by Melina Marchetta
Series: Lumatere Chronicles #1
Published on August 9, 2011 by Candlewick Press
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
At the age of nine, Finnikin's world is shattered by the five days of the unspeakable: the royal family of Lumatere is brutally murdered, an imposter seizes the throne, and a curse binds all who remain inside the kingdom's walls. Those who escape are left to roam as exiles.
Ten years later, Finnikin and his mentor, Sir Topher, are summoned to meet Evanjalin, a young novice with a startling claim: Balthazar, the heir to the throne of Lumatere and Finnikin's childhood friend, is alive, and she can lead Finnikin to him. Even as he suspects this arrogant young woman, Finnikin also begins to believe that Lumatere might one day be raised.
“Be prepared for the worst, my love, for it lives next door to the best.” Evanjalin of the Monts offers advice to the First Man of Lumatere, Sir Topher, as they sit in waiting for their comrade Finnikin and his believed-to-be-lost father. Some may call Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta a character-driven fantasy adventure and I’d agree wholeheartedly, yet it is more than just a story. Finnikin is a retelling of a boy and his friends who lived through the worse to reach the best, a story that left me truly speechless and eager for more.
I received the book for review and thought to myself, “I’ve heard of this book before.” At the time, I was in high school and chose not to read it, believing it to be in the realm of middle-grade boys’ stories. Although I’ll read just about anything in the realm of fantasy, I lean toward strong heroines and didn’t see that in this book. Perhaps I should have listened to the age-old adage of “don’t judge a book by its cover” because I don’t hand out five grimms to just any book. Finnikin is similar to books like J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potterseries and Scott Westerfeld’s Levianthan series in that it appeals to both guys and girls, as compared to most of the occupants of the paranormal romance genre which focuses on the “fairer” gender as its main audience.
This novel captures the essence of a true young adult fantasy, from the intricate world of Lumatere and the surrounding countries of Skuldenore, to the depth and range of characters, all of which acted as major players in the story. My only regret is that I finished it and didn’t have its sequel, Froi of the Exiles, on hand.
Finnikin is a cross between a tortured soul and firm believer in the future. His strength comes from his continuous optimism for the future of his cursed kingdom, while being shadowed by his fears of the role he may have to play for it to survive and his own wants. Together, it gives his character a balance that’s constantly on the rocks. Finnikin is no more perfect than you or I, believing in what he knows and hopes will come to pass. A favorite passage of mine describes his determination for a brighter future beautifully:
“I stood in a pit of corpses yesterday. Stepped over the body of one just my age. Do you know what went through my mind? Rebuilding Lumatere. And as I watched the lad carrying the dead, I thought the same. I imagined he would be a carpenter. I could see it in these,” he said, his hands outstretched. “In a pit of death I imagined a Lumatere of years to come, rather than of years past.” He was staring at his mentor. “We have never done that Sir Topher. We collect the names of our dead, we plan our second homeland, and we construct our government, but with nothing more than parchment and ink and sighs of resignation.”
Sir Topher finally looked up. “Because any hope beyond that, my boy, would be too much. I feared we would drown in it.”
“Then I choose to drown,” Finnikin said. “In hope. Rather than float into nothing. Maybe you are right, Trevanion,” he said, turning back to his father. “But it is her hope that bewitches me, and that hope I may never get out of my system, no matter how many times she’s to be gotten. Can you not see it burning in her eyes? Does it not make you want to look away when you have none to give in return? Her hope fills me with…something other than this dull weight I wake with each morning.”
Finnikin has so much love in his heart, shadowed by a curse leaving his father somewhere across the continent in chains and his remaining family left for dead. Yet through the darkness, he carries the light to lead his people home with the help of a young woman who goes by the name Evanjalin but is so much more. What begins as distaste for the novice Evanjalin quickly turns into a friendship to rival the trio from Harry Potter or Frodo and Sam from Lord of the Rings. Finnikin can no more leave her behind than she could him.
Evanjalin, like Finnikin, possesses secrets that haunt her each day, with little to relieve the pain from the terror that afflicted her family. She brings to the table the stubbornness and snark I’m more familiar with in a leading lady, yet understands when to give in and let others help her for it’s the only way to break the curse on their former home—work together or never see the Flatlands, the Rock, the Mont, or the River of Lumatere again. She uses silence to her advantage because “when one is silent, those around speak even more.” Like Finnikin, her hope courses through her veins, guiding her head and heart to the ultimate decision of her people’s fate, and her own.
Here is where I get to the story. If I picked it apart, I’d say that the novel is more character-driven, as each decision is hinged not so much circumstance as what the characters feel is right. The storyline is full of emotion and rash choices, raw and unpredictable. It’s relation to a person’s decisions in life makes it that much easier to follow. I enjoyed reading through the other “supporting” characters points of view as well, but my only real critique of this book would be that I wanted more of Finnikin, and maybe Evanjalin. I’ll be the first to admit I was literary-crushing on Marchetta’s leading man. But that aside, the romance element of this book really blew my mind. Since the love triangle has plagued the young adult genre of late, I’ve been finding myself more and more put-off by it. DoesFinnikin have a love triangle? Hell no. I actually experienced the relationship growth between Finnikin and Evanjalin. Yes, I expected it to happen once I got into the story but I didn’t expect to live it. And it’s toned down enough that readers who aren’t big fans of romance in their fantasy adventures would still enjoy the story for everything else it has to offer, but makes its presence known for those who like to see the passionate side of a novel’s characters. Personally, Finnikin and Evanjalin have made my top-ten list of literary couples. Froi, one of their traveling companions, describes them in a way that I believe captures the love they feel toward each other:
And this is the way Froi of the Exiles remembered that moment they entered the golden meadow that hurt his eyes but made him dream of all things good. On the one side of the path was a stone fence half-covered with overgrown weeds. On the other, olive groves with pomegranate and apple trees mixed. And there in the middle stood the priest-king like one of those ghosts who appear in dreams and Froi saw Evanjalin in the high grass, her face pale but not with death or fever. She wore flowers in her hair and Froi liked the way their stems fit into the bunch of hair beginning to stick out of her head. And when Finnikin grabbed her to him and buried his face in her neck and then bent down and placed his mouth on hers, the others pretended that there was something very interesting happening in the meadow. The priest-king even pointed at the nothing they were pretending to see. But Froi didn’t. He just watched the way Finnikin’s hands rested on Evanjalin’s neck and he rubbed his thumb along her jaw and the way his tongue seemed to disappear inside her mouth as if he needed a part of her to breathe himself. And Froi wondered what Evanjalin was saying against Finnikin’s lips when they stopped because whatever the words were it made them start all over again and this time their hunger for each other was so frightening to watch it made Froi look away.
print, pg. 247
What about the rest of the story, you may ask? Well I can tell you now that there is more to Finnikin of the Rock than a beautiful romance and determined characters. I’d rather not spoil too much but this novel teaches the reader a lesson that Rowling’s Albus Dumbledore says aptly in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, when one only remembers to turn on the light.” That is what Finnikin and his friends seek, the light in the darkness, the hope in the sorrow, and the future in a cursed past.
I finished this book less than five minutes before starting this review and I’m already feeling the pang of loss one experiences after leaving a fantastic literary world—also known as a book hangover to some of us in the book blogiverse. This book is for all ages, all genders, and fans of all genres (except maybe horror, but I think Stephen King has that covered). I recommend this to anyone looking for an adventure of what happens when a kingdom is cursed and only you and your friends can save it. What a wild and emotional ride. I can’t wait to go on another with the sequel.