Melina Marchetta – Finnikin of the Rock
Read By: Jeffrey Cummings
Length: 12h 28m (416 pages)
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Started: 01 April 2013
Finished: 23 April 2013
Where did it come from? The library.
Why do I have it? Can’t remember where I first saw it mentioned, but I’m betting it was someone’s blog.
When you’ve spent half your
life exiled from your country,
is it still your home?
Summary: Finnikin was just a boy during the Five Days of the Unspeakable – when soldiers invaded his beloved country of Lumatere, seizing power and placing an imposter king on the throne. During this attack, many people fled Lumatere, whose borders were magically sealed shut behind them. Finnikin is the son of the Captain of the Guard, and grew up best friends with Prince Balthazar and other members of the royal family. Now it has been a decade since the terrible events of those times, and Finnikin has been traveling the surrounding countries with his mentor, Sir Topher, attempting to find the Lumaterran exiles and locate a piece of land for them to settle. But when they come across a convent novice, Evangeline, who claims to have had dreams that Balthazar is still alive, they begin to believe that it might be possible to not just find a new homeland, but to reclaim the old.
Review: This was a book that I absolutely should have liked, if not loved. I like YA medieval-based fantasy, I like stories about lost princes and quests and the righting of old wrongs. I’ve seen this book on lists of read-alikes for books such as Graceling, which I did love. And yet, I had a hard time connecting with this book, didn’t really like any of the characters very much, and was just thoroughly ambivalent about the whole experience.
I think a large part of my issue with this book was the writing style and the intended audience. It’s YA, but mostly the story struck me as being for a younger set. Even though Finnikin was somewhere in his late teens, something about the sentence structure and the dialogue just felt young to me, and I didn’t find the plot particularly complex (I figured out the “shocking twist” well before it was revealed) or morally weighty. But whenever I was settling down to enjoy it at a younger level, Marchetta would toss in an off-handed mention about Finnikin visiting a prostitute, or an scene with an attempted rape. I’m not opposed to either of those things in my fiction, necessarily, but they struck me as out of keeping with the tone of the rest of the story, and therefore were pretty jarring.
I also didn’t really love the gender politics in this story. Even in places where I think Marchetta was trying to be progressive with her gender roles, it didn’t always work for me. I’m pretty sure this book failed the Bechdel test (there may have been a short part where Evangeline was discussing her dreams or the future of the kingdom with another woman, but I suspect that if there was, it was in the context of Balthazar and/or Finnikin). Again, that’s not necessarily a deal-breaker for me, but there was a feeling to the way that the other (male) characters treated Evangeline that I didn’t care for, and her reactions were not any better… with the result that I wound up finding both of the lead characters tiring – not an ideal situation for reading enjoyment.
This was also a book that I think suffered from being an audiobook. Jeffrey Cummings does a fine job (although it’s hard to separate out how much my dislike of Evangeline is based on what she says, or how Cummings decided she should say them.) But the geography of Lumatere and the surrounding countries plays a big role in the story, and I spent a lot of time wishing I had a map to hand. 3 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: I actually don’t disagree with the “If you like Kristen Cashore or Tamora Pierce…” type of recommendations, even though I like both of those authors yet was only so-so on this book. Plus it’s a book that lots of people do seem to love, so if you like medieval-esque YA fantasy, it’s probably worth a try.
First Line: A long time ago, in the spring before the five days of the unspeakable, Finnikin of the Rock dreamt he was to sacrifice a pound of flesh to save the royal house of Lumatere.
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