OK, so this reply is going to be longlonglong, because I had all my notes already and reading all of the other responses has only added extra gnawings for me to comment on.
So it is currently just past 6am, and I finished the book a couple of hours ago. Like many others, I pretty much read the whole thing over two sittings, and had to stop and process before I could decide how I felt about it. A lot of that is simply because this series has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, but now most of those feelings have resolved, and I have come to the stage where I feel as if they need to be set down coherently, as a sort of closure before sleep, followed by the slow, lingering, ponderable, in drips-and-drabs rereading that I will inevitably feel compelled to do upon waking.
Where to start? The pacing didn't upset me, and never has over the whole series. Some points, yes, were really obvious early on, but I felt that Elspeth was perfectly justified in taking as long to put it together as she did, given the circumstances. For me, the anxieties I gnawed about were always resolved before they turned into frustrations, even when Elspeth reminded herself to do something and then didn't for several dozen pages at least. As somebody else mentioned, she has always done this, and I think that it is the inevitable result of the introversion that was the result firstly of her Orphan-home upbringing and later of her own devising; she has always held herself apart. She never forgot to do anything, however, and nothing was ever completed too late for it to be of use to her.
A lot of people have mentioned how much they disliked the speedy resolution of things in Redport, and espcially the essential sounding-off of characters who ought to have been more important: The devoted Daffyd's search for Gilaine, Elspeth's reunion with Matthew after so long, why Brydda didn't seem to have taken any active part in the rebellion at all. These irked me a little in the first reading - I was especially upset that Elspeth kept missing Matthew - but a couple of hours of quiet contemplation have changed this. In relation to the other books, this has always been something that endeared this series to me the most. In so many other books, there is the temptation to make minor characters have their whole beings caught up in the ultimate plot-line of the story: not so with Obernewtyn. Each of the characters lead full, rich lives apart from the protagonist, and were helpful only when she required them to be; when Elspeth wasn't with them, they lead full, rich lives of their own. That made them seem more real to me - after all, it often happens in the real world that occurrences simply occur. There was no need for Erit to have stowed away aboard the ship, for example, since he seems to have died without serving any purpose. But that is just it - he didn't serve any purpose TO THE PLOT, and why should he? Elspeth didn't need him any more, he had already been shown to have a restless spirit, and, most importantly, there was no reason for him NOT to stow away. His death didn't hinder the plot - it only reminded us that he was his own character, with his own ambitions and dreams. Similarly, I did not think that Salamander's death happened too fast for resolution. It wasn't as if the revelation of her identity was a shock to Jakoby in the way it was to Elspeth. Jakoby had known for a good many years, and her sister's utter rejection of her was obviously a possibility that she had already come to terms with, at least to some degree. But I LOVE that IC also doesn't go to the other end of the spectrum, as some authors do, and abandon us without hope. There is still a huge what-if attached to most characters, but their bowings out always come on a positive note. Like with Miryum and Ahmedri, for instance. We may never know exactly what happens to them, but we are left with the definite feeling that, whatever it is, it will be OK.
For this reason, I really liked the habitat, and the amount of time spent there. Again in series, it is often true that every big thing and/or quest that the protagonist needs to complete is linked. Really, these weren't. Habitat, Eden, Sentinel; it is true that they all had a tentative link through Govamen, but they were all presented in ways that were wholly separate from one another. The speci were distinct from every other type of person that we had met so far, and in addition to proving once again that Elspeth is a catalyst, it allowed the development of things that would not otherwise have been able to happen, such as teaching Dragon the patience and restraint necessary for a Queen, causing Elspeth to re-evaluate certain assumptions that she had made about the progression of her quest, allowing Swallow and Ana to develop feelings at the PERFECT pace, and - most importantly - leading Dameon to two very precarious points in his love for Elspeth: the first when he accepted that she could never love him; the second when he was forced by her sudden reappearance into the display of emotions that brought her to the edge of understanding, and caused him to finally admit what he had never intended to.
