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The Farseekers by Isobelle Carmody
The Obernewtyn Chronicles #2

Puffin Books 1993 (1990)
Mass Market Paperback
326 pages
Fantasy; YA Fantasy


This review contains some spoilers of the first book.

It has been two years since the climactic events of the first book, Obernewtyn, occurred. Elspeth is about seventeen years old and still recovering from the burns to her feet and legs, not helped by the aching cold of the mountains in winter – the same mountains and weather that keep Obernewtyn, now a safe refuge for misfits with unique powers, safe. Under the new master of Obernewtyn, Rushton Seraphim, the Misfits – as the ruling Council has named them, and would Burn them if caught – have organised themselves into guilds, based on their different powers. Farseeking, Coercing, Empathy, Beast-speaking, Healing and the Teknoguild are some of the groups, and Elspeth, being the strongest Farseeker, is guildmistress. Few know she can also Coerce and Beast-speak, and has some minimal Futuretelling abilities, premonitions that rise unbidden.

With Rushton back from a trip to the Lowlands with news, a hasty Guildmerge (meeting of Guild leaders) is called. Rushton wants to establish a permanent contact, or spy, in the capital of Sutrium and has chosen Domick, a Coercer, for the task. Elspeth proposes a joint expedition: the Teknoguild want to find a hidden library in a ruined city near Aborium, on the south-west coast, and the Farseekers have discovered a strong Misfit talent in the same location that they want to rescue and bring back to Obernewtyn. A small group is picked to go, including Elspeth and her Farseeker friend Matthew, Domick, Healers Louis Larkin and Kella, and Pavo from the Teknoguild. At the last minute, a recently rescued Herder novice called Jik and his dog, Darga, are added to the group because the Futuretell guildmistress Maryon has Seen that Jik is instrumental to the success of their mission, though she cannot See why, and that they must make it back to Obernewtyn before the next winter or their safe haven will be gone forever.

With such responsibility resting on their shoulders, the group sets forth with the leader of the equines, Galtha, and a few other horses to lead the caravans. Disguised as gypsies, they make their way into the Lowlands, looking for an Olden pass they believe to be there, but are taken captive by the Druid’s men. This is just the start of their troubles and new discoveries, in a story brimming full of adventure, suspense, delight, and excitement, as the unique world Carmody has crafted comes alive with every step of the journey.

Like the first book, I had read this several times in the past, but not for many years now. I was thrilled at how much it felt both like reading a new and exciting book, and like being reunited with a beloved old friend after many years apart. There was lots I had forgotten, and yet as I read it all came back to me, but only up to the line I had read, so the overall story was still hazy in my mind. I could remember bits, scenes mostly, but few details. There is a lot going on in The Farseekers, it’s a rich post-apocalyptic world and like the misfits, we are feeling our way in it.

Narrated by Elspeth, we only learn about this world as she does, though with our knowledge of our own time there are some things we can deduce or figure out ahead of her. The past has been banned by the Council and denounced as evil by the Herder Faction, so the people are largely ignorant and easily spooked by anything from the past. Elspeth is cautious and not at all keen to unearth the past: she alone knows that the machines that caused the Great White are still here, slumbering in their hiding place, ready and able to unleash yet another apocalypse. And it is her mission, her lonely quest, to find them and destroy them before this can happen.

Small spoiler
I had forgotten about Ariel. In Obernewtyn, he is only 12/13 years old and already a manipulative, cunning little devil in angel’s guise. He escaped at the end and was believed to have died in the winter storm, but they never sent out a search party to confirm this. Now he’s reappeared, and it’s hard for me to imagine a boy of about fifteen, having that much influence with the Council and Herders. But, such is the strength of his character. It was never said that he had any mutant gift, or why he was sent to Obernewtyn as a Misfit in the first place. Elspeth never tried to read his mind, but she also never wonders and that is a bit strange to me. I also can’t remember him from the next two books (which is as far as I got in my reading of the series; I’m two books behind overall), which is partly why I wanted to re-read all of them before starting the ones I haven’t read yet; I’d forgotten so much.
/Spoiler

The philosophical and moral dilemma faced by the misfits in this world is a strong theme throughout the series. When Elspeth meets Brydda, a rebel against the Council and Herders, and has to reveal some of what the misfits can do, he’s excited and wants an alliance.

I agreed to try to organize a meeting between him and Rushton, but I was not sure our aims coincided.
‘At the bottom of everything we are Misfits, and few men would have reacted as you did. Can you say for certain all your people would think as you do? Not be disgusted by us, or frightened?’
Brydda looked thoughtful at this. ‘I don’t know. Maybe the thought of someone who could talk inside your head, or make animals do anything they want … would seem frightening.’
I had told him little about our abilities, letting him assume he had seen all there was.
‘If people are frightened, it is because of their ignorance and Herder lies about mutations. They could learn,’ Brydda said at last.
‘Maybe, but we have to be sure,’ I said. ‘There is no good in our exchanging one kind of tyranny for another.’ [p.193]

This is the ultimate goal and driving force of the Misfits at Obernewtyn, especially of Rushton, and it’s so sad that Elspeth has been given this other task, one she might not survive, that she can’t share with anyone, or tell anyone about, and so maintains her aloofness, her loneliness. She can’t even see that Rushton loves her – she’s so rusty with trusting people, being close to them and friends with them, that she misses or misunderstands the signs. As a young reader, I always felt close to Elspeth, and a bit sorry for her too. She never complains, she strong and stoic and comes across as patient and considerate, but every now and then one of her companions will make some comment about not being able to really get to know her, and you realise how much apart she keeps herself. She’s good at making decisions, and leading others, even if she doesn’t realise it. After everything she’s been through, you want some happiness for her. Some peace. So her mission, and Obernewtyn’s ambition, becomes yours.

There’s so much to love in this book, and this series. I love Dragon, her ability is awesome and how they found her is pretty cool. Uncovering the buried library, very cool. Rescuing her friends from the Herders, very exciting. Discovering Lidgebaby, a bit scary and with mind-boggling implications. The truth of Jik and Darga’s inclusion on the trip, sad. There is quite a bit of sadness in this story, in the series, it’s like a light coating over everything, which just makes you empathise with them all the more. Their situation is so precarious, their fate so terrifying if caught, the stakes so high on everything they do, that you forget for a while that these are just children and teenagers, for the most part (being the easiest to come to terms with their mutant abilities; adults tend to have closed minds and fight their knowledge, seek only to pretend to be normal). So much rests on their shoulders, and they’re so young.

When I read these books, I live inside the pages, in this world. Like a ghost or spirit that follows Elspeth, untouched physically but present nevertheless. It’s the ultimate in reading experience, the way you hope to connect with every book you read, when you start it. I couldn’t ask for more. Oh, except for the final book to come out! Let’s hope it doesn’t get pushed back, again! :)

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