The Premise: When Finnikin was a boy, he lived an idyllic life in the kingdom of Lumatere. His father Trevanion, was heroic Captain of the King's Guard. His childhood friends were Prince Balthazar and the prince''s cousin, Lucian of the Monts, and they dreamed of being heroes and ruling the kingdom. Then 'the five days of the unspeakable' happened. The royal family is murdered, Balthazar is missing, a false king is placed on the throne, and Travanion is imprisoned. A curse hangs over Lumatere, closing it off from the outside world. Half the kingdom is trapped inside a dark and impregnable force. The people who escaped before the kingdom was sealed are miserable refugees left wandering in lands where they are not welcome. Ten years later, Finnikin is apprentice to Sir Toby, who was once advisor to the murdered king and now looks out for the Lumaterian refugees. One day, they get a message to travel to a remote temple. There they find the novice Evanjalin who claims she walks the sleep of the people still living within Lumatere and who may be the key to bringing Lumaterians back home.
My Thoughts: There was a little bit of a learning curve getting into the story (the prologue took me a little time to understand), but by the time I reached the 'five days of the unspeakable', I was up to speed. Present time is now ten years after Lumatere was shut closed, and Finnikin, Sir Topher, and Evanjalin find themselves traversing the neighboring kingdoms as they progress in their desire to help Lumatere. The world building is fairly generic (mostly semi-Medieval societies with the exception of the tribal Yuts) with religions and magic that isn't explored with great detail. What sets Finnikin of the Rock apart was its unique take on displaced people.
With such a serious message, Finnikin of the Rock has some aspects that are darker than your typical YA - rape, torture and suffering are things alluded to, if not directly described. The story tended to hold back from going to far on most things, but the plight of the refugees was very affecting. In particular, there is a pretty surreal scene within a fever camp that is mind-numbing. There is also an attempted rape which left me cold. Do not let this dissuade you from reading the book! I tend to avoid these things and didn't find this book as disturbing as I think it could have been. And on the flip side there is a lot of love and hope in this story too. Finnikin was raised by his father and his men when his mother died in childbirth, and the love and protectiveness that the hardened killers feel for this boy as he grows into a man is a reoccurring theme. Finnikin is a product of their hope for Lumatere - outwardly cynical because of what he's seen, he is still soft when it comes to what he loves. It takes some time to see his character, but it is one of the stronger ones in the book.
Evanjalin on the other hand, is not always so easy to read. Secretive but sharp, she feels no remorse in holding back or bending the truth to "do what needs to be done". What she hides eventually comes to light, but while I understood the need to keep some things a secret, by the time I was halfway through the book I was tired of her hiding things after there didn't seem to be a reason to. I found her strong for keeping her own counsel, but on the other hand, too much of it made her overly secretive when she didn't always need to be.
There was a similar problem with the romance being more complicated than was necessary. I could allow for a little less getting-to-know-each-other time than I'd like because the romance was rather sweet, but I couldn't overlook the number of unnecessary roadblocks. There were hang ups and hesitations when just talking to one another would have solved the issue. It is disappointing not to see deeper communication because it took away from a romance that was thisclose to being very good.
Another problem I had was that the story seemed to propel forward during the traveling portions so the characters would be in a new country or town without a sense of how far they traveled or how long it took. I understand that this was to condense the story to the important parts, but the transitions felt too sudden.
Maybe I'm sounding very critical of this story, but I did enjoy it. Following the fulfillment of the curse/premonition and the struggle of the characters was compelling stuff. There's something about Marchetta's writing that makes me eager to read more. I want to see what happens in the next installment, Froi of the Exiles, which will follow the adventures of a character introduced in this book, and I do plan to read more Marchetta.
Overall: This is a fast moving young adult fantasy with a romantic subplot that I liked, but hesitate to recommend it to others because of its sometimes abrupt transitions and over complication of certain parts of the story. If there was time spent on developing intimacy between characters I would have been a lot happier. I did end up enjoying the serious Finnikin and self-assertive Evanjalin, loved the way Finnikin's father loved his son, and was invested in Lumatere's survival. Your mileage may vary.
Buy: Amazon | Powell's | The Book Depository
Angieville - "There was so much potential that just never found a grounding point."
Chachic's Book Nook - "[...]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"