Returning from her unsuccessful mental search for Maruman, Elspeth gets back to her room, and is immediately interrupted. As Mistress of Obernewtyn, she doesn’t have too much time to relax, and for a second I thought it was Maryon coming to see her! It is Ceirwan, kindly bringing her wood for her fire, but Elspeth is just gruff and cold with him, her mind clearly concerned about Maruman, but I also sense some tension between these two, something that has never been there before. But I think Ceirwan is just being a good friend and looking out for her, and as always Elspeth can’t communicate emotions very well, and apparently nobody even realises that Rushton is better now and never stopped loving Elspeth. Honestly, why didn’t she just tell everyone? It would have saved a lot of hassle, but her inability to be in control of her emotions prevents her from speaking about them.
But what is surprising, at least for Elspeth, is that Ceirwan and Freya have considered building a cottage outside the walls of Obernewtyn and living there together. I don’t think Elspeth has ever considered that people would do this, because she can’t imagine living elsewhere, but really it is only natural people want a building that is their own, and not just a room. Of course it is just the idea of change that is making her a little daunted by it all, but she will be leaving Obernewtyn behind soon enough herself.
All this gets Elspeth a tad sentimental with her own turret room, which used to be Rushton’s, which is something that never clicked with them, I thought Rushton’s room back in Obernewtyn was on the ground floor, and I imagine Elspeth’s to obviously be on a higher level since it is a turret. Without Maruman there though it lacks something, but there is also something new, Garth has sent her Jacob Obernewtyn’s journal for her to read, how exciting! From what she has heard, the journal is required reading for her so she can go on her own journey into the Blacklands, just as Jacob did. Garth didn’t hand over this possession lightly, Elspeth only has it because she can command him, but the pages are delicate and if handled too harshly they will be lost before a copy can be made.
We start out with a letter to Hannah from Jacob, and it confirms that Jacob has the key that Elspeth needs, but he believes that it is useless since Hannah was wrong about them being in the same grave, she could be wrong about the Sentinel project, and I’m guessing that is referring to the future of it being reused to destroy the world. Jacob was only saved because of Hannah, who told him where would be safe from The Great White, and Hannah herself has been trapped, and Jacob is left wondering if she survived herself, which is a terrible fate to have. It has been a number of years that Jacob has been waiting, and now all hope is gone. He has heard news from his radio (since the internet failed) that their world has gone, Chinon seems to be the place that life was spared. Tipoda, the pole settlements, and large parts of Mericanda and most of Uropa are wastelands. And this is very interesting news, does this mean that Chinon was spared because it set off the BOT, or controlled it somehow? And does this count as a recount of the time after The Great White that I said we would get via a memory?
Newrome was flooded after an earthquake, and all those people in the Reichler Clinic AND AT OBERNEWTYN died. Um, I thought that he was at Obernewtyn? What? Jacob feels quite guilty that he should survive when those who have talents did not, but clearly Jacob, you survived for a reason. He explains that his guilt is even worse because the others who were here at Obernewtyn (now it makes sense) voted to go into the lower levels of the laboratories, where they ultimately died because of earthquakes (I assume this is under the Tecknoguild caves). Jacob remained in the house, because Hannah said it would be safe, but the others got scared that she was wrong since she never foresaw that she wouldn’t be there with them. And I understand their fear, but it ended tragically.
Jacob used Ines to try to contact Hannah as the others left, so maybe that was what kept him up in the safety of the house. But now after all these years, he has realised that even if Hannah survived that she would be trapped in the shelter forever since the radiation would be too high. Does that mean the remains at the Beforetime complex were hers? It would make sense since Jacob was using Ines to contact another Ines, which is at the complex. How interesting that that skeleton was there so long ago and yet could be significant. His loneliness has driven him to despair, and he has decided to take a chance and travel to find a ‘shining city in a white desert’. This journal is for Hannah if she ever returned, but it is now confirmed that he has taken the key with him, so Elspeth has to go and find out where he actually went and how to get there herself.
The journal continues, but he makes no mention of the key again as he details his calculations and preparations for the journey ahead. He was very methodical, calculating the amount of air and food he needed, and he was able to purify the water with a device. How Elspeth will manage the same journey baffles me. There are some obscure references to landmarks and to a place where he could find out where he was going, but no real directions for Elspeth to follow. I really do wonder where Jacob is going, and whether Elspeth won’t have to follow him after all, and if he made his way to the Red Queen’s Land. Jacob’s hope is that he will be able to communicate with Hannah again, if he finds a place where Ines is connected, it is this dream that drives him, just like Hannah’s always did to everyone else.
