Wavesong & The Stone Key by Isabelle Carmody
Every book in Isabelle Carmody‘s THE OBERNEWTYN CHRONICLES is longer than the one before, which accounts for the splitting of the fifth volume into two parts. Though The Stone Key (2008) was originally published by Penguin as a singular book, American publisher Random House divided it into Wavesong and The Stone Key, turning the original volume into the fifth and sixth books in the series.
As I’m a New Zealander, I ended up reading the Australian copy of the book, so any American readers should consider this a review of Wavesong AND The Stone Key. By this point we’re several books into the series, with dozens of subplots and an even larger cast of characters, so there’s no use trying to jump on board the bandwagon with this book. You’ll have to head back to Obernewtyn if you want to understand what’s going on here.
Elspeth Gordie is a young woman with immense psychic power; a gift that’s dangerous to possess in a post-apocalyptic world that’s only just beginning to regain some measure of civilization. All across the land rebels are waging wars against the religious fanatics known as the Herders, who enlist or execute people with Talents like Elspeth. She and her people initially took refuge in an isolated sanctuary called Obernewtyn, and have only recently committed themselves to overthrowing the Herders.
Elspeth has a particularly vested interest in defeating the sect: her love Rushton was captured by them and tortured into near-madness. Now he hates the sight of her, and she can’t foresee a time when he’ll ever be able to regain his affection for her.
The Stone Key is a rather episodic novel, which has Elspeth face a range of challenges over the course of the story. From assisting in the rebellion, to a magical sea voyage, to finding Beforetime ruins, to discovering more clues in an ancient prophecy, every few chapters takes her on different tangent. There’s also a mystery involving the identity of a slave-trader, the reappearance of an old nemesis who assisted in Rushton’s torture, and plenty of other subplots involving Elspeth’s fellow Misfits, so it’s no surprise that the uncut version of The Stone Key is the size of a brick.
As ever the story is told in first-person narration by Elspeth herself. She has a down-to-earth perspective on things, and is often surprised when others are impressed by her wisdom and experience. By now I’ve grown fond of her as a protagonist, but it’s a little harder to keep track of the wide range of supporting characters, especially since many of them have similar-sounding names. (Though Maruman, the aging, cantankerous, one-eyed cat is always a delight).
It took me about three months to get through The Stone Key, such was its size and pacing. Carmody has created an immense world with its own traditions, histories and cultures, and it’s to her credit that she’s managed to keep track of her wide array of plots and subplots — so far. This may be the book that has Misfits and rebels defeat the oppression of the Herders, but there’s still a long way to go if Elspeth is to achieve peace and tranquillity throughout the land.