Which brings me naturally to The Kiss. Many people were understandably horrified by this, but I think that they are reading it slightly wrong. I actually went over this a few times to make sure, but you'll notice that though Dameon does apologise for empathising his passion onto her, at no point does it say that he did it ON PURPOSE. The way I see it, the final acceptance that Elspeth would never be In Love with him had caused him to re-evaluate everything. As far as I can tell, he actually spent very little time with her after she and Rushton first became a couple; he spent most of his time in Sador/Saithwold/Westland. So, we know that before that, he had considered himself on an equal footing with Rushton in that both their loves were unrequited, and chances are that he was working his way up to actively seeking to win Elspeth. We know, because he said so a couple of times, that her suddenly falling for Rushton had been a bit of a shock to him, firstly because he closed himself off to her as much as possible anyway, and secondly because she had hidden it from even herself for a very long time. We also know that after he was sent to join her on her quest, Dameon knew that both Rushton and Elspeth expected never to reunite, so chances are that he had genuine hopes the entire time. But then it got to the tipping point of being super-obvious in Habitat, and still she didn't click. It changed his worldview; he lost his hope. But a thing needs to be acknowledged before it can be let go of, and anybody would have been frustrated by the dense way that she reacted to his confession. Note that, in all the books over the years, he always strengthened his mental barriers when they came into physical contact, likely not only to distance her for his own sake, but to stop her from catching glimpses of his feelings, since we have been told that she had felt them fleetingly at times, and because we know that talents are less easily controlled the more agitated you get. So, there is Dameon, tired, frustrated, trying to explain to Elspeth something that, let's face it, she's never going to get, and we already know that shields can be hard to hold at the best of times - Elspeth was always having to shore up or rebuild hers. Then the only way to get her to understand how he felt (and remember that he needed to, because dear Dameon deserved his resolution) was for him to kiss her. I'm actually cool with that. Knowing Elspeth, he could have just outright said "I'm in love with you" and she would have just blithely gone "Yep, love you too". But physical touch strengthens talents, and Dameon's is formidable. So the way I read it, is that he kissed her and, through a combination of tiredness, frustration, the instability of shields in general, physical touch, and probably other things, his shields came crashing down and she got overwhelmed. But no. NO. He did NOT take advantage of her. Stop. Don't even think it. Remember that HE pushed HER away. Because it was the right thing to do. Remember that HE stopped HER from kissing HIM again. Because he knew that she didn't really want it. Remember that, in spite of fatigue and passion and frustration and everything else, he rebuilt and strengthened his shields so that she wouldn't be overwhelmed again. It allowed her to see him fully, truly, for the first time, as well as allowing him the chance to get over her, and honestly? They both deserved that. He doesn't need to feel guilty, because he expressed his feelings in the only way that he could, given her emotional denseness and the failure of his verbal and subtle attempts. But he didn't push it, he made no demands, he did not try to emotionally manipulate her. He remained the perfect gentleman, and remains my favourite character.
As a side note in the vein of Elspeth and emotions, I didn't think that the Jes excuse was a cop-out at all. There was obviously something truncated about her feelings, and she had more than once mentioned her brother hugging her during her parent's execution in such unusually vivid detail that I have long thought that something was up with it. My suspicions were actually that she had repressed something in the way that Dragon or Maryon had, yet Jes being an unwittingly powerful coercer works better, somehow. He would have been devastated too, and all of those emotions would have flowed into his coercive command. Probably his Dark Power, too, since Elspeth mentioned in Obernewtyn the hatred and frustrated hopelessness he felt at the Herders during and immediately after the event. For that matter, I like that her Dark Power didn't play a huge role in the end. It wasn't something that existed purely to serve her quest; rather, it was simply a new Talent, and one that she had to accept before she could accept her destiny. She had to get over her fear of it in order to commit fully to her role as Seeker. I think that this was part of the reason that she spent half the book virtually powerless; it was time for her to stop trying to win her way out of impossible situations, and to just accept that they WERE possible. More importantly, it was time for her to start her graceful decent from the main story-line. Her time as protagonist was up.
Speaking of fear, I think that the same premise applies to Ariel. I think that Elspeth had built him up to be more than he was, because remember that he doesn't ACTUALLY appear in any other book than Obernewtyn. Other than that, we only ever get the results of his creepy meddlings, the occasional truedream and Elspeth's speculations about him. As a self-important but ultimately not ACTUALLY important psychopath, I think that he works well. Reread in that light, we see that he did a lot of evil things/LOOKED like he had complicated plans, but actually that is all a misconception. First he sent soldierguards to Obernewtyn - fail. He tried out Henry Druid and the Council before coming to rest with the Faction. He'd coerced the One and the Inner Tier Three, yet didn't actually get them to do a lot except plan the invasion of the Westland - again a failure. He tortured Rushton and Domick, but that only ever served a sadistic purpose, as did his nulls. The virus and assassination were again great big failures. He joined forced with Salamander, but together they wrecked nowhere near the destruction that they could have. He wormed his way into the upper eschalons of the Gadfian slavemasters at Redport, but that didn't seem to create any effect. He tried to see the emperor of the White-Faced Men - nothing. Really, he was kind of ineffectual in all he did, except to scare Elspeth; which was all that he NEEDED to do. As for Lidge and not he being the destroyer, I think that it works. Clearly he would have been unable to get as close as he was to succeeding without her, and vice-versa. Chances are he was manipulated into THINKING that he was the Destroyer, when all the time it was her. Their malevolence fed off one another.
