Review: Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta

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April 3, 2013 by Heidi

Finnikin of the Rock by Melina MarchettaTitle: Finnikin of the Rock [Amazon|Goodreads]
Author: Melina Marchetta [Website|Twitter]
Standing: Book 1 in The Lumatere Chronicles, can be read as a stand alone.
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Published: August 9th, 2011 by Candlewick Press (Originally published in 2008)
Format: Paperback; 399 pages
Source: Purchased

At the age of nine, Finnikin is warned by the gods that he must sacrifice a pound of flesh to save his kingdom. He stands on the rock of the three wonders with his friend Prince Balthazar and Balthazar’s cousin, Lucian, and together they mix their blood to safeguard Lumatere.

But all safety is shattered during the five days of the unspeakable, when the king and queen and their children are brutally murdered in the palace. An impostor seizes the throne, a curse binds all who remain inside Lumatere’s walls, and those who escape are left to roam the land as exiles, dying by the thousands in fever camps.

Ten years later, Finnikin is summoned to another rock–to meet Evanjalin, a young novice with a startling claim: Balthazar, heir to the throne of Lumatere, is alive. This arrogant young woman claims she’ll lead Finnikin and his mentor, Sir Topher, to the prince. Instead, her leadership points them perilously toward home. Does Finnikin dare believe that Lumatere might one day rise united? Evanjalin is not what she seems, and the startling truth will test Finnikin’s faith not only in her but in all he knows to be true about himself and his destiny.

In a bold departure from her acclaimed contemporary novels, Printz Medalist Melina Marchetta has crafted an epic fantasy of ancient magic, feudal intrigue, romance, and bloodshed that will rivet you from the first page.

When it came time for me to pick up my first Melina Marchetta book last year I had friends who were shocked that I went for Jellicoe Road over Finnikin of the Rock, the reason being that I am obviously much more a fantasy fan than into contemporary.  I fell so utterly in love with her Printz winning Jellicoe Road that I wasn’t even able to talk about it on the blog–there were really no words for how that book made me feel.  After having read Finnikin, I question if maybe having read Jellicoe Road first contributed at all to my slight disappointment, or if I would have been a little let down regardless.  Here, Marchetta crafts her tale beautifully and infused even the most unassuming characters with life and depth, and yet her romance grated on me rather than capturing my heart as Taylor Markham and Jonah Griggs had.

Finnikin of the Rock is another of those gems in fantasy that works as a stand alone, in fact, I know from Melina Marchetta herself that it was initially intended as such.  Her world building is so adept it causes me to wonder if writing fantasy as if it were contemporary–that is, writing this made-up world as if it were real to the reader already and needed no explanation–is how it came so easily.  She somehow fills her pages with enough details to bring this world to life without confusion, but also at no point sits down to spoon feed her readers or info-dumps.  We learn about this world, its countries, politics, and Lumatere’s cursed past organically, our horror and compassion building with each new story of Lumatere’s past and present.  What is most striking to me about this world is the attachment we come to feel for this country that is quite literally under a fog of mystery.  Cursed for ten years, there has been no movement to or from Lumatere in the past decade–Finnikin of the Rock is perhaps one of the greatest examples I can bring to mind of how a people sharing roots will carry a bond, regardless of where their lives take them.

Unsurprisingly, Marchetta is masterfully able to engage us with her characters, wrapping us readers around her fingers as she breathes life into these men and women.  It would be sensible that we form a bond with our lead characters, Finnikin and Evanjalin; what is shocking to me is how much more I invested in Marchetta’s secondary rolls than her primary ones.  Several simple stories of a man such as Trevanion or Perri herd us firmly into their camp long before we even come to meet them face to face.  The compassion that we begin to feel for these characters reveals that it is not simply a story of Finnikin, but a story of a people, one we come to care for in our own way as Finnikin and Evanjalin do in theirs.  Indeed, it is these smaller stories that make Finnikin of the Rock the engaging and artful work that it is.  For me, Finnikin’s story became the vessel for the tale of Lumatere rather than the sole focus of my interest.

