Saturday, July 30, 2011

Book Review: Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta

Title: Finnikin of the Rock
Author: Melina Marchetta
Genre:
Publisher: Viking Australia
Publishing Date: September 29th 2008
Paperback: 416 pages

Stand Alone or series: Book one of the Lumatere Chronicles

Summary:
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.
Review:

When Finnikin was nine years old and the world was still full of promise, he and his two best friends promised to protect the kingdom of Lumatere. Unfortunately, nine year-olds aren't the best protection you can get and the royal family is killed just a few days later during the five days of the unspeakable. As thousands rush to escape the imposter king and his brutality, an evil curse is laid across Lumatere and no one can get in or out. As the people stuck inside the city suffer years of cruelty, those stuck outside the cities are left to wander as refugees in a land where no one wants them. Left to die in fever camps and live in poverty, the people of Lumatere have started to lose hope of ever regaining what was taken from them. Finnikin of the Rock has been traveling with his mentor, Sir Topher, for nearly ten years. As they work together and try to find a new land for their people, Finnikin dreams a strange girl, Evanjalin, will lead them to their lost heir Balthazaar. Even though Balthazaar is believed to have died during the five days of the unspeakable, Finnikin cannot resist the hope Evanjalin promises. Thus, they set out to find the lost heir and unite their people in a journey no one will ever forget.

Okay, I know that summary was a bit flowery, but this book has everything I look for in a fantasy novel: betrayal, love, friendship, dedication, an evil foe, politics, family, overcoming the odds, and a relatively happy ending. Sometimes a book will subvert these themes, but most of the time it's enough to just write an engaging interesting story that uses the same-old tropes. Fantasy is where I retreat when I need a comforting genre and Finnikin of the Rock was just what I needed to wash my hands of all the bad dystopias I've been reading.

Even though the story wasn't particularly surprising, group of rebels fighting against terrible tyrant, the characters really stood out to me. For one, all of them had their own problems and quirks. None of them were perfect, but they weren't too flawed either. This made the characters feel fleshed out and singular, but also made it possible for me to root for them. Finnikin was likable but also really frustrating at times. Evanjalin was stubborn and yet courageous. Even though Evanjalin was really the only female character that saw a lot of face time, another common fantasy trope, Marchetta did a good job of making her both sensitive and strong. She was the kind of character I love to find in books. Since all of the characters had their own issues, the relationships were also more nuanced then I usually come across. I could understand why these people wanted to be together and that's always a pleasant surprise.

The only issues I had with this story was the way the "enemy" was never fleshed out. The horrible things that happened when Lumatere was cut off from the rest of the world was described and I really felt for their struggles, but the people who committed these atrocities were never developed. I also thought the ending was a bit drawn out as any woman reading could guess what the prophecy meant. The characters, especially Evangelin, also lost some of their specialness I thought. Other than that though, I loved this book. It even managed to surprise me a few times. There's just not much more to say without giving anything away.

Verdict:

If you love fantasy, then this is the book for you. Even though this is technically book one in a trilogy, each book follows a different character so this can be read as a stand along book. Another thing I loved.

Rating: 8. Excellent – some laughing and/or crying involved

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