Monday, August 12, 2013

Christina Read: Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta

Release Date: August 9, 2011 (pb edition)
Published by: Candlewick Press
Recommended by: Reem (I Read and Tell)

Christina Reads Your Recommendations is a regular Monday feature here (inspired by A Reader of Fictions' Sadie Hawkins Sunday) in which you, my readers, get to choose what book I will read and review next. Got a book that you love and want everyone to read and review? That you're not sure what to think of and want a second opinion on? That you think I'll love or that I should have already read? Send in your recommendations via this form!

Finnikin of the Rock (Lumatere Chronicles #1) by Melina Marchetta

2008 Printz Award Winner Melina Marchetta crafts an epic fantasy of ancient magic, exile, feudal intrigue, and romance that rivets from the first page.

Finnikin was only a child during the five days of the unspeakable, when the royal family of Lumatere were brutally murdered, and an imposter seized the throne. Now a curse binds all who remain inside Lumatere’s walls, and those who escaped roam the surrounding lands as exiles, persecuted and despairing, dying by the thousands in fever camps. In a narrative crackling with the tension of an imminent storm, Finnikin, now on the cusp of manhood, is compelled to join forces with an arrogant and enigmatic young novice named Evanjalin, who claims that her dark dreams will lead the exiles to a surviving royal child and a way to pierce the cursed barrier and regain the land of Lumatere. But Evanjalin’s unpredictable behavior suggests that she 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.

Ten Likes/Dislikes:

1. (+) Finnikin, the protagonist - Finnikin is hard not to like, even in the beginning when he's not Evanjalin's greatest fan. There is quite a bit of posturing to the male characters in this novel, but it never felt overdone to me, and Finnikin's need to prove himself for himself and to others seemed to fit with his character. At age nine, he loses his family, his best friends, and his land, but he does not break even as he loses his faith. He learns to travel across the countries fighting for his people, learning various languages and cultures so that he could help his fellow exiles obtain better living conditions and potentially find another piece of land to settle upon since the curse may never break. He's the son of the Captain of the Guard, a loyal friend to the royal family, and an apprentice to the King's First Man. He's a scholar and a fighter, a warrior and a guide.
2. (+) World-building - Here's the main question to tell whether you'll enjoy the world-building: Are you someone who will get tangled in the details? There are different races in a small space, but there's not much intermingling to create mixed ethnicities. When I was browsing Goodreads after finishing, I noticed that this was a complaint of several of the people who did not like the book, so it's a fair thing to ask yourself. The magic was also confusing to me but it felt right for the kind of weaving, dreamy yet grief-ridden story being told. Although the basis for some of the plotlines, the magic is not the focus of the story. So if you're looking for that too, you won't find it here. The focus is always on the people. What happened to the people of the Rock, the River, Mountains, Flatlands, and Forest during and after the five days of the unspeakable. What happened to those who worshiped one goddess over another. What happened as a result of the political maneuverings of other countries lying in wait. What happened to those who were caught in foreign mines and fever and death camps, and those who held positions in foreign courts. What happened to the exiles and what happened to those left inside Lumatere after the curse destroyed their land and a mist separated the peoples for ten years. It's a medieval inspired world that seems to act as an allegory for historical atrocities.
3. (+/-) The Beginning - Alas, I think my struggle with Marchetta books is that I have a very hard time with the beginnings. While I appreciate the effort to jump right into the story, I find it hard without some sort of grounding block, getting to know Finnikin and co. before tales of the past are being told at night, before I learn of the history of Lumatere, a country I don't care about quite yet. There are a lot of names thrown around too -- it's high fantasy after all -- and it was personally hard for me to feel invested in things I didn't quite understand. But obviously, like with other Marchetta books, I am glad I pushed past my trouble with the beginning.
4. (+) Romance - Evanjalin seems to be one of the breaking points in the negative reviews I've read, but I love her character so much. She's a heroine who can rival any of Kristin Cashore's heroines, and for me, she stole the show and was much more interesting than Finnikin - the stronger leader of the two. She's strong, fierce, righteous, so devoted to her people that she will manipulate any and everyone. She will not be left behind on any adventure yet perhaps the times I found her most fascinating were the times of vulnerability, explaining her abilities as an empath who walks the sleep of Lumaterans. The times when she and Finnikin have their private moments, and you slowly see Finnikin realizing that this girl is extraordinary. Slow-burn and compelling all the way through.
5. (+) Character Cast - As I said before, this is a story about the people of Lumatere, and you get the sense in meeting every character that they have their own stories to tell even if the focus is on Finnikin. Everyone is affected differently by the days of the unspeakable and everyone has different motives for what they do and how they move on with their lives. Ms. Marchetta must have an insane character Bible to organize all of these wonderfully real people.
6. (+) Plot - How many plotlines were there? I marvel that Ms. Marchetta was able to keep them all straight in her mind. There's the story of the five days of the unspeakable, the love story, a prophecy, a curse, the strengthening of bonds between fathers and sons and mothers and daughters and peoples of all sorts of different ethnicities and the weakening of those bonds when faced with human cruelty, and many, many more focused on love, hate, respect, pride, rage, vengeance, violence, abuse, friendship, loyalty, power dynamics in political schemes. One thing I will say is that I did sometimes get frustrated that certain plotlines got more attention than others. I'm hoping that those that didn't get as much will have more time in the sequels, such as what FROI does. What! WHY. And why was so little time spent on that? In general, the people are always reacting and moving on.
7. (+) Themes/Discussion - Have you ever read a book and thought wow, I want to take this book apart so I can know all of its layers? This is the feeling I get when reading Marchetta's novels, and especially with Finnikin. There are a lot of biblical and historical parallels to displaced people and lost nations and diaspora and the way languages, stories, and traditions are affected and tangled in all of the above. How people can become cruel when faced with darkness, and what keeps you holding on, what revives your faith in times of desperation and exile. How much belonging means to you.
8. (+) Writing - It's not as lyrical as that in Jellicoe Road, with its first person perspective, but it's still got that same haunting, dreamy quality as Marchetta weaves together history and various plotlines into another gem of a book.
9. (+/-) Pacing - One of my issues with this book is that at times, I felt rather bored. It's not just the beginning. It's that despite all the adventures the characters take and the awesomeness of the characters, the actual action scenes aren't given a lot of focus. You're often told after the fact about the dark things that have happened (the story is based on the five days of the unspeakable, but despite the characters's pains, I didn't feel the darkness). I didn't feel the danger in the way that would have had flipping, flipping the pages for the end. It's a story that's constantly growing and building towards its climax, yes, and there's plenty of intrigue and adventure and captivating relationships, but without as much tension as I'd have liked, and the climax itself wasn't that long.
10. (+/-) The Cover - If I hadn't heard of Melina Marchetta, I would probably walk past the book. It's got the right elements, but the faded face and sword is done better in Graceling.