Here lies my inability to place Finnikin of the Rock among my all-time favorite fantasies: the relationship between Finnikin and Evanjalin.  The dynamics between these two characters were a struggling point for me from the beginning.  I found Evanjalin to be deceitful  untrustworthy, and cruel–yet, she demanded unequivocal faith from others.  Yes, she is an incredibly strong female character, but not one I can really say that I admire (for this I must turn to Beatriss or Tesadora).  She asks for more than she gives and cares little for other’s opinions unless they align with her own.  The relationship between her and Finnikin is never one of equity, and my heart couldn’t help but want more for this boy I’d come to admire.  I do applaud Marchetta for presenting us with a challenging character, in the end I don’t need to like Evanjalin or her actions as they do achieve a purpose, but it remains a fact that I can’t fall for a book in which a romance is so inexplicable, unfeeling, and unapproved of on my part.

Melina Marchetta’s Finnikin of the Rock is a book that sees into the hearts of its characters and reveals them to us at its own infuriating convenience.  It is beautiful and heartbreaking–a love of people and country so genuine it tears at you to see Finnikin’s struggle to come to terms with taking them home.  Though the tension is almost entirely mounted around the characters themselves rather than any particular action, the plot remains strong and engaging, with complex subject matter that will make it appeal to adult readers as well as teens.  A stunning example of character-driven fantasy, this one was certainly worth the wait.

Likelihood that I’ll be back for more:  *Looks at calendar*.  I should be finishing up Froi of the Exiles, the second book in The Lumatere Chronicles today or tomorrow!  After that it’s strait to Quintana of Charyn.

Recommended for:  Fans of Graceling by Kristin Cahore, Megan Whalen Turner’s Queen’s Thief series, Rachel Hartman’s Seraphinaor absolutely anyone who loves well crafted character-driven fantasy.

Real life repercussions of reading this book:  I read this as part of a read along hosted by Hanna.  Just want to say one last huge than you to her for organizing and giving us all a wonderful platform for discussion for this amazing series.

Get a second opinion:
The Readventurer – “As a story of a displaced, broken nation that fights to rebuild itself Finnikin of the Rock is almost without a flaw.”
Alexa Loves Books – “I honestly had difficulty really getting into the story at the beginning, but eventually, a few chapters in, I found myself extremely invested in the outcome of this story and the lives of these intricately written characters.”
Chachic’s Book Nook – “It’s definitely a worthwhile read if you’re an epic fantasy reader or a Melina Marchetta fan but it’s the kind of book that would make you pick up something light and fun afterward…”
Angieville – “A few hundred pages in I was struggling to figure out what was wrong with me, why I wasn’t enjoying this read, when it suddenly occurred to me that I didn’t like the characters. Not one.”

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013

This review was written as part of the Aussie Women Writers Challenge

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37 comments »

  1. I think I might be the first to comment, how about that:) I’m so glad you finally read this book, Heidi. Disappointed to hear that the romance didn’t do it for you, but I completely understand your hesitation with Evanjalin. She definitely is a complicated character, fully bent on achieving her goals regardless of how many she hurts or deceives to do it. And Finnikin is such a GOOD person, stubborn, but good. It’s hard to see him hurt.

    I’m curious about your feelings on Froi. I liked Finnikin’s book just a bit more than Froi’s (though I loved them both), but I think the character of Froi is one of the most compelling I have ever read. You review makes me want to go back and start this series all over again:)

    • Heidi says:

      Oh Heather, my feelings on Froi were also so complicated, I’ll be posting my thoughts later this week, and I was actually really surprised with myself there. I love Froi as a character oh so much though! I can’t wait to finish the series (halfway through Quintana atm).

  2. Chachic says:

    Beautiful review, Heidi! It looks like you loved this one more than I did. I found it a little too emotionally heavy for my taste, which is funny because Jellicoe Road was like that as well but I didn’t have any problems with that. You can never really predict how you’ll react to books, right? I still love Melina Marchetta and she’s an auto-buy, auto-read for me even if I prefer her contemporary novels over her fantasy.

    Thanks for linking to my review!

