Book Review: Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta

Finnikin of the Rock
by Melina Marchetta

9780763643614, $18.99, Candlewick

I love Melina Marchetta’s writing. As proof, I offer up my former post concerning (also by her) at my bookstore’s blog here, as well as the fact that I read Jellicoe Road a couple of times a year and sob my way through it each time, in the best possible way.

Finnikin of the Rock is an epic fantasy that is just as compelling as her fiction. I was almost scared it wouldn’t be, in that way that something is almost too good to be true, but I gathered up my courage, began reading it, and wasn’t a bit disappointed. Now, granted, it’s a 400-page book, but I was amazed at how it flew by! So much is packed into that 400 pages, a complete story (as in, not the beginning of a series), and still I could barely believe it when it was done. Where to even begin in telling you about it? Okay, I’ll begin with the title character: Finnikin of the Rock.

In this fantasy world, there are different lands, and different groups of people within those lands. Finnikin is of the Rock people from the kingdom of Lumatere. Another kingdom has taken control of Lumatere during the five days of the unspeakable, and due to dark sorcery, the kingdom is impenetrable, surrounded by a thick mist. No one can go in; no one can come out. Finnikin is the son of the former captain of the guard. His best friends were Prince Balthazar and Balthazar’s cousin, Lucian. As children, Finnikin, Balthazar, and Lucian mixed their blood and made a pact to protect Lumatere. The time has come for them to keep their promise.

Believing both his father and his father’s wife, the Lady Beatriss, to be dead, Finnikin has spent the last ten years outside Lumatere, an apprentice to Sir Topher, the King’s First Man. Finnikin has a dream that leads them to a convent on the top of a mountain where they meet with a novice, Evanjalin. Evanjalin has the power of the sight, but only when she bleeds can she have visions. One vision has told her Balthazar, the heir to Lumatere, is still alive. Finnikin, Sir Topher, and Evanjalin must travel the land far and wide, finding their scattered peoples, and bringing them home under the hope that Balthazar can break the curse hanging over Lumatere. In their travels, they will cross paths with the holy man of Lumatere, the Captain of the King’s Guard, a slave child from another land, and they will begin to unravel the plots, myths, and legends that have sprung up regarding the five days of the unspeakable.

Since meeting Evanjalin, Finnikin has felt a loss of control as he is buffeted about by voices of fate, Evanjalin’s plans and prophecies, and his struggle with his guilt and fear about a prophecy concerning his own future. Who is Evanjalin really? Where is Balthazar if he is still alive? And if they manage to get inside Lumatere, what will they find there when they arrive?

I don’t want to give too many spoilers, but Melina Marchetta brilliantly weaves an ending that captures the heartbreak and hope a story like this would really entail, and which is also characteristic of her award-winning contemporary fiction. I am awed by her ability to blend that quality with an entirely new genre. Congratulations, Ms. Marchetta. I can hardly wait to see what you will give us next.

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