A vastly under-read author – especially with the recent popularity of dystopian fiction – this author spotlight is dedicated to Isobelle Carmody. I am most familiar with her Obernewtyn Chronicles, so that is most of this spotlight will touch on.
Imagine a post-apocalyptic society doomed not by some distantly vague and unknown catastrophe, but by weapon-machines so terrible that when they were unleashed, the explosions they caused killed the vast majority of the world’s population, poisoned the land for unknown ages, and caused horrific mutations in the coming generations. While not specifically named, the nuclear holocaust the world is suffering through is a near-enough fear that the casual reader can easily identify it. This is the world of Isobelle Carmody’s Obernewtyn Chronicles.
I was young – maybe eight or ten– when I first encountered Obernewtyn. I was much enamored of the idea of a secret society of misfits, especially when a subset of that society possessed mutations to permit them to talk to animals or have other special skills. I was hooked from the very beginning.
At the time, I didn’t know why I liked the books so much. The main character – Elspeth – was unrelatable; she was surly and sullen. She had a tragic past that was supposed to make her mysterious, but just made her distant. She was secretive and restless – a loner, and exactly the type of person I could not relate to. At that time, I judged books on how well I liked the characters (which is still an important criteria for me, but not the end-all, be-all), and I didn’t really like Elspeth.
Despite that, I couldn’t put the book down. Even when I didn’t like the main character, I wanted to know what happened next. The setting was original, the side characters engaging, the villains suitably villainous (though fairly one-dimensional to start). As the series progressed, all the characters revealed more complexity and depth – side characters got more fleshed out and gained their own storylines. Villains became multi-dimensional and more human, and scarier for that.
As I grew up, the books grew with me, and that is a testament to the evolution of Carmody’s writing style. By the end of the series, I could look back on a fully fleshed-out world with intriguing and engaging characters. They made mistakes, they acted in ignorance and had to live with the consequences, and they were sometimes too clever for themselves. They were human. The things I didn’t like when I was a kid, I grew to appreciate as an adult.
In conclusion, I wouldn’t recommend the story for kids- the early books, maybe, for precocious readers. But later books deal with characters that have to make adult decisions, and see the consequences of horrific diseases. The sheer length of the books grows as the series progresses (the last book is over 1,000 pages long) makes me hesitate to recommend it for younger readers. But older teenagers and adults may really enjoy the character- and world-building that Carmody excels in.