Another thing that I'll say is that I didn't quite get the same level of *feels* that I did with the author's previous work. I certainly connected with this high fantasy much more than I did with The Girl of Fire and Thorns, which, like Finnikin, was technically well done, but I also didn't connect with Finnikin as much as I did with Jellicoe Road. Then again, I have also heard that Froi of the Exiles is where the heart of the series lies, so I'm looking forward to reading more of the Lumatere Chronicles and as always, more of Marchetta's works!

Even still I probably wouldn't recommend this book to everyone. If you have an aversion to fantasy novels, I think you might get lost in the beginning or find it hard to connect to this story; it is dense at times, and you may find yourself wavering if you're not already interested in the genre... But if you are a fan of high fantasy, Kristin Cashore, or Megan Whalen Turner, or are looking for a tale resonant with deeper themes and spun from a talented storyteller, you'll find a masterpiece, given enough patience, in Finnikin of the Rock.

Up Next: Angelfall by Susan Ee


  1. Oh hey, you posted a review for Finnikin just as my Froi review went up!

    The world building is massive in this one, but it's so worth it because the characters really pick up in the second book. This one was a bit too world building focused for me, though it was all worth it for that ending scene which was the freaking cutest.

    Oh really? People hate Evanjalin? WHY?

    The covers are pretty awful, I agree.

    OMG, GET READY FOR FROI. Gah, it's beautiful.

