Reading Is Good For You

Book Reviews, Literary News, and Thoughts on Life

Books that Rock: Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta

At the age of nine, Finnikin is warned by the gods that he must sacrifice a pound of flesh to save his kingdom. He stands on the rock of the three wonders with his friend Prince Balthazar and Balthazar’s cousin, Lucian, and together they mix their blood to safeguard Lumatere.

But all safety is shattered during the five days of the unspeakable, when the king and queen and their children are brutally murdered in the palace. An imposter seizes the throne, a curse binds all who remain inside Lumatere’s walls, and those who escape are left to roam the land as exiles, dying by the thousands in fever camps.

Ten years later, Finnikin is summoned to another rock — to meet Evanjalin, a young novice with a startling claim: Balthazar, heir to the throne of Lumatere, is alive. This arrogant young woman claims she’ll lead Finnikin and his mentor, Sir Topher, to the prince. Instead, her leadership points them perilously toward home. Does Finnikin dare believe that Lumatere might one day rise united? Evanjalin is not what she seems, and the startling truth will test Finnikin’s faith not only in her, but in all he knows to be true about himself and his destiny.*

*Courtesy of book jacket flap.

All I can say with this review is that it’s about time (note how subtlely and smoothly I made reference to one of my new favorite bands, Treetop Flyers). Seriously, though, I have had this book since it came out a year and a half ago and have read it more times than I can count, but I have yet to review it until now. I have great difficulty writing about books that I truly adore, because I can never find quite the right words to accurately convey just how wonderful they really are. Plus I’m a lazy arse. And  I started a new job. And I’ve been ill. So there.

/whinging

Many people complain that fantasy books are inaccessible, because how can one relate to a character who is fighting evil wizards and running around with dwarves and hobbits and the like, right? To some extent I’ll give credence to their claims, but I think even the harshest critic of fantasy will have their arguments silenced when faced with Finnikin of the Rock. As anyone who has read Marchetta’s realistic fiction can attest, the woman is brilliant at bringing to life characters who are as real and fully fleshed-out as one’s brother or best friend. The same holds true for her first foray into the fantasy genre. And it’s not just the main characters, Finnikin and Evanjalin that get treated with this loving care — the same holds true for every single one of the minor characters. There are no one-dimensional cardboard cut-outs in this book.

And, my goodness, the story! Though there are mentions of gods and goddesses, a magical curse, and another fantastical element that I won’t mention so as to not reveal an important plot point, the bulk of the story is one of refugees, a people cut off from their land. It’s a heartbreaking story —  the sort  that one finds frequent mention of on the nightly news and has nearly become immune to its tug on the heartstrings. Marchetta doesn’t allow readers to ignore the plight of the exiled Lumaterans, though, and because of it, I’ll never hear someone say that immigrants to this country of ours ‘need to learn to speak American’ (said in the most hillbilly of accents, of course) without remembering how utterly lost these people were when grief and pressure from those in authority forced them to abandon their language and the cultural heritage of their homeland.

Men who in Lumatere had voices loud and passionate, who provided for their families and were respected in their villages. Now they sat in silence and relied upon their children to translate for them as if they were helpless babes. Finnikin wondered what it did to a man who once stood proud. How could he pass on his stories without a language? (page 65)

Have no fear, however, of this book being nothing but a doom and gloom, love thy neighbor as thyself public service announcement. Finnikin is also filled with a lovely message of hope, and triumphing over one’s past fears and guilt. Up until he met Evanjalin, Finnikin was focused on the attainable goal of finding a new homeland for his people, but Evanjalin’s passion and strength inspired him to look beyond his practical nature and believe in her dream of leading their people back to Lumatere. You want a strong female character? Ladies and gentlemen, look no farther than Evanjalin. The poor thing has been robbed of her childhood and forced to endure all manner of horrors, but not once does she use this as an excuse to whine or complain or abandon her mission. Girlfriend deserves a medal. Marchetta, of course, doing nothing by halves, has created a male lead worthy of standing beside her as an equal. Finnikin is a rock for Evanjalin, an anchor for when she drifts into the dark places in her mind, and the fierceness with which he loves her does all sorts of strange and wonderful things to my heart. Marchetta’s trademark humor is also present in just the right places to offset the darkness of the story and keep it from being a total sob-fest (always a plus in my book), and there’s sword fighting and prison breaks for all of you action & adventure aficionados.

