Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta

Finnikin of the Rock
Melina Marchetta
Ah, the awesomeness of the internet. I bought Finnikin of the Rock at that Greenwich Library sale I went to earlier this month, and Chachic commented that she had the book too and we should do a readalong. Before long, Hollyjoined in. So last week we all read Finnikin and used goodreads and twitter to discuss the book as we read it. So much fun, you guys. Who says reading is a solitary activity? πŸ™‚
The Premise: When Finnikin was a boy, he lived an idyllic life in the kingdom of Lumatere. His father Trevanion, was heroic Captain of the King’s Guard. His childhood friends were Prince Balthazar and the prince”s cousin, Lucian of the Monts, and they dreamed of being heroes and ruling the kingdom. Then ‘the five days of the unspeakable’ happened. The royal family is murdered, Balthazar is missing, a false king is placed on the throne, and Travanion is imprisoned. A curse hangs over Lumatere, closing it off from the outside world. Half the kingdom is trapped inside a dark and impregnable force. The people who escaped before the kingdom was sealed are miserable refugees left wandering in lands where they are not welcome. Ten years later, Finnikin is apprentice to Sir Toby, who was once advisor to the murdered king and now looks out for the Lumaterian refugees. One day, they get a message to travel to a remote temple. There they find the novice Evanjalin who claims she walks the sleep of the people still living within Lumatere and who may be the key to bringing Lumaterians back home.
My Thoughts:Β  There was a little bit of a learning curve getting into the story (the prologue took me a little time to understand), but by the time I reached the ‘five days of the unspeakable’, I was up to speed. Present time is now ten years after Lumatere was shut closed, and Finnikin, Sir Topher, and Evanjalin find themselves traversing the neighboring kingdoms as they progress in their desire to help Lumatere. The world building is fairly generic (mostly semi-Medieval societies with the exception of the tribal Yuts) with religions and magic that isn’t explored with great detail. What sets Finnikin of the Rock apart was its unique take on displaced people.
With such a serious message, Finnikin of the Rock has some aspects that are darker than your typical YA – rape, torture and suffering are things alluded to, if not directly described. The story tended to hold back from going to far on most things, but the plight of the refugees was very affecting. In particular, there is a pretty surreal scene within a fever camp that is mind-numbing.Β  There is also an attempted rape which left me cold. Do not let this dissuade you from reading the book! I tend to avoid these things and didn’t find this book as disturbing as I think it could have been. And on the flip side there is a lot of love and hope in this story too. Finnikin was raised by his father and his men when his mother died in childbirth, and the love and protectiveness that the hardened killers feel for this boy as he grows into a man is a reoccurring theme. Finnikin is a product of their hope for Lumatere – outwardly cynical because of what he’s seen, he is still soft when it comes to what he loves. It takes some time to see his character, but it is one of the stronger ones in the book.
Evanjalin on the other hand, is not always so easy to read. Secretive but sharp, she feels no remorse in holding back or bending the truth to “do what needs to be done”.Β  What she hides eventually comes to light, but while I understood the need to keep some things a secret, by the time I was halfway through the book I was tired of her hiding things after there didn’t seem to be a reason to. I found her strong for keeping her own counsel, but on the other hand, too much of it made her overly secretive when she didn’t always need to be.
There was a similar problem with the romance being more complicated than was necessary. I could allow for a little less getting-to-know-each-other time than I’d like because the romance was rather sweet, but I couldn’t overlook the number of unnecessary roadblocks. There were hang ups and hesitations when just talking to one another would have solved the issue. It is disappointing not to see deeper communication because it took away from a romance that was thisclose to being very good.
Another problem I had was that the story seemed to propel forward during the traveling portions so the characters would be in a new country or town without a sense of how far they traveled or how long it took. I understand that this was to condense the story to the important parts, but the transitions felt too sudden.
Maybe I’m sounding very critical of this story, but I did enjoy it. Following the fulfillment of the curse/premonition and the struggle of the characters was compelling stuff. There’s something about Marchetta’s writing that makes me eager to read more. I want to see what happens in the next installment, Froi of the Exiles, which will follow the adventures of a character introduced in this book, and I do plan to read more Marchetta.
Overall: This is a fast moving young adult fantasy with a romantic subplot that I liked, but hesitate to recommend it to others because of its sometimes abrupt transitions and over complication of certain parts of the story. If there was time spent on developing intimacy between characters I would have been a lot happier. I did end up enjoying the serious Finnikin and self-assertive Evanjalin, loved the way Finnikin’s father loved his son, and was invested in Lumatere’s survival. Your mileage may vary.
Buy: Amazon | Powell’s | The Book Depository
Other reviews:
Angieville – “There was so much potential that just never found a grounding point.”
Chachic’s Book Nook – “[…]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 afterwards”

