BOOK REVIEW: The Cloud Road: The Kingdom of the Lost Book 2 (Isobelle Carmody, Viking)

cloud roadThe Cloud Road is the second book in Isobelle Carmody’s ‘Kingdom of the Lost Book’ fantasy series for younger readers. After the events of The Red Wind, brothers Bily and Zluty are on the run. The mysterious rain of stones destroyed their idyllic home in the valley, and they have decided to flee, carrying what they can. Their friend Redwing flies with them, and Zluty keeps the strange metal egg he found in his pack. At Bily’s insistence, they have also brought the Monster, the wounded creature that Bily is fascinated with and Zluty can’t quite trust. The monster claims to know of a new place they can live, but first they must cross the White Desert and something they’ve never seen: the monster calls them ‘mountains’. On the way they meet new allies, encounter terrifying new enemies and begin to unravel the mysteries of the strange world they live in. Bily and Zluty are brave, curious and intrepid explorers. Carmody’s world-building remains first class, and the many mysteries of this world begin to unravel in this volume, adding a level of intrigue to the adventure. This is recommended for younger fans of fantasy tales.

Heath Graham is a teacher and former bookseller. This review first appeared on the Books+Publishing website in February 2013. View more pre-publication reviews here.

INTERVIEW: Isobelle Carmody on ‘The Sending’ (Penguin)

Isobelle Carmody is back with book six in the ‘Obernewtyn Chronicles’. Reviewer Stefen Brazulaitis writes, ‘The good news for fans is that it is not the last [Obernewtyn book], although it does manoeuvre the characters into position for what looks to be a fairly dramatic conclusion.’ He spoke to Carmody.

The animal characters in the ‘Obernewtyn Chronicles’ are as fleshed out and integral to the story as any of the humans. Was this always the intent, or did they grow in the telling?
I have felt humans as a race have this weird paradoxical relationship to animals. We revere them when we are not eating them. Put a dog in the worst movie, and it suddenly gains a heart. Many people are nicer to their animals than to other humans. I have trouble with the fact that we use them as commodities. The whole factory farming thing is an abomination. The book I had the most fun in my life writing was Billy Thunder and the Nightgate. I turned all of my dogs and the goat I saved from slaughter (by handing over $20 and driving off with it in my beat-up old sportscar, hanging onto it by one horn so it couldn’t leap out of the car or stab me in the head while I drove it down the Great Ocean Road!) into speaking characters, but animals permeate my books as important thinking feeling characters. When we care for an animal that is when our higher self is activated.

Magic in the ‘Obernewtyn Chronicles’ is firmly grounded in real-world mysticism. What do you think of the ways magic is being used in modern fantasy?
I find magic harder to take now than when I was a child. I loved the Magic Faraway Tree as a little kid, but when I tried to read it to my daughter as an adult, I really could not bear it. That said, I really enjoyed the Harry Potter books and the magic in them was interesting and diverse and wholly enjoyable—maybe it was the darkness in those books that made me like them so much.

How did you conceive the structure of the series?
I always knew I was writing a series. At 14 I had read the Narnia books and other series, and I took in that one wrote more books if there was a larger story to tell than would fit in one book—by that I mean, a story which was not episodic but a number of discrete steps in an overarching story. It is really important to me that each book works in its own right, hence the gaps of time between them. And when the series grew, from The Stone Key onward, I was very careful where the books would end. I could not let one book turn into more until I found the right spot to stop. The structure in the next book is pretty much the same as in the others, despite the size, except that it is the first one where we do not end with Elspeth at Obernewtyn, and the last one, The Red Queen, will be the first that does not begin at Obernewtyn. That is the only change.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Wilful Eye: Tales from the Tower Volume One’ (ed by Isobelle Carmody & Nan McNab, A&U)

Fairytales never die, they just get facelifts. Isobelle Carmody and Nan McNab’s collection of revamped traditional tales is the first in a two-part project exploring the genre’s deep, rich underbelly through novella form. Here, six Australian fantasy writers each choose a particularly needling tale, teasing out the universal truths and nightmares along with some more personal ones. The result is sublime, with each tale landing a punch squarely between the old and the new, bewitching and terrifying, topped off with an individual twist. Dishing up gritty modern nightmares are Rosie Borella’s ‘The Snow Queen’—now a tale of drug addiction—and Margo Lanagan’s examination of class warfare in ‘The Tinderbox’. In Martine Murray’s hands, ‘The Steadfast Tin Soldier’ becomes a haunting existential treatise, while Margaret Mahy recasts ‘Babes in the Woods’ as a triumphant coming-of-age tale. My favourites, though, were Richard Harland’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and Carmody’s ‘Rumplestiltskin’, which bring out the savagery of the originals to highlight the resourcefulness of their heroines, each beating the odds in a battle of male wagers versus female wits. Though aimed at teens, this gothic treasure trove’s reach will extend to anyone seeking to rediscover the lost fantasies of
their childhood.

Meredith Tate is a freelance writer, editor and reviewer who has worked for a children’s publisher. This review first appeared in the Junior supplement of the March issue of Bookseller+Publisher.