    • Heidi says:

      Thanks, Chachic! That’s actually really interesting that this was too emotionally heavy for you, but Jellicoe wasn’t. I bawled at Jellicoe, but didn’t cry with Finnikin at all–I think maybe that one just really hit the right notes for me. I’m so excited to read more of her contemporary, I feel like I’m going to have to ration it out!

  3. First, JONAH GRIGGS! ♥

    Ohhh, wait til you read more about Beatriss and Trevanion in Froi! It’s funny because for me, I didn’t connect with Finnikin as much as Evanjalin. It took me a while to get into because I was so new to the fantasy genre when I first read this. The scene in Pietrodore with Trevanion made me cry cry cry. I can’t wait to see what you think about Froi! Great review, Heidi!

    • Heidi says:

      OMG, I love Trevanion’s reunion in Pietrodore, it was about my favorite thing in the whole book, and the closest I came to tears as well. I love Beatriss and Trevanion in the later books, I’m so so happy she and Tesadora get the chance to become bigger characters!

  4. I haven’t read ANY of Melina Marchetta’s books yet, which I know is ridiculous! I think I will go for Jellicoe Road first, though, because sometimes I have a hard time with high fantasy.

    I’m a little nervous about whether I would like this one if the female character is kind of annoying. But I should try it out anyway.

    • Heidi says:

      I read Jellicoe Road first, and I’ll never look back. It’s amazing, one of the best books I’ve ever read, I couldn’t recommend it more.

  5. I WANT to fall head over for Finnikin. I really do. But after getting to like 40% and still just not feeling it, I had to put him down. I promise to come back – REALLY.

    I hear all of your praise for it though and I do agree – particularly with the depth of characters and the world building and how she takes so much time focusing on a love of people for their country. Complex issues and great YA characters.

    I think the pacing was just not what I expected and I will adequately prepare myself before giving him another shot!

    • Heidi says:

      Lisa, I totally feel ya! I wanted to fall hard for this series as well, and just…didn’t. I really like it, but I can see why a few friends are really meh about it. I’ll be interested to know how you feel if you do pick it up again.

  6. Amazing review, Heidi. I actually started with this book as my foray into Marchetta’s writing, which is why I suspect it holds such a special place in my heart, despite my dislike of Finnikin and Evanjalin’s relationship. I’m hoping Froi comes through better for you. I think all three of them have aspects to them that are my favorites, although as a whole, I know that I consider a lot of other fantasy novels to be my favorites before this trilogy. I’m one of those few people who has enjoyed Marchetta’s contemporary more than her fantasy. I think both are equally as strong, but the contemporary manages to ring a little truer and hit my heart a little more, although I cry when I read anything she writes. She’s just that good.

    • Heidi says:

      Thanks, Keertana! I actually think most people enjoy MM’s contemp better than her fantasy–I know I do. I’m halfway through Quintana now, and I have a lot of issues, even though I’m really enjoying this series overall. There’s just something about them that’s trying to hard to be sensational, it doesn’t have the ease and real-ness of her contemp.

  7. Brandy says:

    I like your points about Evanjalin. I had similar issues with her. I liked this one well enough but I’m not reading the other two. It is odd for me since I’m such a fantasy lover but I do prefer Marchetta’s contemporaries. (Saving Francesca is my absolute favorite though both Jellico and The Piper’s Son.)

    • Heidi says:

      Thanks, Brandy! I prefer MM’s contemp too, and I actually think being such a big fantasy fan is part of why I have some problems with this series. I’m enjoying it overall, but don’t love it. Always glad to find others who had issues with Evanjalin!

  8. Ah I need to reread Finnikin very soon! I didn’t feel like I had the time or attention span to do a long readalong like you’re doing, but I do plan on rereading Finnikin and then Froi and Quintana this month. I like being able to read my fantasies all in a row. I think that’s an interesting point you make about how Marchetta seems to write the fantasy world of Finnikin like a contemporary. I don’t think I ever made that connection, although when I did read it over a year ago, I do remember feeling as though it was written a little differently than many other fantasies. That’s too bad you didn’t really like any of the main characters much. I personally liked Evanjalin – she’s fierce and not entirely likable in some ways, but I like to think she has reasons for that. I really disliked Froi in the first book, actually – which is why it’s taken me such a long time to go back to this series. I’ll be interested in hearing your thoughts on the next two books – and seeing how they compare to my own!

