The Stone Key, written by Isobelle Carmody and published in 2008, is the fifth book in the Obernewtyn series. The series can be described as post-apocalyptic X-men. Humanity has gone medieval societies a nuclear incident, and there is a persecuted minority of mutated psychics. Our protagonist is Elspeth Goldie, a mutant messiah charged by long-lived eagles with dismantling the remaining nuclear weapons.
I was in primary school when I read the last book in the series, so I actually used the little name glossary at the back of the book. Back then I would’ve been impressed at my ability to read a book with a thousand pages, but now I feel that the ideal of length of a book is four hundred to five hundred pages. The names were all fantasyish, and really, any sort of name is plausible in a post-apocalyptic setting. There was a distinct Welsh influence, with characters named things like Gwynedd and Brydda. Even the title of the series has a gratuitous Y in it.
The most interesting theme of the book is animal rights. One of the mutant abilities is Beastspeaking, and as you may expect, it enables a human to telepathically communicate with a non-human. At one point a Beastspeaker invents a sign language that allows normal humans to communicate with quadrupeds. The Stone Key occurs after a political revolution which only succeeded due to animal sport, and the book contains discussion of what role they should play in the new society. Even if I could telepathically communicate with animals, I doubt they’d be as thoughtful as the ones Carmody writes. Still, a nuclear apocalypse is going to change some things up.
The Stone Key shows the strengths and weaknesses of first person narration. The big strength is characterisation, and Elspeth is shown to be thoughtful, lyrical, and increasingly gung-ho. The weakness is that the reader is stuck with her for a thousand pages. People besides Elspeth have adventures, and whenever they appear in the story they provide her with a paragraph of exposition. I don’t think this is realistic. I know a few people who talk in paragraphs, I can do it myself, but there are way too many paragraph-talkers to be believeable. It would have been better if Carmody broke up the first person narration with third person accounts of what these other characters have been doing, perhaps as psychic dream sequences.
I think the whole Obernewtyn series is suitable for a television adaption. You’d film it in Eastern Europe, and pitch it using the words ‘like Game of Thrones’. Any obvious anachronism, like a bicycle or a fire hydrant, can be dismissed as some weird Beforetime relic. The first novel is short enough to serve as a pilot TV movie, and there’s enough material in the books for at least six series. A television adaption could be good.
I wouldn’t recommend reading The Stone Key without reading the preceding books in the series. If it’s been a while since you read the other books, look for a summary of them, it’ll help. Obernewtyn would be a good series to get into, but you’ll need to read five other books before you work your way to this one.