I’m a Melina Marchetta fan girl. I love love love both Jellicoe Road and The Piper’s Son and I’ve read the rest of her contemporary novels. I recently got a copy of her first epic fantasy novel, Finnikin of the Rock, and thought that it would be a good idea to read it along with two blogging buddies – Holly and Janice. I had a lot of fun going through the novel with these two. We would comment on each other’s Goodreads update status and discuss how we felt about the novel as we moved along. I wasn’t surprised that I kept agreeing with everything that they said. Click here to see Janice’s review.
Here’s the summary from Melina Marchetta’s website for those who are curious:
At the age of nine, Finnikin is warned by the gods that he must sacrifice a pound of flesh in order to save the royal house of his homeland, Lumatere. And so he stands on the rock of three wonders with his childhood friend Prince Balthazar and the prince’s cousin, Lucian, and together they mix their blood. And Lumatere is safe.
Until the ‘five days of the unspeakable’, when the King and Queen and their children are slaughtered in the palace. And an imposter king takes the throne. And a curse is put on Lumatere, which traps those caught inside and forces thousands of others to roam the land as exiles, dying of fever and persecution in foreign camps.
But ten years later Finnikin is led to another rock to meet the young novice, Evanjalin. A girl plagued by dark dreams, who holds the key to their return to the Land of light…
I knew going in that this wouldn’t be an easy read. Melina Marchetta is one of those authors who can perfectly balance pain and suffering with hope and redemption in their novels. The characters go through so much in the course of the book that readers can’t help but feel for them. Finnikin of the Rock is a classic Marchetta in that sense. Sadly, I didn’t feel like there was a perfect balance of light and dark in this novel. Early in the novel, it was said that Lumatere’s salvation is paved in blood and IT REALLY IS. Sigh, it felt like every character in the novel went through his or her own personal version of hell. It was a wonder that hoped still burned within their hearts. I just wish there was a little bit more love and laughter to lighten things up – an unexpected kindness here and there or a happy situation for some of the characters. As a reader, I felt bogged down by the heaviness of the book’s theme.
The first few chapters were a bit confusing because I felt that I just got thrown into the world and I kept checking the maps to pinpoint the places mentioned. The worldbuilding and the writing weren’t as smooth as I was expecting, it felt uneven in some parts and there were bits that pulled me out of the story. It was a little frustrating that I felt this way because I wanted to love Finnikin of the Rock just as much as Melina Marchetta’s contemporary novels. Having said that, I still cared enough for the characters to want all of them to have a happy ending so I didn’t have a hard time reading until the end. I even read ahead of the assigned chapters for our read along because I was curious where the story would lead. So I think the strength of this fantasy novel lies in the characters and how readers will sympathize with them. Both Finnikin and Evanjalin are strong characters – they had to be to endure everything that they had to go through. There were some parts where I got frustrated by their relationship because both are really stubborn but I guess that’s just part of who they are. I liked that the secondary characters were fully fleshed out and the focus wasn’t just on Finnikin and Evanjalin. My favorite relationship in this book is probably the one between Finnikin and his father.
Finnikin of the Rock is not an easy read. I’m not even sure if it’s classified under young adult because for me, it reads like an adult epic fantasy novel. It’s 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 (well, that’s what happened with me). I think it’s great the author decided to write a novel in a different genre. I have nothing but respect for authors who move away from what they’re known for to see what they’re capable of. I may not have loved this one as much as her other novels but she’s still an auto-read author for me and I actually just started on Froi of the Exiles because I got the galley from NetGalley. Melina Marchetta is still the queen of Aussie YA for me.