  2. The MC sounds so strong, that's awesome! Especially since it's a HE. I really don't like a world where there are so many details (there are exceptions of course).. Iron King was one of those books. I had a tough time imagining the world with all of those detailed descriptions, but it's one of my favorite series, the first book was just really detailed for the first 100 pages when the faeries came into play lol. Oh, the love interest sounds amazing! I love strong girls and I think there's so much to learn by watching a strong heroine evolve into a fierce woman. It's hard to keep a reader's interest with such a novel because so much is gong on. I'm glad you were able to push through the boring parts and still enjoy yourself:) I read very little high fantasy, so I don't think this is a book for me, but you've written such a lovely review! I'm glad you enjoyed it, Christina! :)

  3. I enjoyed this book as well, but I had some of the same reactions you did. For some reason, I never really connected with any of the characters, so while I was interested in the book and what was happening, I just never got emotionally invested. I did like the way Finnikin and Evanjalin's relationship grew and changed over the course of the book. Great review! ~Pam

  4. I haven't read any novels by Melina Marchetta, which makes me feel like I'm missing out because her name is constantly coming up in the blogosphere. I do think I'll read this one sometime. (For some reason, Jellicoe Road has never appealed to me.) At least going into it I'll know to be patient and keep going, even if I get bored sometimes. That seems to happen quite a bit with me anyways, so I should be alright. Great review :)

  5. Oh my gosh, the Lumatere Chronicles is definitely one of my favorite fantasy series. I love all the Marchetta books I have read, but this series holds a special place in my heart. I remember reading it and wanting to shove it in everyone's face who has ever said that YA lit had no depth or sophistication, I felt so righteously vindicated in my belief that adults can get a lot out of YA reads:) And I am in the middle of reading Megan Whalen Turner's The Queen's Thief Series, which is also wonderful and was a big inspiration to Marchetta when she wrote the Lumatere books:)

    Like you I LOVED Evanjalin--what an amazing character--I didn't always like who she was or what she did regardless of her noble intent--but as a character she was so compelling.

    And you're right--Froi is where the story really get's it's feet--and veers into a direction that is quite different from Finnikin's book but wonderful all the same. It's a darker book but there are amazing moments of redemption--and the same goes for Quintana-which I loved so much I STILL haven't written a review even though I read it last last year:) And I definitely think (hope) you will develop those 'feels' you were missing with Finnikin. I'm excited to see what you think of those two books, Christina!

    And you're reading Angelfall next! Another fabulous book! You are hitting the jackpot reading wise!

  6. I am a fan of everything that has to do with fantasy - and I have this book on my shelve. I bought it after hearing all the crazy good things and I still can't wait to read it. I've seen a lot of positive points (like the world-building and the plot) and I think I'll like it :)

  7. I'm really glad you liked this! I think I loved this book because of it's focus on the characters, rather than being drowned in clunky descriptions (which was a no-no for me when it came to The Thief). The characters were really fleshed out, and it wasn't hard to connect with them. One of the storylines that broke my heart was Trevanion and Beatriss's. Trevanion faced ALOT, only to realize his beloved was.. you know (don't want to spoil it for anyone). Evanjilin was a great character, I agree, but for me, Finnikin stood out more. While she is everything I want in a female character: Tough, yet not afraid to show her emotion, and isn't strapped out of her femininity to be strong; I still liked Finnikin better. I found the stuggle he faced with Isaboe at the end one of the most powerful I've read. I could understand where he is coming from, and why he wouldn't want to be the Queen's husband.

    Then there's Froi. I CANNOT wait to read the next book because of him! I read somewhere that Marchetta initially wrote him in order to show how crafty Evanjilin was, and nothing more.

  8. Yeah - I commented on the same on your post :P. We could have coordinated! I am going to do a read-along for Froi with another blogger potentially in about a week or so, and I am so excited!

    The ending scene was definitely cute. I could picture it all playing out, and I'm not even a visual reader.

    From what I could tell, the people who didn't like Evanjalin said that she was too manipulative, and that when it was revealed that she had lied or manipulated X and X, people still treated her like the best thing since sliced bread. Which I don't quite agree with, seeing as Finnikin repeatedly calls her a liar, but I can see why they might react that way.

  9. The MC is awesome as is the love interest. She's a fierce woman, he's a determined man, and their getting together... *sigh*

    Awww. Too bad that you don't read much high fantasy. Some of my faves come from that genre.

    Iron King does have a lot, lot of details. I don't quite remember them as well as I should, but ha, sounds like it was a good thing that you got through those first 100 pages then, if it's one of your favorite series :).

  10. Another blogger friend of mine said that this first book made it harder to connect with the characters - that this book was very heavily world-building based, which I think is what contributed to our lack of emotional investment. I have heard tell, though, that Froi corrects that error and that Ms. Marchetta actually wrote about Froi first... so maybe the emotional investment will happen in the sequel. Finnikin/Evanjalin may be one of my favorite relationships out there for all they and it grew, and the way it was handled in the book :).

