Hi folks. I joined this forum just so I could reply to this thread with my thoughts about The Red Queen and the end of the Obernewtyn Chronicles.
I finished reading The Red Queen today. I read the first four books when I was a child, and like the rest of you have grown up waiting (im)patiently for the series to finish. I've been re-reading the series for the past month The first book has not aged well and is clearly the work of an amateur (14 year old) writer, but it was enjoyable to visit it again and Carmody's writing improves in leaps and bounds throughout the series. I loved The Stone Key, but found the second half of The Sending ponderous and in need of editing.
And then there is The Red Queen.
I am... devastated. I have never felt so betrayed and disappointed by a book. My heart aches for Elspeth, Matthew, Dragon, Dameon, Rushton and all other characters beloved to the readers of this series.
The beginning was promising enough and I found Habitat and Midland interesting... until they went on for over half of the book. Most agitating was the number of pages given to Elspeth's introspection, in which she reiterates information already known to the reader for years past... and then comes to the most obnoxious and incorrect conclusions. There was so. Much. Info dumping. For every 2 pages of action and excitement there were 10 pages of Elspeth turning her thoughts to something that she has already spent pages thinking of before. It was unbearable, and with every turn of the page the promised adventure to the Red Land fell further and further away. The characters themselves felt different, too. All of Dragon's character development seems to have happened off-page. She went from an traumatised and unpredictable little savage barely capable of forming sentences to an eloquent well-adjusted young woman who understands all the nuances of human interaction. And that’s just Dragon!
When they finally do arrive in the Red Land, we do not experience first-hand ANY of the climactic events surrounding Dragon's return to her throne. Dragon's destiny has been hyped since The Keeping Place, and I expected nothing less than the dramatic heroic action of the kind Matthew would love. But most of the action takes place off-page, and the build-up surrounding Dragon's plan to reveal herself as the queen fizzles out when Elspeth is rendered unconscious when it occurs. We are then led to believe Elspeth will be witness to Dragon's second grander reveal, sceptre and all, with more build-up... and then she's yanked away to lead the animals to Eden! Dear Matthew, who I've looked forward to seeing again for years, is dangled like a carrot before the reader, delaying their reunion... for what? When he finally reunites with Elspeth, the book is almost over. Elspeth herself is frustratingly obtuse; if the reader, who knows only as much as Elspeth does, can guess that Lidge is the reason for the block, then so should Elspeth. Ariel was also a disappointment, because he's had no character developent whatsoever and is a generic maniacal villain. Don't even get me started on Lidge being the Destroyer.
Then there are the forgotten characters and plot details. Where was Brydda throughout all of this? The Norselanders? What were the Inifinity Towers, after all they were broadcast as being important? How did Dragon come to be in a cryopod? WTH did Rushton get up to with the mutant beasts and why was it even in the book if it wasn't important enough to flesh out? There are so many plot threads left dangling that the resulting tapestry is all but falling apart.
But really, none of is as bad as that ending.
If I sound unfair or mean-spirited about this book, it’s because I’m heartbroken by the cruel and senseless ending of this series. I understand that Elspeth still had her destiny as Innle to fulfill, but I don't think any of us expected it to mean she'd be cut off from almost everything and everyone she has ever loved (save Rushton, Maruman and Gahltha) for the rest of her life. I can't get over how wrong the sentiment expressed by the ending of this book feels. Elspeth has been denied agency over her life since she was a child, and it is all she has ever wanted. To be free of futuretelling and prophecy and the dread that she will leave and never see those she loves again. And she succeeded as the Seeker. She played her part faithfully, as Maruman said. The best reward she could have been given was her agency. She still might never have returned to the Land or Obernewtyn, but it would have been her CHOICE. The ending robs her of that, and it robbed me of any sense of victory or joy at the achievements of all of the characters (never mind that it's written so badly that we barely see any of that). It doesn't feel earned, either. Elspeth is effectively sacrified in the name of a plot/prophecy requirement and exiled to Eden, to a sundered part of the Earth from which there is no return ever, with only her boyfriend and her animal companions and a sentient AI. That's not a life. It's a shoehorned metaphorical death and Biblical reference, which is utterly out of place in this series.
I keep coming back to the part where she says goodbye to Matthew.
I ... saw Matthew running desperately towards us, even as Gahltha leapt away...
'Elspeth!' Matthew farsent.
"Farewell, my dear ... I am sorry I could not say a long and proper farewell ... Take care of Dragon. Be happy. Perhaps we will meet in our dreams."
He stayed with me for a time, and I said many of the things I had wanted to say to him, but in the end he slipped from my mind, leaving me with a final glance of the world through his eyes...
WTH. This leaves me stone cold. It's awful and my brain just won't accept it as a fitting ending to what has otherwise been a glorious story.
I didn't expect the ending to be all roses and joy, but I expected an ending that was appropriate given everything Elspeth has achieved and everything she has sacrified for the damn prophecy. What of all the other animals in the world, waiting for Innle to free them? What about the community of Misfits she helped to grow, whose gentleness and inability to cleave to violence so changed Elspeth's perspective back in Ashling? Obernewtyn will never be irrelevant to Elspeth but it felt like it had become so at the end of the book. The best ending would have had Elspeth, inspired by the uprising in the Red Land and her love for Galtha and Maruman, choosing of her own volition to lead the beasts to Eden, and in doing so she both fulfills the prophecy as Innle and affirms her newfound gift of agency over her own life. After dwelling in Eden for some time (with Rushton of course), she decides to devote herself to freeing beasts everywhere, and sets out on many adventures throughout many lands as a post-apocalyptic animal rights activist. She could stop by Redport to see Dragon and Matthew whenever she wants, collaborating with the Red Queen to ensure the freedom of sea animals, and catching up with Dameon and Ana when they are also visiting. And one day, when the freerunning barud and beasts everywhere no longer have need of her, she could return (again, with Rushton) to the Land and Obernewtyn, not as ElspethInnle but just as Elspeth. That's how I would have ended it and that's how I'll imagine it.
This post has become a book, for which I'm sorry. I know this is probably a controversial opinion, but I had to get it out. Thanks to IC for what has mostly been a great series. I just wish this last book had been nurtured for a bit longer.