    • Heidi says:

      Oooh, I’m excited to see you barrel through these, Amanda! Part of me wonders how my opinion may have changes if I’d read them quickly instead of drawing them out so much. I hope that MM is able to turn you around on Froi–I love him so, and much more than either Finnikin or Evanjalin tbqh.

  9. I was never really able to write a semi-decent review for Jellicoe Road. There simply are no words so I stopped trying after a while. I do think it’s time for a re-read, though.

    I knew this was meant to be a standalone, but I am SO glad Froi insisted on having his own story written. Froi of the Exiles is my favorite of he three, a unforgettable, heart-crushing experience.
    I know what you mean about Evanjalin, she was a bit frustrating at first, but she does get better. Their relationship was never my favorite, I always preferred the strained relationship between Beatriss and Trevanion or the tentative love of Froi and Quintana.
    Beautiful review, Heidi! I can’t wait to see how you’ll feel about Froi.

    • Heidi says:

      Exactly, Maja. I just had to give up on reviewing Jellicoe Road, and instead I just try to bibliovangelise it as much as possible.

      I’m so glad Froi insisted on a story too! I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to this world–I’m halfway through Quintana and still unsure. Haha, I still grind my teeth when Evanjalin shows up–so not a fan.

  10. Reynje says:

    Oh, I love this review, Heidi. It took me a while to get into Finnikin.. I read it for the first time a couple of years ago and while I eventually really enjoyed it, I wouldn’t say I fell in love with it. Froi and Quintana however, I think those books just spoke to me more for some reason.

    I’ve never quite been able to manage a review for Jellicoe Road either. I can just never find the right words!

    • Heidi says:

      Thanks, Reynje! Yeah, I just EXPECTED to love this series, and I don’t, which is bumming me out, but I’m still really enjoying it. THERE ARE NO WORDS for Jellicoe Road! The only ones I manage are when I shove it into people’s hands and tell them to read it.

  11. This is a fantastic review! I actually really enjoyed Finnikin of the Rock, but had a lot of the same thoughts you did about it. Something wasn’t quite right about some things… I mean, I liked them, but didn’t LOVE them. I think I fell in love more with the world and story than the characters.

    • Heidi says:

      Thanks, Candice! I definitely fell more in love with the story and the world, and even the secondary characters than the main ones. It’s so odd to me, as that’s pretty rare.

  12. Lauren says:

    What a thoughtful, beautiful review, Heidi! I completely understand your reservations about the romance between Finnikin and Evanjalin. For me the strength of this book is the secondary characters and their relationships—especially Trevanion, Beatriss, Froi and Sir Topher.

    FROI OF THE EXILES is still my favorite book in the series. I adore Froi, and again so many supporting characters (even the ones I would have thought irredeemable) wormed their way into my heart (Quintana, Gargarin, Arjuro, Lirah, Lucian, Phaedra).

    I can’t wait to hear what you think of FROI/QUINTANA!

    • Heidi says:

      Thanks, Lauren! I completely agree that the strength was in the secondary characters, they ended up being my favorite part. I’m reading Quintana now and I’m absolutely in love with all of the characters you listed, it’s so stressful and depressing worrying about what’s going to happen to them!

  13. VeganYANerds says:

    I read this after reading all of MM’s contemps and at first I was a bit like “hmm” but eventually I warmed up to it and enjoyed it, but it’s definitely not one of my faves, I much prefer Froi and Quintana.

    It is amazing how well she switched from writing contemp to fantasy! I hope you’re loving Froi and I hope you go on to love Q!

    • Heidi says:

      Yeah, it’s really interesting to see authors change genres like this, but she’s done so very successfully! I’m actually tearing through Quintana now (read almost half yesterday), and I am enjoying that and Froi as a whole better than I did Finnikin.

  14. Jellicoe Road is one of my favorite books of all time. Not being an avid fantasy reader, I was still amazed at how much I loved this book.

    I have Froi and I’m going to read it this summer!

