Monday, March 18, 2013

Australian Women Writers Challenge - The Stone Key by Isobelle Carmody

So I signed up for this thing, the Australian Women Writers Challenge, which exists to support and promote books by Australian women. Which I think is a fine thing to do, being an Australian woman and all. You sign up and decide how many books you're going to read and/or review, and then you link your reviews back to their site. Considering I was already halfway through The Stone Key by Isobelle Carmody, I thought I could just start with that one. This will be the first of 3 reviews that I do.

I've previously blogged about Isobelle Carmody and how excited I was to meet her at Supanova a couple of years ago. After re-reading the rest of the Obernewtyn series, I read The Stone Key for the first time. I first started this series in around Year 7 or 8, when I was about twelve. I loved the series very much back then, so it was interesting to revisit it as an adult, as I hadn't read it since. To be fair, between publishing the forth and fifth book, there was a ten year gap. So it wasn't exactly possible to continue being a "young adult" while reading it. They've also started publishing the whole series with new covers, which means everyone who had the old ones has half the series in a different cover set now *hyperventilates*. I mean... it doesn't sound like a big deal. But to me it is. I liked the old ones better! They don't look pretty on my book shelf! Anyway.

Old Cover
New cover... waaah I'm a little baby

I might as well do a *spoiler* alert here. I won't go too much into the storyline, but there might be some mentions.

The Stone Key begins where it left off in The Keeping Place, with the rebellion in the Land kicking off. Considering the actual size of this book, which is fricking huge, but also the huge font size, I'm really confused about whether it's longer than The Keeping Place or not. My main issue with The Keeping Place was that it was a lot of conversation and not much action at all, which would be great if the conversation was interesting rather than superfluous.

The Stone Key had a much stronger storyline and a lot more things happened. Which made it more enjoyable to read. Unlike the previous books, where you got the feeling that the end of the series was indefinitely far away, she's really outlined what will happen, or what the protagonist, Elspeth, thinks will happen. This probably comes from the ten years of planning the rest of the series!

Even though I did really enjoy this book, I have a bunch of criticisms which I can't ignore. I kind of wish I'd been able to just finish it while I was in high school and while I had a less critical mind about writing. But there you go.

My first criticism is that while embracing wholly the 'first person' viewpoint she'd set up for herself with the first couple of books, there really is just too much *thinking* included. It's realistic, yes, but it's also very tedious. Although it's a great example of excessive character development for the protagonist, AND I'm keeping in mind this book is intended for young adults, so a bit more plot explanation might be deemed necessary (by some people - I would argue not,) there was still far too much stewing over Elspeth's thoughts. We know she would be OBSESSING about these things. It's what we would be doing in her place. We don't have to go through absolutely all of it with her, you know? We got the gist by the second chapter. It just gets really repetitive. Half of it was necessary, and the other half seemed like overkill.

Secondly, every time there was a conversation or a meeting between people, as in The Keeping Place, they would sit down, someone would bring in plates of humble-yet-mouthwatering food, and after the conversation it would be packed away. I mean, are these descriptions really necessary? Again, it's the same every time, and the food they're eating isn't exactly relevant to the storyline. It seemed really superfluous and turned scenes which could have been quick and simple into long, drawn out food porn, essentially.

The story and characters of this book were definitely its strongest point. Without giving anything away, Carmody's strayed into much darker territory this time, and with much more interesting results. The darkest parts of the book were the most engaging, for sure. And there were some sad parts which in which I felt genuine emotion, which is always a good sign.

So basically my experience with reading this book was both positive and negative. I would love to have read the exact same book, minus half the descriptions and musings. I feel like it really just needed a better editor. There were times when I couldn't put it down, and then other times when it felt like it was dragging on. Nevertheless I will be reading the next one and the one after that, of course. It's an epic story, combining fantasy and sci-fi and dystopian futures (or pasts?) and those are the things that I love about it. The sense of adventure, the powers, the socio-political kind of themes. It just needs some intensely strict editor to go "I'm cutting it up and that's all there is to it. No more plates of cheese and warm bread."


  1. ok i'm so excited that you posted this blog.. obernewtyn is one of my favourite series of all time. elspeth... i want to name a child after her. just one of the best dystopian series ever in my opinion!! i can't wait to talk about this with you in real life!! fraser loves it too!

    1. haha yes! let's have an obernewtyn lunch! i'll farseek you closer to the time ;)