Saturday, September 6, 2014
REVIEW: Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta
Series: Lumatere Chronicles #1
Format: Audiobook/Book on CD
Genre: High Fantasy/Epic Fantasy
Audience: Young Adult/Adult Crossover
Summary: Exiled from his homeland after the royal family was slaughtered and a dying woman cursed the land, Finnikin is determined to find a new home for his people. He was only a child at the time of the murders of his friend Prince Balthazar and the rest of the royal family, but Finnikin struggles with feelings of guilt related to a cryptic prophecy. Then he meets a young novice who goes by the name of Evanjalin who says the prince lives and there is hope of reclaiming Lumitare from the impostor king who butchered the royal family. Finnikin is skeptical, but Evanjalin remains stubbornly committed to her course and the two set off on a mission that take them across kingdoms, collecting allies and exiles along the way back to Lumitare.
First Line: "When it finally appeared in the distance, Finnikin wondered if it was some phantom half-imagined in this soulless kingdom at the end of the world."
This novel has been on my to-read list since its publication in 2010, and I'm kicking myself now for not reading it sooner. Of course, having waited, I have the added benefit of not having to wait a year for each of the sequels to be released. So if I look at it that way, perhaps I did myself a favor because now I can't wait to begin Froi of the Exiles!
I listened to this book on audio, and initially I thought I would never get through it. The novel jumps straight into the action and provides key back story right away, and all of the places, characters, and relationships were a little overwhelming. Unlike with a traditional book, it wasn't easy to flip back several pages as a reference point. I think this is a recurring issue for me with rich fantasy series like this one or Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, but at least with A Game of Thrones I had the TV show to orient myself (yes, I was late to the game there too). Here I was on my own, but within the first few chapters I was utterly hooked and gradually the pieces came together. Of course, there were still plenty of intentional plot twists and turns to keep me guessing. I usually listen to my audiobooks in the car, and more than once I sat in my driveway listening long after arriving home, absorbed in a particularly well-written passage.
In Finnikin of the Rock, Marchetta introduces a world rich with intrigue and secrets, where characters are far more than they first appear. Most of them are wonderfully complicated, both light and dark. Take the secondary character of Froi, for example. Froi is a young thief with a bad attitude and no outward compassion or loyalty toward his fellow man. He is crude and mocking, and yet he also gradually shows redeeming qualities that make readers care about him even as they are appalled by his actions. Marchetta does an excellent job showing the toll Lumatere's terrible history (aka the Five Days of the Unspeakable) and subsequent curse has taken on its people, and no one embodies this better than Froi, although the story of Finnikin's father Trevanion and Lady Beatrice is heartwrenching.
Though the novel is published as YA and does not have any particularly graphic scenes, it has a very adult sensibility in that it deals frankly with issues like violence, rape, and sex. The violence of war is neither glossed over nor glorified, and the characters act like real people rather than one-dimensional archetypes. Marchetta's world-building is well done and the various kingdoms and their history have me intrigued to learn more. Like A Song of Ice and Fire, the series has a historical-style setting with hints of magic, but this is a fantasy series that will appeal even to readers who generally don't like fantasy. The magic here is more mystical than fantastical, and the storytelling is wonderfully compelling.
For readers like me, it may take a bit of patience to become acclimated to the world of Finnikin and Evanjalin—not to mention sorting out all the different characters. But the effort is well worth it. I can't wait to visit Lumitare and its inhabitants once again and am looking forward to discovering more about the treacherous kingdom of Charyn, which, like Marchetta's characters, will likely be far more nuanced and surprising than we might expect.