I enjoyed the first book in Isobelle Carmody‘s THE OBERNEWTYN CHRONICLES but its follow-up, The Farseekers (1990), was even better. After a nuclear holocaust has destroyed civilization as we know it, leaving only isolated communities and small cities ruled by a totalitarian Council, those born with psychic abilities are known as Misfits. Their fate is to be either burned at the stake or sent to remote Councilfarms, the most famous of which is called Obernewtyn.
Those there were subject to terrible experimentation, but since the close of the last book the compound has been taken over by the very people who were once its prisoners. Among them is Elspeth Gordie, a powerful young telepath who now finds herself in a position of leadership among the other Misfits. Protected by the mountains and effectively self-sufficient, the community nevertheless knows it’s only a matter of time before the Council arrives at their door.
Part of their preparation involves using their farseeking powers to find other Misfits across the land, and when one is discovered near Sutrium (the seat of the Council’s power) a team led by Elspeth is formed to retrieve him/her. But the plot thickens when a futureteller informs Elspeth that the successful recovery of the unknown Misfit is somehow bound up in the fate of Obernewtyn. If they should fail, Obernewtyn will fall.
Told in first person narrative by Elspeth, The Farseekers follows her and her fellow Misfits as they leave Obernewtyn and traverse the country in search of their mysterious target. In doing so they come across a range of obstacles: a community that forages for ancient technology, a city rife with sedition against the Council, the unforgiving landscape and the onset of winter, and the Herders — a religious faction that zealously hunts down Misfits.
Author Isobelle Carmody writes the adventure beautifully: the suspense is always high, the characters act intelligently (even when scared or stressed) and there are plenty of fun twists along the way — especially when it comes to the growing abilities of the various Misfits. She’s also skilled with her descriptive prose, bringing to life a post-apocalyptic world of mountains, rivers, farmlands, settlements and the promise of far-distant islands.
Apart from Elspeth the characters are strongly sketched but not exactly three-dimensional; no doubt a side-effect of everyone being depicted from Elspeth’s point-of-view. There’s also plenty of setup for things that will probably be explored in later books, everything from resistance forces to rumours of hidden deathweapons to ancient prophesies. It leaves you excited for the other books in the series, but as a result The Farseekers doesn’t feel particularly self-contained. You’ll need its predecessor as well as forthcoming volumes to fully appreciate it.
Still, The Farseekers is a compelling story, with a likeable female protagonist, intriguing world-building, and a reason to care about Obernewtyn and its people. There’s hope and heartbreak, danger and suspense, poignancy and joy — what more could you ask for?