by Melina Marchetta Book : Fiction : Secondary (senior high) school  |  1st Candlewick Press ed
Bleak but satisfying new fantasy for young adults   (2010-04-17)
Marchetta, Melina ~ Finnikin of the Rock ~ Candlewick, 2010 ~ 30 chapters + Prologue, 399 pages ~ Audience: teens, adults ~ Rating: Good.
“A long time ago, in the spring before the five days of the unspeakable, Finnikin of the Rock dreamed that he was to sacrifice a pound of flesh to save the royal house of Lumatere.”
Finnikin appears to be a stand-alone novel, but could certainly be the first volume in a series.
The larger setting is the island of Skuldenore. Lumatere is a medium-sized kingdom surrounded by four other kingdoms. In particular, Charyn and perhaps Sarnak may have designs on Lumatere. Technology receives little mention, but is medieval. While religious magic is important to the story, particulars of its practice receives little attention. Politics and government are on the feudal model. Descriptions of the landscape are quite satisfactory.
This is a quest story. Finnikin, the son of the Arms Commander for the Kingdom was nine years old when he and two friends [cousin Lucien and Prince Balthazar] made the vow quoted above. Soon after, the five days of the “Unspeakable” happened. The kingdom was invaded, the Royal Family was slain, Finnikin’s father placed in a foreign prison, and a terrible curse placed on the kingdom and all those who lived within it. These events, except for the curse, are not described in depth so we learn little about those responsible in other kingdoms. With few exceptions, most of Lumatere’s people have fled the kingdom with many in disease prone camps in neighboring kingdoms.
Finnikin, and the former King’s first advisor, Sir Topher, have spent ten years outside Lumatere trying to preserve hope that Lumatere could be restored to its past goodness. Finnikin has learned the languages, culture, and history of the other kingdoms as well as becoming a good fighter. Their wandering takes on a new purpose when they are told of Evanjalin, a young woman who says that Prince Balthazar is alive and that, with help, she can find him. The three begin a quest to find Balthzar that leads them through various parts of Skuldenore and a variety of adventures, including finding Trevanion who is Finnikin’s father. Needless to say, tensions quickly appear between Finnikin and Evanjalin since Finnikin doubts her ability to find the missing Prince as well as her truthfulness. Still, the hope is that the Prince may be found and will restore the kingdom.
Besides the main characters mentioned above, the reader meets a variety of other interesting characters as the story unfolds. Most are clearly described/discussed and add strength to the story. Other than tales of evil doings, there is virtually no mention or description of the “new” king or his advisors.
The threat of action -- fighting, plague -- and some fighting certainly keep the pages turning. Still, the focus is on Finnikin’s personal growth in patience and understanding as well as Evanjalin’s ability to lead the three to do what must be done while keeping her own terrors at bay.
Magic is adequately described, but without much detail. Evanjalin is the primary magic user and she is used by the magic more than mastering it.
As a young adult title, there is reasonable white space throughout and dark print. The book is easily read. See-through is average. Binding is average in this trade cloth edition. The front matter and end paper maps show Skuldenore and Lumatere separately. They are easily used to find places in the story. Jacket art shows Finnnikin’s sword with its red ruby and finely decorated blade with a clear night forest at the top and the terrible fires of the Curse at the bottom.
Heroic fantasy stories/series for young adults have exploded in number in the last few years. This is a good one with appeal for some teens, and some adults. Characters appeal, although it’s hard to trust Evanjalin, the plot is straight-forward but has enough twists to be interesting and keep the pages turning. Interactions between characters are well-done.
As is sometimes the case with British books aimed at older children, Finnikin seems more appropriate for an older audience in the U.S. It is often bleak in mood and manner. In that sense, it is a more “realistic” fantasy tale. It is both serious and sad, although the ending does provide hope.
Recommended for larger YA fantasy collections or where the author’s earlier realistic fiction has been popular.
The Australian author has received notable best book awards, including the 2008 Printz Award.
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