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Finnikin of the Rock: A Review

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A long time ago, before the five days of the unspeakable, Finnikin of the Rock dreamed he was to sacrifice a pound of flesh to save the royal house of Lumatere. Though only nine, Finnikin knew the dream was not to be ignored.

Frightened for his kingdom, Finnikin convinced his friends Prince Balthazar and Lucian of the Mont to make a pledge with him. They climbed to the rock of three wonders and sacrificed flesh from their bodies and a hair from the head of a weeping princess Isaboe. Balthazar swore to die defending his royal house of Lumatere. Finnikin swore to be their protector and guide for as long as he lived.  Lucian vowed he would be the light whom they traveled toward in times of need.

That evening they slept easy knowing the land of Lumatere was truly blessed.

Until the five days of the unspeakable when the king and queen and their children are brutally murdered in the palace. An impostor seizes the throne and a curse binds all who remain inside the kingdom walls while those who escape are left to roam the land as exiles, dying by the thousands in fever camps.

But there might be hope.

A young novice named Evanjalin claims the true heir, Balthazar, is alive and that she can lead Finnikin to the prince. But Evanjalin’s machinations soon turn a journey to find the lost heir into a quest to break the curse and free Lumatere. It all begins ten years after the five days of the unspeakable, when Finnikin of Lumatere climbs another rock in Finnikin of the Rock (2010*) by Melina Marchetta.

Finnikin of the Rock is Marchetta’s first foray into the wide and wonderful world of fantasy, after writing three other critically acclaimed realistic fiction novels. In her author bio at the back of the book, Marchetta notes that for her the first step to writing this fantasy was knowing our own world well and finding a way to reflect that world–something Marchetta does expertly.

Marchetta’s world of Skuldenore is a place apart that still manages to feel very close to home throughout the story. There is something very natural in reading about this strange land of kings and magic. As always, the writing here is exceptional. The story blends humor, twists, romance, action and intrigue all with ease–sometimes even at the same time.

Fantasies are often the realm of strong women and brave men but this novel truly provides shining examples of both. Finnikin and Evanjalin are as powerful and brave a set of characters as any readers are likely to meet this year. Every single one of the characters, even the minor ones, that Marchetta conjures are truly original and memorable–even the dead ones.

English classes often mention Apostrophe as a literary device used to directly address an absent (or sometimes imagined) character, this book conjures the absent characters in their entirety. Finnikin of the Rock is a haunting novel about a cursed land and its pages are filled with ghosts and a palpable sense of what the Lumaterans have truly lost. All the same, Finnikin of the Rock is essentially a story about hope and rebuilding–with a nice dose of romance, action and intrigue thrown in (of course).

Marchetta won the 2009 Printz Award for her novel Jellicoe Road. It seems likely that this book is another Printz contender. One of the best fantasies I’ve read recently and one of the best books of any genre that I’ve read so far this year.

*Like Marchetta’s other novels this one was originally published in her native Australia. The original publication was 2008, 2010 marks the arrival of the first US edition. The cover shown here is the American version which I prefer to the Australian version.

Possible Pairings: Graceling by Kristin Cashore, The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon, Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin, The Tower at Stony Wood by Patricia A. McKillip , The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley, Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift, The Last of the High Kings by Kate Thompson, Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien, The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner, Sleeping Beauty (animated film)

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