In a world struggling back from the brink of apocalypse, life is harsh. But for Elspeth Gordie, born with enhanced mental abilities, it is also dangerous. Survival is only by secrecy and so she determines never to use her forbidden powers. But it is as if they have their own imperative and she is brought to the attention of the totalitarian Council that rules the Land.
Banished to the remote mountain institution of Obernewtyn, she must throw off her cloak of concealment and pit herself against those that would resurrect the terrible forces of the apocalypse. Only then will she learn most truly who and what she is . . .
Elspeth is determined to uncover the plot and so, accompanied only by her cat, Maruman, embarks on a terrible adventure full of danger, the conclusion to which promises not just uncertainty about her safety but also that of many around her.
I've always been a bit wary of post-apocalyptic stories since being forced to watch Threads at school when I was fourteen. Anyway, what with The Forest of Hands and Teeth being such a wonderful book I thought I'd give Obernewtyn a chance. This series has been a huge hit in Australia and is now published here with the next in the series set to be released in August and the rest in 2011.
Obernewtyn could have been a bit grim if it wasn't for the wonderful characterisation. Elspeth has a wry sense of humour despite the situation she finds herself in. She's full of self-reliance and belief; she's determined to succeed which makes the book uplifting in a strange way. In fact, the book is beautifully character driven and I cared about what happened to Elspeth by the end of the first chapter. After her transfer to Obernewtyn (a place for Misfits - those afflicted by the nuclear incident in a way not noticed at birth) she is forced to endure harsh conditions whilst exploring the strength of her telepathic gift. She meets Matthew, who is also telepathic, and Dameon, an empath. For the first time she allows herself to relax and make friends. Her concern grows for Selmar and Cameo; two girls who are being experimented upon. Selmar's mind seems to have completely unravelled since she arrived and Cameo seems to be heading the same way.
Unsettling things are taking place and Obernewtyn is not the retreat for Misfits that everyone believes. Elspeth tries to discover the meaning behind the experiments. The story takes a dark turn and becomes a complex mystery. What's wrong with the mysterious Doctor Seraphim? What sort of person are the guardians of Obernewtyn looking for? Who is using Cameo's body to talk to Elspeth? Why does the head of the farm, Rushton, hate Elspeth from their first meeting? As the time passes and autumn turns to winter the mystery deepens and twists. Intertwined with the action are stories and reminisces of the time before the nuclear explosion. All of our modern day technology was destroyed and life has returned to a simpler time, even books are illegal and have been burnt but the characters constantly wonder what has become of everything that has been before.
The tension builds to a wonderful finale as Elspeth finally learns the secret and discovers the full extent of her powers. The second book, The Farseekers, promises to be an even more exciting book as a result. I understand why these books have been so popular and hope that they find a new and admiring audience.