I have often had this book recommended to me as a small classic of YA sf in the subcategories of post-apocalyptic, psychic kids, and Australian. It was written in 1987, when there wasn't quite such a glut of psychic kid and post-apocalyptic YA as accumulated later on. But it was still unimpressive.

As is explained in prologue of infodump, after a nuclear war, mutations and science were banned. Mutants can be executed or exiled if caught.

Teenage Elspeth is a telepathic mutant who can read minds, force people to do her bidding, and communicate with animals. She also has other extremely powerful abilities which are revealed later, when it's convenient for her to be able to unlock doors and kill people with her brain. Despite these abilities, her family has been executed and she is in a precarious position, under threat of death if her talents are discovered. Her brother, a teenage total jerk, has a somewhat higher status for reasons I forget and is not very helpful to her.

She ends up exiled to a prison/lab/boarding house for teenage mutants. There she is forced to slave in the kitchens, while sinister experiments are going on off-page. This section occupies about two-thirds of the book, and it felt like absolutely nothing was going on.

I was mostly bored by the book. Elspeth has very little personality. In fact, the only character with personality is a stray cat. Though a summary of events would make it seem like exciting things are happening, they are often narrated rather than shown, and are so underdeveloped that the sense is that nothing is happening. Dullsville.

Obernewtyn: The Obernewtyn Chronicles 1
Sequel to Night Gate, in which, you may recall, I was fascinated by the twelve-year-old heroine's stirrings-of-first-love relationship with Billy Thunder, her dog who turns into an attractive teenage boy when they go to fantasyland together to try to wake her mother from a coma.

Now back in the real world, it turns out that Rage's mom briefly rallied, but is now worse than ever. Oops. To Rage's sorrow, Billy Thunder is a dog again. For the first half of the novel, Rage has brief dreams of fantasyland, but much of the action involves her battle and then friendship with a troubled bully from her school, Logan. A human rival for Billy Thunder, I thought.

But when she finally confides her magical adventures to Logan, he becomes fascinated - even a bit obsessed - with her descriptions of Elle, her dog who became a beautiful blonde girl. For the rest of the book, she and Logan have somewhat random fantasyland adventures while Rage longs for Billy Thunder and Logan longs for Elle. This is the first novel I've ever read in which the romantic quadrangle consists of two humans and two transformed dogs.

A third book was promised, but that was seven years ago.

Winter Door
Cover copy: Rage Winnoway’s closest friends have always been her four dogs: Bear, Billy Thunder, Elle, and Mr. Walker. When Rage sets off for the hospital where her mother lies in a coma, the dogs and the neighbor’s goat tag along. On the way, they run into the firecat, who talks them into going through a magical gate. And something wonderful happens! Each of Rage’s friends is transformed. Bear becomes a real bear; Billy Thunder, a teenage boy; Elle, a warrior woman; Mr. Walker, a small, large-eared gentleman; and the goat, a satyr with an inferiority complex. Together, Rage and her companions embark on a quest to save the world of Valley, a journey that is somehow tied to Rage’s family.

I love this premise. I am a total sucker for any sort of "let's establish these characters; now let's see what happens if you make a huge change to something very basic about them." I also really like shapeshifters other than cliche versions of werewolves. So the dogs-become-humans thing? All over it.

The execution is sort of there and sort of not. We get just enough of the animals as animals to see how their altered versions match their animal personalities. But it's a comparatively short children's book with a comparatively large cast, so no one gets as much development as they needed for the whole thing to be amazing. And the plot is very standard old-fashioned quest fantasy in which the heroine gets directed to gather plot coupons.

In between plot points, Carmody was doing some quite ambitious things, such as paralleling the broken relationship between the mother and son dogs (now a bear and a boy) with Rage's relationship with her mother, AND her mother's relationship with her family. Lots of deep issues of love, trust, attachment, and abandonment... but not dealt with in a very deep way. The age level and genre tropes fought the more sophisticated and interesting elements, and what was left was a book that promised more than it delivered.

(Rage, by the way, is short for "Rebecca Jane." I would find this more convincing if a) she had chosen it herself, b) she had any rage.)

The part that fascinated me the most was the incipient sexual tension between Rage and Billy Thunder, her beloved dog who is now a boy her own age, who loves her unconditionally and will say so. He's also described in a quite sensual manner. AND HE'S A DOG. None of this is ever explicitly thought of by Rage, but it is written in a way which I am pretty sure is meant to make the reader think it. But nothing comes of it.

SPOILERS answer your burning questions: does Billy Thunder go back to being a dog? Do any dogs die?

Read more... )

There is a sequel and a promised third, which may or may not materialize. Has anyone read any of Carmody's other books? I feel like she'd probably be more successful writing to an even slightly older audience, like at a YA level.

Night Gate: The Gateway Trilogy Book One
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