2000 (originally 1987), 245p
Re-read from my personal collection
Elspeth Geordie lives in a world that was nearly destroyed. Some time ago, in what is referred to as the Beforetime, a weapon caused a catastrophic nuclear-type event and most of the population was killed by the radiation, save very remote citizens. Those citizens banded together to keep their area safe and formed a Council. Over the years, that Council changed and shifted until it resembled little what it had in the beginning.
There was another fallout from what the citizens now call the Great White. Some people are born altered, not perfect. Known as Misfits, they are treated as the very lowest forms of society, often burned alive to prevent the traits from breeding on. Misfits have to hide what they are, which is difficult. Elspeth Geordie is such a Misfit – and an orphan to boot. Shifted from one orphanage to another, she is dismayed when she learns she is to be sent to Obernewtyn, a remote supposed sanctuary for Misfits. No one ever leaves Obernewtyn – the only way out is death. Separated from her brother Jes and taken to Obernewtyn, Elspeth isn’t sure what to expect.
Once there she is mostly left alone, put to work in the kitchen and the vast farms. But slowly Elspeth realises that something very wrong is going on at Obernewtyn, and it isn’t the work being done by the apparent Master, to “heal” Misfits. Something infinitely more sinister is taking place, with the perpetrators searching for the powerful Misfit who will give them their answers. Never before has hiding what she truly is been more important.
It’s kind of hard to talk about Obernewtyn as a single book because I have read many of the titles in this series so many times, but I’ll do my best! The Introduction paints the picture of the world within, almost obliterated with tainted areas left behind and a surviving population that shunned technology after the event. Elspeth’s parents were killed as Seditioners and she and her brother Jes have been shifted from one orphanage to another ever since. Her very existence revolves around no one discovering what she really is and the abilities she keeps hidden. Despite her best efforts though she is ultimately sent to Obernewtyn and unbeknownst to her, it will be the beginning of her destiny.
Elspeth is used to being alone, used to keeping her distance from other people, lest they discover her abilities. She is remote, deliberately uninterested in people but you can still tell that underneath she cares what is going on around her. She has sympathy for the Misfits being mistreated at Obernewtyn, even as she doesn’t want to get involved to draw unwanted attention to herself, which could come from anywhere. There’s Madam Vega, the woman who ‘recruited’ Elspeth to Obernewtyn, the mysterious, rarely seen Doctor who is the supposed Master, and conductor of the ‘experiments’ to heal the Misfits, Ariel the young nasty boy who enjoys more privileges than the rest of them, and the farm overseer Rushton, who has taken a special interest in her that Elspeth isn’t sure is negative or positive. She also finds herself sought out by two of the fellow teens at Obernewtyn for friendship and although at first she tries to discourage Matthew and Dameon, her efforts soon dwindle as she begins to rediscover what spending time with people her own age and having them to talk to is really like. Together they discover the sinister plans taking place at Obernewtyn and Elspeth realises that she has to leave as soon as possible. The trouble is, even if they managed to escape the various security measures, the surrounding territory means death. Elspeth isn’t sure who to trust, if she can trust anyone at all.
Re-reading it, I feel Obernewtyn is very much a ‘set-up’ book, outlining the world and Elspeth’s place in it and introducing us to Obernewtyn and all it could be. Elspeth has always been such an interesting character to me and I have to admit, it was strange to go back and reacquaint myself with her as she is in this first novel. I have re-read most of them many times, but it’s been some time since I read the first one and I tried to wipe my mind of her when I began. She’s utterly alone in the world when she arrives at Obernewtyn, her only confidant had previously been a mysterious black cat known as Maruman. She’s so remote that at times it’s hard to relate to her, even as I’m admiring her inner strength and resolve, her way of dealing with the cards life has dealt her. She’s brave and loyal, choosing to help people that she barely knows because it’s the right thing to do. There’s something about her, something that tells you she’s important. And I didn’t realise how utterly refreshing it was to read the first book of a series that did not end on a cliffhanger! It didn’t need some heart-stopping moment to hook people in and have them need to read the next book to find out what happens. This as a book, works for itself – it’s a complete story with a beginning, middle and end. There just happens to be more things that happen after the close of this book and we’re lucky enough to be along for the ride.
I first read Obernewtyn as a 14yr old and quickly became obsessed with this world. Only 3 novels were published then (there are 6 now, with the 7th and final due out next year) and I re-read them continuously and I find myself tempted to do the same now. I re-read this as part of Shannon from Giraffe Days Obernewtyn Challenge, which is 1 book each month over 6 months. I’m tempted to immediately pick up The Farseekers and just keep reading….but I’m going to be good and wait another week until July starts.
Just as enjoyable this time around.
Book #118 of 2012
Obernewtyn was the June book for the read-a-long.
Isobelle Carmody is Australian so this re-read counts towards my Australian Women Writers Challenge! It’s the 43rd book completed.