Finnikin of the Rock
by Melina Marchetta
As the son of the Captain of the King's guard, Finnikin grew up at the palace with the royal children as playmates. All that changed when the royal family of Lumatere was brutally assassinated, and the land invaded by a cousin of the King. After five days of horror, a barrier of darkness surrounded Lumatere, trapping half of the population inside the kingdom, while those who had fled were trapped without, exiles from their own land.
Finnikin is one of those exiles, and he has spent the last 10 years growing up under the protection and guidance of the former King's First Man, Sir Topher. The two travel all the lands, doing what they can to help the other exiles in the refugee camps, and trying to find a new homeland for their people. Then Finnikin and Sir Topher are summoned to the cloister of the goddess Lagrami, where they are introduced to a girl, the novice Evangeline, who claims to know that the crown prince is alive.
Accompanied by Evangeline—one might say bullied by her—Finnikin and Sir Topher begin a dangerous journey to try to find the truth, seek the crown prince, and gather together the remnants of their people.
Finnikin of the Rock is a lovely, meaty fantasy: the kind I cut my teeth on. The world building is rich, with not one, but many different cultures sharing the continent. The Lumateran culture in particular is interesting, different enough from our own to seem exotic. At times, though, the differences are off-putting and make it hard to identify with the characters. For example, the Lumaterans have a habit of insulting those they care most about. The insults are, to my ear, cutting, but they apparently are a type of bonding.
The writing seems forced in places, such as when the author is too-obviously concealing information from the reader. Of course, limiting the reader's knowledge to what the character knows and figures out is a valid and frequently used technique in these types of stories, but in some places here it's done so obviously that the reader is left feeling like Finnikin must be an idiot for not figuring things out.
Some things are not well-explained. For example, what is the cause of the dark barrier surrounding Lumatere? There's generally no magic in this world, although there are some magical-type abilities that come from the goddess. However, one wouldn't think that a goddess would create such a thing that would cause such pain to her people, and if not her, then where did the power come from to create it?
Overall, I found reading Finnikin of the Rock frustrating, because I liked a lot of it so much, but there were enough things that bothered me that I couldn't lose myself in it. Even so, I think this is a book with strong appeal to fans of high fantasy. There are enough other bloggers who loved it unreservedly that I think it deserves a place in a school or library collection, where I think many young epic fantasy readers will eat it up.
Finnikin of the Rock was a 2010 Cybils nominee in the Fantasy & Science Fiction—Teen category.
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FTC required disclosure: Review copy provided by the publisher to enable me to write this review. The bookstore links above are affiliate links, and I earn a very small percentage of any sales made through the links. Neither of these things influenced my review.