Review posted November 12, 2012.
Candlewick Press, 2010. First published in Australia in 2008. 399 pages.
I didn't read Finnikin of the Rock when it came out, though I had fully intended to. I loved Melina Marchetta's earlier book, Looking for Alibrandi, and now she was writing fantasy, my favorite genre? Of course I had to read it! I'm not quite sure why I didn't get around to it, but now that some of my fellow bloggers are excited about the sequel to Finnikin of the Rock, I decided I would have to remedy that situation.
Finnikin of the Rock is a complex, richly woven fantasy tale. And Melina Marchetta pulls this off. I usually prefer simpler, fairytale-like stories, which is one reason I tend to prefer young adult fantasy books over fantasy books written for adults. But again, Melina Marchetta writes in such a way that overcomes this prejudice.
The situation is complicated, and full of pain for the participants. Ten years ago, after a horrible conquest by the cousin of the king, the land of Lumaterre was cursed. No one could get into or out of Lumaterre.
As it says in the Prologue:
This is the story, as told to those not born to see such days, recorded in The Book of Lumaterre so they will never forget.
The story of those trapped inside the kingdom, never to be heard from again, and those who escaped but were forced to walk the land in a diaspora of misery.
Until ten years later, when Finnikin of Lumatere climbed another rock. . .
Finnikin is the son of the man who was the king's general, who is now imprisoned. Finnikin was a friend of the children of the royal family, who were killed in the slaughter before the curse struck. Or at least most think they were killed. Rumor has it that Balthazar, the king's son, escaped.
Now Finnikin, who travels with the king's First Man, has heard that a novice in the shrine to Sagami claims to walk through the sleep of the people trapped inside Lumatere, and, more importantly, through the sleep of Balthazar, the heir. They collect her and travel with her, in hopes of finding Balthazar and breaking the curse.
Their journey has many twists and turns and many surprises. There are lies and double-crosses as well as surprising loyalties. They travel through many different dangerous lands before they can tackle the curse. And we learn more and more about the horrible things that have happened outside and inside Lumatere in the last ten years.
Finnikin of the Rock does stand alone well, but it also leaves the reader wanting more. How can they possibly hope to heal so many wrongs done? In some ways, I'm glad I waited to read this book, because I can start right in on Froi of the Exiles.
Although this is fantasy, there's not a lot of magic floating around. There are two goddesses worshiped by the Lumaterans, Lagrami and Sagrami, aspects of one goddess. A priestess of Sagrami is the one who cursed the kingdom with a blood curse when she was burned at the stake. Now the novice, Evanjalin, claims a gift from the goddess is what enables her to walk the sleep.
But mostly, this separate world enables the author to talk about people without a homeland and how they are treated without encountering any prejudice as might happen if she used people from our world. The truths are universal, and the people are flawed in places but also shining brightly in places, just like people in our world today.
This is an epic tale with many nuances and food for thought. As I write this, I have begun Froi of the Exiles, and this is the sort of book where reading the next one increases your appreciation for the first. The groundwork has been laid well, when I didn't even realize how much groundwork was being laid. I'm definitely glad I'm taking on this saga.