Throwback Thursday: Obernewtyn

Throwback Thursday is a new feature at Reading Lark. We'll still be doing some Book Boyfriend Posts and Book BFF Posts on Thursdays as well, but the Larks wanted a little variety on Thursdays. Throwback Thursday will allow us to celebrate some of the reads we loved way back when...

By: Isobelle Carmody
Release date: 1987


First published in Australia in 1987, Obernewtyn is the first in the Obernewtyn Chronicles by Isobelle Carmody, a series that has spanned the last 20 years and is still incomplete. I first picked it up in my school library, noticing the title because it was very close to the name of the school I went to.

Elspeth Gordie, the teenaged protagonist, lives in a land that has been destroyed by a cataclysmic event known as “the Great White”. The land is scorched and difficult to farm, and some people are born “different”, the result of massive amounts of radiation in the atmosphere. These people are called Misfits. Misfits are hunted by the Herder Faction and the penalty for being a misfit is to be burnt alive. As an orphan, Elspeth is assessed and then sent to work on a farm. But Elspeth has a dangerous secret. She is a Misfit. Among other Talents, she can communicate telepathically with both humans and animals.

After accidentally revealing herself to the owner, Madame Vega, Elspeth is taken to Obernewtyn, an institution where Misfits are being treated. In actual fact, Talented Misfits are being tortured in order to reveal the location of a weapon from the “Beforetime”. At first believed to be mostly harmless, Elspeth is ill-treated but not of interest to Madame Vega and her associates, but as her Talents are revealed, she becomes a target. Can she escape and stop them from finding the very weapons that caused “the Great White”, or will they succeed in their quest, and destroy the world all over again?

Isabelle Carmody creates a rich world populated with fascinating characters. Besides Elspeth herself, there’s Maruman the cat, who is able to see the future, Matthew, a fellow telepath, or “farseeker”, the mysterious Rushton and the ill-fated Cameo.

In the late 80s the fear of a nuclear holocaust was very real, and Obernewtyn’s post-apocalyptic setting really played into that. As one of the very first YA fantasy books I read, Obernewtyn got me hooked on the genre. I’ve read several of the sequels, but not all of them. I look forward to the day when I can return to the series and read it from beginning to end.

Opening paragraph:
In the days following the holocaust, which came to be known as the Great White, there was death and madness. In part, this was the effect of the lingering radiation rained on the world from the skies. Those fortunate enough to live on remote holdings and farms were spared the chemical destruction of the Great White, though they had seen the skies whiten and had understood that it meant death. These people preserved their untainted land and families ruthlessly, slaughtering the hundreds of refugees who poured from the poisoned cities.

In a world struggling back from the brink of apocalypse, life is harsh. And for Elspeth Gordie, it is also dangerous. That's because Elspeth has a secret: she is a Misfit, born with mysterious mental abilities that she must keep hidden under threat of death. And her worries only multiply when she is exiled to the mountain compound known as Obernewtyn, where—for all her talents—Elspeth may finally and truly be out of her depth. Then she learns she’s not the only one concealing secrets at Obernewtyn.