Book Reviews, Literary News, and Thoughts on Life
those born last will make the first . . .
for Charyn will be barren no more . . .
Three years after the curse on Lumatere was lifted, Froi has found his home. Or so he believes.
Fiercely loyal to the Queen and Finnikin, Froi has been trained roughly and lovingly by the Guard sworn to protect the royal family, and has learned to control his quick temper. But when he is sent on a secretive mission to the kingdom of Charyn, nothing could have prepared him for what he finds. Here he encounters a damaged people who are not what they seem, and must unravel both the dark bonds of kinship and the mysteries of a half-mad Princess.
And in this barren and mysterious place, he will discover that there is a song sleeping in his blood, and though Froi would rather not, the time has come to listen.
Some books you just can’t wait five months for them to be released in the States. Some books are worth buying from an online company out of New Zealand in order to read them five months before the American release. Some books are worth staying up until four in the morning to read, even when one has to get up for work two and a half hours later. Melina Marchetta books are always worth going to such lengths (pretty sure she could make the phone book enticing to me). Having Froi of the Exiles in my hot little hands in October instead of March of next year was definitely worth whatever extra money I spent and sleep I lost in the process of buying and inhaling, er . . . reading it.
I will say that Melina Marchetta took a big risk in selecting Froi as the title character for this novel, considering he made few fans in readers for the way he tried to force himself on Isaboe in the previous book. But when has Ms. Marchetta ever played it safe? Jellicoe Road confused the pants off of readers until they figured out how the two seemingly unrelated story-lines in the book were connected, and yet it managed to become one of her most popular works to date. She became known for putting out realistic fiction for young people of unrivaled quality, and out-of-the-blue she decides to write a fantasy novel that blew me and other readers away. Needless to say, her risks have paid off in the past and this one is no exception.
I’ll admit, despite my faith in Ms. Marchetta, I was a little wary about getting inside Froi’s head, given that when we last saw him, he was a bit rough around the edges (okay, a lot rough around the edges) and not a particularly likable guy. I think, however, that it was essential that readers get the opportunity to witness Froi’s mindset, to see first-hand that those events from three years past still weigh heavily on his mind and that they have done much to drive his redemption since then. It made him a much more sympathetic character in my eyes and made me root for him when he was faced with difficult decisions throughout the course of the book (and goodness sakes is he ever faced with some doozies).
Just like with Tom from The Piper’s Son, I found myself wanting to give Froi a stern talking to and a Gibbs head-slap whenever he acted poorly*, but by the end of the book, I was more than willing to forgive Froi for his past ways and I quite fell in love with him, just like I have with all of the other Marchetta men** He’s got an acerbic wit, is strong-willed, freely speaks his mind even when he probably shouldn’t, and has a bit of an anger-management issue, but underneath all that, Froi has a good heart and a desire to do the right thing.
All of these qualities made him more than a match for half-mad Princess Quintana whom he’s thrown in with during his super-secret mission to Charyn. I don’t want to give too much away about the former or the latter, but let’s just say that I whole-heartedly agree with Ms. Marchetta when she said that the Charynites make the Finch-Mackee family look like the Brady Bunch. The things that poor girl had to undergo broke my heart, but the strength with which she bore up under it simply amazed me.
Before you get your knickers in a twist, yes, we do get to catch up with everyone’s favorite royal couple, Finnikin and Isaboe (with bonus appearances from the ever delightful Trevanion, Beatrice, Tesadora, and Lucian), but the unexpected treat, however, was meeting the menagerie of brand spanking new characters (and I do mean menagerie –there’s tons of secondary character goodness for us to feast on). When I saw that we’d be seeing part of the story from one of these new character’s perspective, I’ll admit that my face might have looked a little something like this: but Phaedra, Lucian’s estranged wife, deserved a fist bump, high five, AND a pat on the back for being so awesome.
She is a Charynite, the sworn enemy of Lumatere, yet when a group of Charynite refugees arrive in the valley outside her husband’s territory, it is shy, timid Phaedra who is instrumental in helping curb the cycle of hate between these two people groups. I adored the slow kindle of the relationship between her and Lucian, which started with a small kernel of respect and gradually blossomed into a sweet love (though each of them was under the assumption that it was not reciprocated by the other).
Of course, before the two of them could figure things out, Stuff That Will Not Be Named happened. Argh, that ending! Calling it a cliffhanger would probably be the understatement of the century. Being the filthy reprobate that I am, I’m pretty sure I replicated that line of Georgie’s from The Piper’s Son when I finished:
“You screamed. And swore. Like this. Fuuuuuuuuuuuuck.”
* I think that’s the sign of a job well-done on an author’s part — if I’m willing to look like an idiot by lecturing an imaginary character in public while I read, then the author must have done something to get me invested in the character he or she has created. Am I right?
** Now if I could just find one of them in real life, then I would be set. Would the real-life Jonah Griggs please stand up? Anyone? Bueller?
“Wrestled long with my youth/tried so hard to live in the truth.”
This is so Froi’s song. Can’t sum it up better than that.
Just when I thought I wouldn’t find a song fitting to portray Froi and Quintana’s relationship, Mumford & Sons come out with this absolutely gorgeous song that demonstrates Quintana’s reaction to Froi’s attempt at protecting and saving her and the way he tries to help her understand that not all men are abusive and treat women as possessions. It’s not easy for her to believe him, given her history, but toward the end of the novel, she’s come around to the mindset demonstrated by lyrics in this song, especially the chorus:
“So give me hope in the darkness/that I might see the light/Cause, oh, it gave me such a fright/But I will hold as long as you like/Just promise we will be all right.”
This is the song I had originally chosen for Froi and Quntana, but Matt’s Into the Flame EP had just been released and there wasn’t yet a video for the song. Thank goodness someone eventually remedied the situation and I’m now able to present this song to you all. The bit about “keep in your cage” and “darkness is all you’ll ever know if I don’t love you more” sadly speak to Quintana’s situation and Froi’s desire to save her from it.
“Love is like a letter wrote/and life is like an envelope. Be careful whom you give it to/they might not give it back to you.”
This song describes the heartbreaking point in Lucian and Phaedra’s burgeoning relationship when they have come to truly care for the other, yet still are under the assumption that the other cares not a whit for them. And then all that crazy stuff happens.