    • Heidi says:

      Oooh, I’m excited to see how you like Froi when you get to it! And Jellicoe Road is one of my all-time favorite books as well, which is huge since I’m not an avid contemporary reader. :)

  15. I completely understand how the romance didn’t work for you in this one. I’ll be interested to see what you think about Froi’s romance in the next one, because it’s also engrossing but troubling, at least for me.

    I’ve been saving Marchetta’s contemporaries for when I need to be reminded why I love YA. I wonder how reading her fantasy series first will impact my opinion? I can’t think of another author who does both to such critical acclaim.

    • Heidi says:

      Molly, Froi review coming up and spoiler: I had issues with that romance as well. *sigh*

      But YES, needing to remember why I love YA is part of why I have the rest of MM’s contemps on the back-burner–they’ve become emergency books for me.

  16. “The compassion that we begin to feel for these characters reveals that it is not simply a story of Finnikin, but a story of a people, one we come to care for in our own way as Finnikin and Evanjalin do in theirs.” PERFECT summation of the characters’ roles in this story.

    But I view Taylor and Griggs in a different camp all together, where I can’t compare them. And as far as Evanjalin goes, I have to disagree. What we see as cruel and untrustworthy is actually necessary to go forth with what’s happening. I feel like Evanjalin is not necessarily a pawn of fate but a vessel for it’s dealings, and sometimes fate is nowhere near fair or kind. She DOES give back more than her share, for she’s doing things that lead to something much more than her and ultimately she delivers them all the one thing they want most: home. And she’s made sacrifices, seen and done things, that sometimes people chosen for the job have to do in order to do what’s best for all. She may not be completely good, riddled with her flaws as she is, but she’s what the people of Lumatere need. In many ways, Evanjalin is more than Finnikin, because she is the whole of bringing back what is lost and leading the remains, and he has the power to heal her and make her happy, this leader who has an unbearable load on her shoulders. That’s his most important task, I feel, making sure this being responsible for their homeland’s restoration and survival can be what everyone needs no matter what, making sure she survives her role.

    And gaahhh can we please have a girly squealing fest over Tesadora and Beatriss because, my lords, WHAT WOMEN! I couldn’t help pulling for Trevanion every step of the way. And the moment when he regains his brothers and restores that bond… the love I feel for that scene…

    This book is filled with so much beauty, and even though you didn’t deep-in-the-bones love it, I’m so happy THAT YOU GET IT. Now get what everybody means when they talk about this book…

    Okay, this has turned into the longest comment ever. BUT I WAS JUST SO DARN EXCITED.

    • Heidi says:

      Asher, I think you EXCELLENTLY summerized Evanjalin’s character. I actually agree with what you say, but I still hate her, if that makes sense? I don’t think she’s a bad person or a bad queen, I just really dislike her. 😛

      And YES PLEASE for girly squealing over Tesadora and Beatriss! I love them. Pleas read Froi and Quintana, they are in there so much more, and there are even more women to love (like Phaedra). And OMG, when Trevanion meets back with his men? That was one of my absolute favorite scenes in the whole freaking book.

      I love your long excited comment!

  17. What a lovely, heartfelt review! I’m glad that you finally read this book and enjoyed it overall. I agree that MM is AMAZING at making her worlds feel alive and contemporary, and that she creates fantastic secondary characters, that you feel so much for. I’m sorry that you didn’t connect as well to Finnikn and Evanjalin. I figured out who she was on page 2 of the book, so I gave her a lot of leeway in her decisions. I always felt like she was working towards a larger goal. But I understand that Finn didn’t know who she was and that she could be frustrating at times. You’re right though, no one tops Jonah and Taylor for me either.

    • Heidi says:

      Thanks, Lauren! I knew who Evanjalin was immediately as well (lol, it’s all over my early read-along comments), but that didn’t make me like her any more. I’m in Quintana now and still can’t stand her, alas, we’re just never going to see eye to eye.

  18. […] first in her Fantasy series The  Chronicles of Lumatere, is one of my favourite YA Fantasy books. Heidi @ Bunbury in the Stacks writes a thoughtful review in which she calls the book a “gem in fantasy”. In […]

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