  11. Asti, I think you will really like this one. You've mentioned before that you don't like the romance to interfere with the plot, and it definitely doesn't here. Given that you also really like The Book Thief, you might like the historical resonance in this high fantasy. If you do try out this Marchetta novel, let me know how things go :).

    I was also going to ask "Have you read a Kristin Cashore novel?" And then I remembered your comment on Graceling. Le shame, Asti. Le shame. *sigh* :P

  12. Megan Whalen Turner, Kristin Cashore, and Melina Marchetta all seem to influence and inspire each other - or at least, their work all fits together nicely. I actually just bought The Queen's Thief because I liked the Thief and the promise of Turner's writing. And yes, I so agree: all three prove the depth and sophistication in YA lit. Ha, sounds like this series is to you what the Graceling Realm series is to me :).

    Oh no, I definitely didn't always like what she did, but I agree: I think that made her into a much more compelling character.

    I like darker books! That makes those few moments of redemption that much more poignant. I'm getting so pumped about Froi, and it's so good to hear that Quintana was just as fabulous :).

    Hee, right now I have the privilege of some recommendations being books that I already own but just haven't gotten the chance to read... so I'm definitely looking forward to Angelfall!

  13. You should introduce a Reader's Choice feature so that I can get you to get this book off your shelf :). You love the Book Thief, so the historical resonance here might make this a more compelling read for you. Also also, if you are a world-building and plot person, as you've pointed those out as the positive points, this book has definitely got you covered. (Aka: definitely give it a try!!)

  14. Yeah, the Thief, for all its potential, had a lot of that, particularly in the beginning. Still, I did hear its sequel, like with this book, got even better. Ooh, Trevanion. Such a fascinating father figure, and can I just say how awesomely he treated Finnikin? I love their relationship. (Well, I loved the smallness of Lumatere and how they all knew each other and the family and country dynamics, and I could probably go on and on about things I did like too :D.) And Beatriss... I hope she finds some peace in the next novels--we'll see.

    Finnikin did have some pretty powerful struggles of his own. At the end, I wanted to read more from his perspective. I'm also hoping we get to see more of him and her in Froi & Quintana.

    Eee!!! Can't wait for our read-along :).

  15. Marchetta's writing is too unfocused for me--as is a lot of Aussie lit. I enjoyed Finnikin, but Froi felt like 2 1/2 books, and I never finished the series.

    Also, the plot twists in this book were soooo telegraphed. I knew what was going on WAY too soon.

    I'm excited to see what you think of Angelfall. I adore that book.

  16. I'm not quite sure what you mean by unfocused - as in too flowery? Not direct enough? Eee. You're providing the opposition POV for Froi. Everyone else keeps getting me pumped for it, and potentially next week I'm starting a read-along for it, but now... well, maybe I should adjust my expectations o.O.

    Yeah... the plot twists. Truthfully, most YA plots seem predictable, so when I see them coming from miles away? *shrug* And this one had so many that I thought that was okay.

    And aah, I lent my copy of Angelfall to two friends, and they both loved it, and I still haven't read it. A shame. Everyone seems to love it, so I hope I will too.

  17. By unfocused I mean that it just sort of wanders all over the place, taking forever to get to the point. And not in a fun, super-literary way. And it has several big, climactic finishes, one of which occurs like halfway through the book. It's just weirdly paced--uneven and rambling.

    But don't just take my world for it. A lot of people really love this series. I would have given Finnikin 3.5 stars if it weren't for the telegraphing of plot twists, but Froi was a solidly 2.5 - 3 star book for me, and I almost DNF'd it at the halfway point.

    I read the Queen's Thief series either immediately before or right after Finnikin and Froi, and for my money that was a good example of a similar type of thing done perfectly, so that may have influenced my opinions a bit. That series, unlike this one, got better and better with each book, and it paid off beautifully in the end. (I saw that you guys discuss this book and disagree with me below, which is hilarious.)

  18. I've only read one Marchetta book and from what I've ascertained, it was the best one. :) I've heard that the second book in this series is the best, which is totally opposite of most series, but I wouldn't know because I haven't started it yet, even though I've had it on my reader for a couple of years. For shame! I love fantasy, but I just haven't gotten to this one yet. At least all the books are published now. That's more motivation, anyway. :) Now, if only all three books were on audio. :P

  19. Loved this book. Loved Evanjalin. I didn't like books two and three quite as much as this one -- I guess I'm in the minority there...

  20. Oh, this book is definitely weirdly paced. The climax is so short even though it's consistently talked about throughout the book. Her writing does wander around a lot, but I kind of like that in her contemporary works - for me, I get this dreamy atmosphere that makes the novel unique and stand out among others.

