retrieved 31 August 2011.
- Strauss, Victoria (1999). "The SF Site Featured Review: Obernewtyn". SF Site. Retrieved 31 August 2011.
- Foster, John (1999). "Australian Science Fiction for Children and Adolescents: 1940-1990". In Sullivan, C.W. Young adult science fiction (1st ed.). Westport, Conn. [u.a.]: Greenwood Press. p. 92. ISBN 978-0-313-28940-8. Retrieved 9 September 2011.
- Cohen, John, ed. (1988). "Reviews". Reading time Volume 32 (1st ed.). New South Wales: Children's Book Council of Australia, New South Wales Branch. p. 46.
- "Winners and Commended Books 1980 - 1989". The Children's Book Council of Australia. Retrieved 31 August 2011.
- "Bibliography: Obernewtyn". The Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Retrieved 31 August 2011.
- Larsen, Cathy. "Concept roughs for the Obernewtyn series". Penguin Books. Retrieved 31 August 2011.
- "Obernewtyn by Isobelle Carmody - eBook". Random House. Retrieved 16 September 2011.
- "Elspeth, a Senhora do Pensamento". Bertrand Livreiros. Retrieved 6 October 2011.
- "Obernewtyn (Audiobook on Cassette, 1988". World Cat. Retrieved 16 September 2011.
- "Obernewytn/Isobelle Carmody". Trove: National Library of Australia. Retrieved 16 September 2011.
- "Youth theatre". Northern Territory News. 5 November 2004. Retrieved 6 October 2011.
- Liveris, Flora (29 October 2004). "Deadly mind games". Northern Territory News. Retrieved 6 October 2011.
- Obernewtyn.NET The Official Obernewtyn Chronicles Fan Club
- Carmody-Online Isobelle Carmody Fansite
- Obernewtyn Chronicles Australian publisher's site for series
- Obernewtyn title listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database