April 3, 2013 by Heidi
Title: 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
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.
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.”
This review was written as part of the Aussie Women Writers Challenge