The Hannah & Hannah thing that frustrated so many people actually had me really impressed. From the cobbled-together truedreams that she had access to, there was no reason for Elspeth to make that connection, and I quite like that she didn't - because it would have been too neat a solution. To me it would have implied that Futuretelling can see all, and I like that instead there were gaps in her knowledge; not ones that would have hampered her quest, but simply when it was really none of her business. Hannah, Hannah and Jacob's story came to a wonderful resolution ere the end - bittersweet and wistful - and I couldn't have wanted it any different. Indeed, to me it was almost better this way, because Elspeth's lack of emotions regarding them fit better with the way that they had been constructed in the series. We know ABOUT Cassy and Hannah, and obliquely about Jacob - but we never met them. We hadn't the same emotional attachment to them as we naturally had to those whose timeline was progressing more chronologically. Elspeth not understanding about the mother-daughter relationship, to me, simply put the story into the realm of dreams, of ghosts, of history. They were Beforetimers, no matter what else they might have done/when they lived, and it seems right somehow that some things should be half-forgotten.
The same is true about the White Faced Lords - we have seen that they have, at the very least, futureteller's and empaths in their country, as well as computermachines, and there is obviously some kind of political struggle going on there too. They were set up to be important, and I think that they will be - IN THE FUTURE. There is obviously much more that they need to do, and it will be done. But Dragon no longer needs Elspeth to help her with it, if she ever really did, and I for one am glad that international political intrigues will ensure that her future reign is not all moon-drops and rose petals. Add to that the fact that the Matthew/Dragon dynamic was established but never actively resolved, and I am quite satisfied that IC left Her Majesty with a full and intricate life to be going on with: one worthy of a loadstone. Everything was pointed in the right direction, and I for one don't see any need for more.
Which leaves Dragon and her Cryopod question. I think that the most elegant answer, considering the fact that there was a single, adult skeleton found at Oldhaven when they first opened it, was that it was Cassy who rescued Dragon from the water and put her into stasis. Everyone please remember that Ahmedri told Elspeth when she was recounting Cassy's story throughout The Sending that Kasanda did not die in Sador, but simply vanished one day. She may very well have gone to collect Dragon, or even to shut herself up in a pod in Oldhaven until Dragon came. That could also be used to explain the age of Maruman.
19 hours of slow reading over two days. 3 hours contemplation time in which to reconcile the different parts of the story. Yet still there are two things that gnaw at me.
One, which is more disappointment than anything, was the poor editing - at least in my e-book version. Characters were misnamed, the wrong pronouns were used for some of the beasts, and no-one seemed to have minded that mutated animals, which had barely warranted an off-handed and vague mention in previous books, were still off-handedly and vaguely mentioned, yet played a vital role. I can only assume that they were included in order to lay background for another story later on, yet it was poorly done. His is the only story for which we do not have enough information for at least some kind of closure. The unknown details about the lives of others are unknown because irrelevent, but there were things brought up in The Red Queen about Rushton that were just seemingly abandonned. Like who was his Gadfian master and why did he seem so concerned about Rushton? How did he get captured in the Red Land? How did he just turn up? And I think that the worst part in knowing, since he followed Elspeth to Eden, Elspeth will never leave Eden, Rushton will never leave Elspeth, and Rushton is at least 4 (probably more) years older than Elspeth, that we will never find out. Everyone else has the potential for a comeback.
And of course, the ending. I simply cannot, CANNOT wrap my head around its being perfect for Elspeth. She is the overthinker, the planner, the woman for whom loyalty is everything. To live out the rest of her life separated from her friends, stuck and with little to do, even with Rushton, does not seem like any kind of reward. If she could have just lived there, and traveled back and forth to Redport every now and again, then maybe given in to curiosity and visited Shambala ... now that's the Elspeth I know. To think of her, purposeless in Eden; I just can't make it gel. And that saddens me.