16 thoughts on “Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta

  1. Thanks for agreeing to do the readalong with me! Had so much fun with you and Holly. πŸ™‚ I’ll work on my review and try to post it by tomorrow. I agree with everything that you said here, I did enjoy reading the book as a whole but there were some problems. The abrupt transitions sometimes bumped me out of the story and I was frustrated by Finnikin and Evanjalin’s relationship. I kind of feel bad that this was your first Marchetta, you really should read her contemporary YA novels because they’re a lot better. πŸ™‚

    • You can’t see me, but I’m nodding. Yes, I think we are on the same page with our reaction to this one (but the readalong was worth doing!) πŸ˜€ I don’t regret reading this Marchetta first though – I like her writing and do want to read more. Plus if this isn’t her best, there is something good to look forward to.

      • I had a lot of fun with the read along because I agreed with all of the updates and comments you posted on Goodreads. It really was such a fun thing to do and we should do it again! Yeah, this definitely wasn’t her best. I loved Jellicoe Road and The Piper’s Son (companion novel to Saving Francesca).

  2. I cannot waaiiiittt to read this book. I don’t expect it to be as good as her contemporary stuff (I don’t think anything will ever live up to Jellicoe Road), but I’m still pretty sure it’ll end up being very good. I think I’m going to order this and Froi off of Fish Pond World though.. I like the AUS covers much more (especially Froi — the North American cover is so bleehhhh).

    • Hehe, well I hope you like it.

      I know what you mean re: the cover. The US cover made me think of King Arthur – the sword in the stone thing. I am not sure why they went with just a picture of a sword.

  3. A very balanced review! My experience listening to the book has been really good (Tom Wren is v/good). Yes, the constant conflict between Evanjalin and Finnikin is frustrating making me want to shake the both of them, but for me it was justified. These people have been through hell. Nearly every ounce of love, hope, belonging has been thrashed out of them. The dregs that are left need to be nurtured, slowly. I really love the bonds holding these people together.

    I still have about four chapters to go and my heart is breaking for Trevanyin (sp) and Beatrice. I think Marchetta does a wonderful job of making us feel for these people, even Froi. I didn’t think I could come to like him, following a certain incident, but I think there is a lot to learn about him. Can’t wait to read his book.

    • I think the amount of frustration would depend on how you saw the situation and characters, *nod*. Personally, I wanted to smoosh Finnikin and Evanjalin’s faces together a lot! πŸ™‚

      I am keeping an open mind about Froi. I think in ‘real life’ I would never forgive him but in ‘book life’ I am OK with keeping the possibility of character growth open, and towards the end of FINNIKIN I was seeing quite a change in him, and I liked that he was aware of his shortcomings and darkness. Always a good sign for changing who you are.

  4. Pingback: Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta « Chachic's Book Nook

  5. From what I know about Froi it would be very hard for me to sympathize with him at this point. I’m interested to see what you and Chachic think of the next book.

    I’m so glad you liked Marchetta’s writing and are willing to read more of her backlist. πŸ˜€ This is good.

    • My worry is that I will never warm to him as a character because of what he did. Trying to keep an open mind …we’ll see how it goes.

      Yup, I still quite like her writing and I think I understand the following.

  6. I feel like I am not a very good Australian because I have never actually read any of Marchetta’s books! I really should rectify that. Maybe next year!

    • Don’t let anyone on twitter know that! When I said I hadn’t read JELLICOE ROAD… whoooosh, suddenly all these bloggers appeared. I think there’s a special call to arms. Haha. πŸ™‚ I need to read her contemporary YA stuff. I can see it being very good if her writing here is anything to go by. It’s very compelling, but I think her fantasy offering may be more wearing than her YA stuff because so much deals with war and displaced people in this story. So it is very heavy at times.

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