As head of Obernewtyn’s Farseeker guild, Elspeth Gordie must travel to the lowlands to seal an alliance between Obernewtyn and the rebel forces that oppose the totalitarian Council. Yet her dreams call to her with an altogether different purpose: Elspeth must destroy what remains of the weapons that brought unimaginable chaos, death, and mutation to her world. Leaving the relative safety of the mountains, Elspeth embarks on a journey that takes her across the sea and into the heart of the mysterious desert region of Sador.
Australian author Carmody's third but inconclusive book of her well-received series (after Obernewtyn and The Farseekers) adds to the claims of destiny burdening narrator Elspeth. An ashling is a message or "dream that calls" in the mental language of the beasts, "beastspeaking" being one of the talents Elspeth possesses. Among her companions are Maruman, a large cat, and Gahltha, a horse. She and the animals, who are considered equals, belong to the Obernewtyn community of Misfits, a mountain retreat developed from an ancient experimental laboratory. Recognizing that their mental talents set them apart, the Misfits, unable to obtain a Certificate of Normalcy, must flee the established religious powers. (The division between the religious Council and the Herder Faction is not explained here, but assumed from a previous book, as is the guild structure of Obernewtyn.) Since natural resistance to mental manipulation is growing in the general population, the Misfits are limited in their ability to control events. Much of the story concerns the Misfits' attempts to meet and ally with secular rebel groups, who may tolerate the paranormal talents as little as the religious forces. Clues collect, and further quests involve the Beforetimers, whose technology culminated in the Great White nuclear holocaust that set the scene of this isolated land. The author's ideas are nothing new, and the irksomely idiosyncratic language slows the pace. First-time readers would be well advised to start with volume one.