Publisher: Candlewick; Reprint edition (August 9, 2011)
Format: Hardcover (Library Edition)
Reviewed by: Judith
You know how you sometimes get your hands on a book and for whatever reason you never read it and you ask your friend (whose name is Ellen BTW) if she’s ever read said book and she tells you that she too has the book just waiting to be read but has never gotten around to it. Well, if that were to happen to you and the book in question were called Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta you would be missing out on a whole gorgeous world of amazing that you could have read about earlier only you didn’t have me to tell you how amazing it truly is.
But now you do: read Finnikin of the Rock!!! LIKE NOW!!!
Plot: It’s been ten long years since the kingdom of Lumatere was invaded. After the royal family was murdered, an imposter took the throne, and a curse swept over the land, half of the people of Lumatere were forced from their homes and into exile in the bordering countries. Finnikin, son of the head of the King’s Guard, has been exiled since he was a child and now at 18, he yearns for the day when he can lead his people home. When he meets the mysterious Evanjalin, a dream walker who claims to know the truth of what happened to the royal family and the only person who holds the key to finding Finnikin’s childhoold friend and heir to the throne, Balthazar, Finn knows that he will soon be able to return home. But Evanjalin is not all that she seems to be and as she leads Finn, his mentor, and a young thief named Froi, closer and closer to Lumatere, tensions rise and Finn starts to question all he knows about the downfall of his country and the curse that holds them all prisoner. What will happen when this small band of exiles finally makes it back and who is the mysterious Evanjalin? The answers can only be found inside Lumatere and only Finnikin can be the one to find them.
Review: Unabashed fantasy YA lover up in the house, guys!!! An epic quest? A mysterious woman who may or may not have answers to questions about saving the world? A band of warriors ready to solve some truly epic problems while roaming some fantastic countryside on horseback? Yes! Yes! YES! What’s there to say no to? Really. Guys, this book is amazing. There’s a tough, rugged warrior hero who can speak multiple languages and has visions of saving his people. He’s gorgeous and sensitive and utterly human in a way that you can relate to. There’s also a strange and sometimes mute heroine who has the ability to walk through people’s dreams and has a hidden agenda that is slightly questionable. There’s also a whole other cast of secondary characters and a fantastical landscape that is so fully realized you will dream about it long after the book is done.
Let’s talk about the crux of the whole novel: to save Lumatere and return it to its former glory. Marchetta has managed to make the simple act of leading a people home and breaking a curse wholly unique and amazingly complex. I mean, all fantasy novels usually involve a noble quest and Melina Marchetta stays true to that part of the genre. But somehow she’s managed to create a world that is so lush and well imagined that the quest in no way feels far fetched or otherworldly. It feels like something we would all be driven to should we be in Finnikin and Evangalin’s place. I loved how relatable the characters were and how their problems and hopes were present and immediate. I also loved that there wasn’t a lot of dialogue to bog down the story. It’s pretty much non-stop action from page one yet it doesn’t feel overly done or missing in any interpersonal elements. There’s interweaving love stories, a whole lot of redemption, and some truly magical moments mixed with gut wrenching acts of depravity. My only caveat is that this story is not for the weak of heart: there’s an overabundance of rape, killing, disease, and abuse. It’s not off putting but it very well may make or break a reader.
In the end, I’m giving this 9/10.
Based on the following criteria:
How much did I like the hero: 10. This story is ultimately about Finnikin and his return home to the land of his father and family. I loved him as a hero and focal point of the book. He is determined and driven but not in an annoying way. He’s smart and intuitive but young which causes him to constantly question his own motives for acting as he does. He also carries a huge amount of guilt around that he eventually manages to throw off and it is fascinating to watch his character grow and mature from start to finish.
How much did I like the heroine: 10. Evangalin is amazing! She’s one of the toughest and smartest YA heroines I’ve come across and she does whatever it takes to force the hand of others. Throwing a man she trusts and respects in prison? She does it and without any remorse! But the ulterior motives for her actions are what make her so complex. She has her own agenda but we are not privy to it and that is what makes her character oh so delicious.
How believable is the plot: 10. Okay, it’s fantasy so we’re throwing all doubt out of the window: the world of Lumatere is wonderfully written and so fully realized that everything we read about seems relevant and possible. That’s the best kind of fantasy in my opinion.
How much did I like the writing style/editing/etc: 10. If you’ve read any of her other books (ahemJellicoeRoadahem) you’ll know that Marlina Marchetta freaking kills it with whatever she writes. She knows how to say so much using so few words and the words she uses are strung together in a way that is just brilliant. Plus her plot is amazingly complex, at times reading like she was in Lumatere recording what she saw not imagining it for us. A rare, rare talent.
How much did I want to keep reading: 9. There are lots of portions of this book that are just hard to read. They are overly violent, or overly graphic, or overly traumatic and while it worked in the story, I still had a lot of difficulty reading them. At some points I just did not want to know what horrible things had been done to people and those were the only times I would ever give this book less than a 10.
Final Score: 9/10. If you’re in the mood for a unique, well written, fully imagined YA fantasy novel, definitely pick this up. Despite the harshness of some of its scenes, I have never read a novel quite like it and cannot recommend it highly enough. Read it, read it, read it! But again, it’s not for the weak of heart…