    It's good to know that you almost DNFed at the halfway point, though. I rarely DNF - if the novel offends me, yes, but if it bores me, it's not a DNF, just... I put it to the side and rarely return, so if I feel that temptation, I'll know why now. Also, it's good to know that there is someone who didn't love the book on the off chance that I don't like it either.

    Ha -- I haven't read the Queen's Thief yet, so if I disagreed with you, it's on The Thief. I liked it, but I'm still a bit miffed with the lack of action in it (the pacing seemed uneven there too). I did think that it had a lot of potential though so I'm looking forward to reading TQT soon. Hopefully it won't dim the excitement of Froi for me as it may have done for you.

  21. Which one did you read? Jellicoe Road?
    It's definitely better to start the series after the books have all been pubbed - no horrible waiting ahead. if you really do want to start it, I'm doing a read-along for the second book with a fellow reader next week (potentially), and you could join in :).

  22. Potentially, but you're not the only one. Another reviewer has also pointed out how she disliked Froi - thought it was like two separate books, whereas this one was more cohesive, though a bit unevenly paced. I'm hoping that I'm opposite that, but if I end up disliking Froi, I know who I can discuss it with :P.

  23. Wow, so yet again you've convinced me to read a book. :P I'd heard of this through various sources, but I think with that cover (which honestly, looks amateurish to me. ) I wouldn't have realized it's content. Unless I noticed Marchetta's name, since she's a hot topic lately. TBR! You also make me realize that as a high fantasy junkie, I'm woefully underread on contemporary high fantasy. Next stop: Cashore, who is sitting on my bedroom rug.

  24. Right? The cover does seem a bit amateurish. The Australian one, I think, is better but not by much. Marchetta is always a hot topic in the YA community :P. I'd love to read what you think of her work and Cashore's!

    And ha, I feel very underread on contemporary HF--still haven't need to finish out Rae Carson's series and Megan Whalen's Turner's and Robin McKinley? I think that's the name? Agh! So many! And Christopher Paolini was referred to by one of the professional reviewers for this book too, and I haven't read any of his books either o.O.

  25. Amanda@LateNightswithGoodBooksAugust 14, 2013 at 3:33 PM

    Your review reminds me that I really do need to go back to this series at some point. I read Finnikin over a year ago and own copies of Froi and Quintana, but haven't read them yet. I do feel like I have a somewhat solid grasp on the events of the first book, but I definitely do want to revisit it before moving on to the rest of the series. There's so much to unpack and it is wonderful for a fantasy fan, as you said, but it also has the potential to be a bit much for those unused to these types of books. I agree that Finnikin and Evanjalin were wonderful characters, and a large part of the reason I do want to re-read is to help me better see the different plot lines/themes/etc. that I may not have fully appreciated in my first reading. I like how you broke down everything in your review, and I enjoyed reading this!

  26. Right? I think with rereads of this novel, you'll find so many more little details that you didn't notice the first time but can definitely appreciate the second time. I love the kind of books that are like slowly unwrapping presents, and even when you get to the core, it's still something else. I hope you enjoy your reread :) and if you would like, I am doing a read-along of Froi next weekish with a fellow blogger. You're definitely welcome to join!

  27. Yeah. I'm a cover snob. I'm sure you'll read it soon, after I finally get past CoM! I just got Jellicoe Road in the mail.

    ME TOO. I have Rae Carson waiting for me. I have read McKinley, but only Shadows (which rocked). Paolini is....not my favorite. I stopped after the third Eragon book because I kind of got bored. He's a little too standard for me. But I did enjoy the books. They just weren't WOW.

  28. Ok, I already had this on my list, but your review is making me bump it up higher. It sounds like a book that has all the right elements for me to love. I'm still a little cautious, because I'm a character girl and I'm a little afraid I won't LOVE the characters (and I feel like a lot of the enjoyment of the book will hinge on that), but I'm hopeful. What you said about wanting to take certain books apart and look at all the layers really resonates with me.

  29. You like Megan Whalen Turner and Kristin Cashore's books though, right? I think, if I'm not mistaken, both authors were an inspiration to Marchetta as she wrote this series, and it does show. It's definitely, definitely a character book, but if you don't like them, you're right: enjoying this novel does hinge on them, since it's not as plot based... Maybe an excerpt would help?

    If you get to Finnikin soon, I hope you enjoy :).


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