In short, Finnikin has something for the whole family, so what are you waiting for, if you haven’t already checked it out? Given that the sequel, Froi of the Exiles, has just come out in Australia* and will come out for the rest of us in March of next year, now if the perfect time to pick up a copy of this book.

                                                                                                                                                     

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*Joy upon joy, I’ve discovered a way to get Froi early and you can too! Head over to fishpondworld.com, a site mentioned on Melina Marchetta’s website, and you can either order the Australian version now or pre-order the American hardcover.** The price isn’t too bad (considering it’s coming from halfway around the world) and the shipping is free. It seems a similar site to Book Depository, only it actually has the items I want in stock.

**Speaking of the American hardcover, what were they thinking putting that big ol’ face on it (though the sword is cool)? I am not a fan of the whole covers with faces on them trend in YA lit, so I might be a little biased, but I don’t like someone attempting to influence the way I picture a character. Nine times out of ten, the cover image doesn’t come close to what I see in my head as I read (*cough* skinny boy on the American cover of The Piper’s Son *cough*).

                                                                                                                                                   

Now for the rockin’ and/or rollin’ part of this Books that Rock review, where I provide a soundtrack of sorts that describe events occurring in the chosen book (be warned that spoilers may occur in the song descriptions). If you haven’t yet read the book, don’t let that stop you from enjoying the music.
The Cave by Mumford & Sons

This is such a good song for Finnikin. For so long he had been wandering the land, collecting the names of the dead of Lumatere, and his only goal was to find a piece of land where his remaining people could settle and begin a new life. Then he meets Evanjalin and she opens his eyes to the possiblilty of bringing their people back home. Finnikin puts his hope in this dream that Evanjalin has planted in his head and he extends it to all the exiles they come across in their travels. The lyrics couldn’t be more perfect to represent Finnikin’s role in the novel.

This video, taken from M&S’s performance at the Grammys, shows exactly why I love this band so very much. Their enthusiasm, passion and joy in what they do is simply infectious and brings such an energy to the crowd when they perform at gigs (and I can speak from experience). If you can resist Marcus’ big grin, Ted shaking his double bass in the air, Ben headbanging and Winnie doing those hilarious banjo rolls (or whatever you want to call his ridiculous . . . dance moves), well, then you’ve got more will-power than I’ll ever possess.

Redemption by Matt Corby

There are several Matt Corby songs, like My False and Song For . . ., that I could have selected for this soundtrack, but Redemption is one of my favorite Matt Corby songs and I’ve been wanting to use if for awhile now. The part where he uses the loop pedal and harmonizes with himself never fails to send shivers up my spine.

This is a song for the exiles of Lumatere who committed acts of which they were not proud during the five days of the unspeakable or during their time as refugees and have been living with the guilt and shame ever since. Now that they are returning to Lumatere, their ‘redemption has come’ and they can finally ask forgiveness for ‘all [their] evil ways.’

Rest in the Bed by Laura Marling

This beautiful Laura Marling song, taken off her new album A Creature I Don’t Know, is the perfect song to describe the relationship that Finnikin and Evanjalin share. Though it’s sung from a woman’s perspective, the lyrics ‘all that I want is a home’ and ‘all you can do is promise me bold that you won’t let me grow dark or cold’ could  be something said by either Finnikin or Evanjalin. It’s a gorgeous, gorgeous song and easily one of my favorite of Laura Marling’s new tracks (though I could probably be persuaded to say that about any of the songs on her new album — it’s that good).

After the Storm by Mumford & Sons

This is hands-down my favorite track off of Mumford & Sons’ album Sigh No More and I think it accurately reflects the mindset of the people of Lumatere at the conclusion of the book. Yes, they had regained their beloved kingdom and had been reunited with their loved ones, but there is still a long way for them to go in the recovery process (though they are now on the path of healing).

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