*Spoilers for Obernewtyn, the first book*
Continuing my re-read of the Obernewtyn chronicles, I devoured most of this one in a night. Interestingly, it’s set some time after Obernewtyn ends, and therefore we don’t get most of the fight against Alexi and Madame Vega, nor Rushton’s work at being made legal owner of the place. Possibly because Elspeth is out of it for a while thanks to the burns to her legs? Anyway, we open here rather abruptly to discover that Rushton is in charge, and the Misfits have formed themselves rather (too) neatly into Guilds according to their mind powers. This was one thing that bugged me about the book – they all seemed to have come into their powers rather quickly, and easily, whereas I had the impression from the first book that many of them were uncomfortable and certainly not that good at using them because of the fear of being discovered. Perhaps Carmody imagines that once released from that fear, most young people would flourish in experimentation… and when I put it like that, perhaps she is not far wrong.
Anyway, the bulk of Farseekers is not actually set at Obernewtyn, but in the lowlands, as Elspeth and some others set out on a joint mission to find a library and a strong Talent they’ve sensed. Of course, things do not go easily, and they encounter most of the villains foreshadowed in Obernewtyn – Council, Herders, and the Druid himself – in various ways and with various consequences that I shan’t spoil. It is a more convincing narrative than the first book; while there are still happy coincidences and useful chance-meetings, well, that’s really the stock in trade of a fantasy, in some ways; and here it’s done more smoothly and with less jarring “oh hai, yr conveniently who i need” moments.
Characters are more interesting and well developed in this second novel, too. Elspeth is a bit more complicated and nuanced, conflicted between the desire for safety and an impatience with staying put. The characters she goes travelling with show hints of personality and individuality; the most developed and interesting are the animals, and particularly the arrogant stallion Gahltha. He’s way cool. Rushton continues to be gruff and remote but still appealing (to me, anyway!). The new people our Misfits meet on their travels are probably the most interesting characters aside from Elspeth, and although one of them gets a bit preachy and info-dumpy that’s hardly his fault, and I liked him for his rash-yet-considered ways.
Finally, the world is built up just that bit more in this novel, mostly thanks to the travels of our heroes. We learn more about the current society – which is complex enough to be not all bad, but simple enough that the reader knows (well, this one did) that they really wouldn’t want to live there. There’s more about the Beforetimes, too, and I seem to remember that it took me until this book to be absolutely sure that Carmody was envisioning this as OUR world after some sort of human-caused apocalypse. Which is a bit embarrassing frankly. Anyway – more Beforetimes things, and stories too. This sort of idea isn’t unique, but I like how Carmody runs with it.