Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta
Publisher: Viking Australia (September 29th 2008)
Series: Lumatere Chronicles #1
Length: 416 pages
Genre: YA, fantasy, romance
Mini-review on my GR
Rating: 5/5 🍑
Finnikin of the Rock and his guardian, Sir Topher, have not been home to their beloved Lumatere for ten years. Not since the dark days when the royal family was murdered and the kingdom put under a terrible curse. But then Finnikin is summoned to meet Evanjalin, a young woman with an incredible claim: the heir to the throne of Lumatere, Prince Balthazar, is alive.
Evanjalin is determined to return home and she is the only one who can lead them to the heir. As they journey together, Finnikin is affected by her arrogance . . . and her hope. He begins to believe he will see his childhood friend, Prince Balthazar, again. And that their cursed people will be able to enter Lumatere and be reunited with those trapped inside. He even believes he will find his imprisoned father.
But Evanjalin is not what she seems. And the truth will test not only Finnikin’s faith in her . . . but in himself.
I recently read this book again, after over 3 years, and everyone knows the danger of rereading your favourite books: what if your taste changed? what if you won’t like them as much anymore? There was no need to worry with Finnikin… though.
It’s the first book in the Lumatere Chronicles trilogy & it does a wonderful job at introducing readers to the world and to the characters. It’s not your typical fantasy setting though, with magical swords & spells being thrown every which way. Here we get magic that feels ancient, that is rarely used but also incredibly powerful – a curse put on Lumatere made it so that no one can enter or leave the country. There are rules and – even more importantly – consequences to every magical action & nothing comes easy just because there is magic in the land. We also get to observe how practitioners of magic are being treated and how prejudices against them or lack of belief in their abilities can shape history.
Finnikin… isn’t about magic saving the day though, even if magic was actually used to save the day. Lumaterans experienced a terrible loss – for ten years after the brutal killing of the royal family & the curse that sealed the country there were two groups of them: those who stayed inside with an impostor king and those who were exiled and had to look for a place to live. And this is a story about the many ways in which they dealt with that. Holding on to your identity when no one actually wants you to is an incredibly hard task and it gets even harder once you start losing hope.
I love how much weight Marchetta puts on language and on its importance for people. History shows us that it’s one of the first things regimes go after to eradicate a nation. And it rings true here as well; exiles are often punished for speaking Lumateran, Finnikin himself usually speaks the language of a country he’s currently in. It’s the language your mother used to sing you lullabies that shapes you as a person & Marchetta never forgets how much it means.
“I miss hearing our mother tongue,” he found himself saying. “Speaking it. Sir Topher has always been strict about using only the language of the country we are in, but when I dream, it’s in Lumateran. Don’t you love it? The way it comes from the throat, guttural and forced. Speaks to me of hard work. So different from the romance of the Belegonian and Osterian tongues.”
But the true strength of the book (& really just Marchetta’s writing in general) lies with the characters. They are all flesh & blood, allowed to make mistakes and learn from them, allowed to do what they feel they should instead of what the author needs them to do to write the story. They are all of them beautiful – and most of all women! This is where Marchetta excels; she always writes strong women but not in a Fearless Fighters With Big Swords & Sexy Costumes way. Rather: they are so painfully human as only men are allowed to be in most of known literature.
In Lumatere the monarch who rules is the queen, not her king. She is ruthless and cunning and does what needs to be done. At the same time she is the hope her people need, she can be fragile & filled with so much love and empathy it almost kills her. And for all this she gets nothing but pride from everyone who knows her!
The book might be named after a boy but it’s women who make the story possible. It’s women who push the plot forward, it’s women who make great sacrifices, it’s women who teach everyone how to love and how to change that love into magic. And oh, what a powerful magic that is!!
And not only romantic love, though with that kind the story is overflowing, but the love of queen for her people, of parents for their children, of strangers growing into a family. They say that love conquers all and in Finnikin of the Rock we see that with hard work, deep faith & a willingness to put others before yourself that is really true.