The Obernewtyn series has long been on my Death List (as is her Darkfall trilogy), but alas for Ms Carmody, I always feared what would happen if she died, leaving me alive but distraught and wondering what would have been. Monstrous, I know, but the publication of The Stone Key means I have less to fear. There’s only one more Obernewtyn instalment left. Sensibly, considering this book ended up being about a thousand pages, Carmody decided to divide the finale into two books, with the concluding tome to follow next year. (Edit: it won’t be around until the end of 2009, I think.)
These books are really not for everyone. Unless you like the idea of people talking to each other inside their heads, or talking to animals who are by turns noble, grumpy and autonomous, and fantasy adventures of epic proportions, the Obernewtyn books are not for you. But if you are anything like me, that sentence turned you on a little bit. Even so, The Stone Key would be difficult reading for any stranger to the series. It does not stand alone, despite a lengthy backstory chapter, and it is not designed to do so. It contains a hell of a lot of plot-moving that requires intimacy with the world’s politics and characters.
Although I am predisposed to be pleased by anything in this series and to happily absorb whatever authorly intent is given form, The Stone Key nevertheless suffers from what I like to call J.K Rowling syndrome. This phenomenon describes an overindulgence of fantasy writers by their editors in respect of length. (See: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.) Fantasy writers are usually connate storytellers, but not always literary guns, with wild imaginations spanning many more universes than the one us ordinary folk deal with. But the impressive weft of a fantasy world can suffer from a lack of limits, and for this reason needs to be reined in by the same, if not more discipline as fiction depicting the real world.
Perhaps it is the bestselling nature of these books that means fantasy writers get more leeway than their peers. Rowling’s success is chronicled legend and Carmody’s book was in the Readings top ten within a week of its release. But even Rowling herself has acknowledged the unnecessary lengthiness of her books, revealing the reluctance of her editors to meddle too much with her preliminary vision.
To be fair, The Stone Key‘s events are truly epic, and require a certain volume of pages to allow them to unfold. Carmody also has a naturally rambling style, which lends her protagonist, Elspeth Gordie, much charm. But I would have liked to see some of the descriptive overflow staunched because at times it bogs down the narrative and strips Carmody’s hooks of their dramatic potential. The Stone Key also suffers from a lot of copy-type errors. Considering the months of delay in publication and the length concerns, this flaw becomes a little more jarring than it would be otherwise.
Really, though, don’t get me wrong. I panicked when I couldn’t see any copies of The Stone Key on the shelf. The sales assistant pulled a copy off hold from someone else because she could see the desperation in my eyes. These books are beautifully imagined and heavily political, stunning and suspenseful. I chewed through this book in 24 hours and hungrily await the next; the day the sixth and final book comes out, I will assuredly be on a bookstore doorstep, waving $33 in some hapless assistant’s face.