Jacob built a vehicle that would purify the air until its batteries failed, and that machine would take him a fair distance, before he left it in the plast suit to continue on alone. I wonder if this vehicle is a flying one, since that would be the easiest to get over the mountains, but probably slightly inconceivable given his restraints. But whatever he was doing, he seemed determined and of ‘sound mind’, so he was quite certain it wasn’t a suicide mission, and he didn’t want to die anyway, he just didn’t want to be lonely anymore, and to see Hannah again.
Elspeth ponders just how she will be able to get that key, and thinks that it must be impossible that there is a settlement in the middle of the Land which is free from taint, but anything is possible, and how would you know since there is no safe way for you to communicate or get to one another. But this idea makes me very excited, what sort of people would live there, and how have they survived being cut off from everything?
But the new information about Hannah has changed their preconceptions and theories that they had, she wasn’t in Newrome, and it seems unlikely that Rushton is her descendent. It seems that Hannah would have been a tad too old to bear children after the Great White, but it is still possible. Unless of course she had just fallen pregnant in the first place before she left to go wherever she did, and if she was spared from the radiation, then the baby could have survived. Indeed we don’t know how long she was away before it all happened, so she could have even had the baby then, though that is unlikely.
Enough pondering about this mystery, instead Elspeth starts to ponder Atthis and how she saved Rushton, for a price. Actually she doesn’t think about that price, instead focusing on remembering her time with Rushton, which I guess is acceptable since it was their first time together, both loving each other in such a long time, that no wonder she wants to think about that moment. But she knows that even when he comes back, there will be precious little time before she must depart, possibly forever.
Elspeth dreams, and this time she dreams of Cassy, who seems to be inside some sort of compartment, surrounded by glass or plast. She seems quite bruised and panics when she wakes up in this strange place, what has happened? Elspeth wakes up without ever continuing the dream, which is really frustrating, what was Cassy doing in a compartment thing? Something tells me we’ll see more of that later, instead Elspeth realises it is early morning and the brewing storm has struck. We get a recap of the information Elspeth has gleamed over the past few years from her dreams of Cassy and Hannah. She does know a lot, but she still doesn’t know how the Sentinel program ended up causing the Great White, and whether Cassy had foreseen it like Hannah. And as to why Chinon was spared, and other parts as well weren’t completely wiped out, that is another mystery. My guess is that even if the Balance of Terror was set about, it would make no sense for it to wipe out everything, it just needed to wipe out enough so that people couldn’t try to fight again since they would lose all connection with one another and lose their ability to launch weapons. I mean all this information isn’t exactly crucial to stopping a second apocalypse, but it all provides context as to why this position was ever reached, and I think that is important.
What is really strange though is that some piece of information has come from nowhere. Elspeth has mentioned twice now that Cassy travelled to the Land with the Beforetime Misfits, but we’ve never heard of this before. In fact I don’t recall ever hearing who Cassy came with apart from it being the people from the Red Queen’s Land that had come with Cassy earlier and who wanted to follow her some more. I mean it makes some sense, though I didn’t think there were that many, but this is a bit of a plot hole, where did this come from? But thinking about it more all the Beforetime Misfits except two that we saw in The Stone Key in the compound where Cassy’s dad works, were just like her in terms of skin colour, which would lead on to the Gypsies having the same skin colour. What happened to those other two, did they just say in the Red Queen’s Land?
Clearly Cassy developed some sort of futuretelling ability later on, otherwise how would she have known what to do to prevent a second apocalypse, I wonder if she worked in collaboration with the Agyllians, who were also the bearers of this knowledge. Why is Elspeth the Seeker? Good question, clearly it is because of her killing power which I think will be needed to either destroy the weaponmachines or stop the Destroyer, she clearly needs immense power to do something (apart from the odd occasion when she has had need in the last few books). But even before she can do that, we are reminded that she still has three signs left to find, one is the key Jacob has, the other is in the Red Queen’s Land, and the last is that thing to mark the passage of safe agreement, which we are most definitely going to find at least before half way into this book, which means SWALLOW!
But we still have the huge question of where Dragon is, and how can Elspeth get her to remember the location of that last sign? Again there is a slight diversion from the storyline presented in The Stone Key as it says that Elspeth didn’t find out Dragon was missing until she herself returned to Obernewtyn, but she was told earlier. The good news is Maryon says she is safe, but as for whether she will return in time to take her to inspire the slaves and create an uprising we don’t know. Elspeth hasn’t even told Rushton that this would be how they could overthrow the slavers, something I’m sure they are wondering! She’ll have to tell him soon enough, but maybe there is some purpose for not telling him just now. But Dragon will show up, just as everything else has, and Elspeth is sure that the safe agreement passage marker is in Saithwood, I had forgotten that point, but we shall see.