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Staff Picks: “Finnikin of the Rock” and “Froi of the Exiles” by Melina Marchetta

Some novels are just not for everyone, and that’s okay. If everyone liked the same books, a lot of authors would be out of work (and book clubs would be boring). I’d read great reviews of The Lumatere Chronicles by Melina Marchetta, but some people I know had given them a big thumbs down, so I had to investigate for myself. In just two days, I fell in love with Melina Marchetta’s epic fantasy Finnikin of the Rock. I was completely engrossed in the story of these amazing characters as they journeyed through the kingdoms of Skulendore.

A decade ago, assassins stormed the palace and murdered the royal family of Lumatere. In the ensuing chaos, an imposter king seized the throne and the people burned an accused witch at the stake, who cursed the land. Now, half of the Lumateran population is in exile, and the other half is trapped inside the gates.

Finnikin, son of the captain of the king’s guard, made a blood oath as a child to defend Lumatere along his friend Prince Balthazar and his cousin, Lucien, a memory he still carries with him.  For ten years he’s traveled with Sir Topher, the king’s advisor, chronicling the names of his people who have fallen and the stories of those who have survived in The Book of Lumatere. In their travels they also appeal to foreign royals for land so that Lumaterans currently living in exile in terrible conditions plagued by disease, sold into slavery, or starving to death can begin to build a new home. Though the future looks bleak, Finnikin still carries the hope of a prophecy that his beloved friend Prince Balthazar lives and is the key to breaking the curse, and that his father, Trevanion, the captain of the king’s guard, is alive.

A dream sends Finnikin to the edge of world in search of a girl he believes may lead them back to Lumatere. Evanjalin, the young novice, reveals she can visit their people trapped inside Lumatere in her dreams and that Prince Balthazar is indeed alive. Evanjalin leads them on an impossible quest into dangerous territory. But this strange girl is not what she seems, and the truth of her identity will test Finnikin’s faith in the pledge he made with Balthazar and Lucien on the rock as a child, and the prediction the burned witch made when he was a boy about his role in Lumatere’s future.

It would be impossible to detail any more of the story without giving away spoilers (and most of it wouldn’t make any sense). Finnikin of the Rock is a complicated and intricately plotted story with an expertly crafted world that is not easily explained. As with most epic fantasy, there is an enormous cast of characters, and Marchetta renders each one in great depth and detail. Readers who are looking for a simple, straightforward story will be disappointed and likely give up before the end. Those who want the full experience of complete immersion in a fantasy world will enjoy The Lumatere Chronicles. The magic is strange (but beautiful), and the plot relies on revision of what the characters originally believed to be true. Readers who don’t appreciate being lied to (just as the characters in the story are deceived) will find the story frustrating. Those who can suspend belief and hold on for the wild ride through the twists and turns of the plot will enjoy the book immensely.

Evanjalin is not your typical young adult heroine. She’s unabashedly manipulative and deliberately deceives Finnikin and Sir Topher on their journey, but even her lies are for the greater good. As she tells Finnikin: “There are worse things than a lie and there are better things than the truth!” She has a wisdom far beyond her years.

Though romance isn’t the driving force of the story, the relationship between Finnikin and Evanjalin unfolds in an organic and believable way. They have the kind of love that can make someone believe in destiny.

I loved Finnikin of the Rock so much, I woke up the next morning and immediately had to start the second in the series, Froi of the Exiles. Though Finnikin does make an appearance, this story follows Froi, the young thief that join Sir Topher, Finnikin, and Evanjalin on their journey to Lumatere. Froi was an orphan who had no memory of his time in Lumatere, but is still accepted into the royal guard and a close friend of Finnikin and the new queen. When conflict with neighboring Charyn seems imminent, Froi is sent on a mission into enemy territory where he uncovers the truth about his mysterious past.

As much as I loved Finnikin, Froi was my favorite character from Finnikin of the Rock and I was glad to see him take center stage in the sequel. Froi is not the typical knight-in-shining-armor kind of a hero. He has a dark past and struggles to find redemption. Readers who love to root for the underdog or who identify with the outsiders will want to cheer him on.

The final installment of the series Quintana of Charyn, is due out this spring. While this is not a series that I’d recommend to everyone, readers who liked Graceling, Fire, and Bitterblue  by Kristen Cashore will most likely enjoy the Lumatere Chronicles. If you’re not sure whether or not epic fantasy is for you, this would be a good one to try.

- Molly, YA Staff

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