Warning: there is a fair amount of sexual violence in this book
Ten years ago, the impostor king slaughtered the royal family of Lumatere. In the panic, the people of Lumatere turned on the Forest Dwellers, an oppressed minority in the country, and when they burned one of them at stake, she cursed the land and the people. As such, half of the Lumaterans are trapped in its borders and the other half are wandering exiles who don't know anything of what is now going on within their country. Finnikin of the Rock is one of these exiles, and he and his mentor are recruited by a girl Evanjalin who claims she can lead them to the heir and break the curse.
Marchetta says, "I was told often that I couldn't write fantasy unless I had read all the greats and knew the conventions well." I think the book is a good example of both why this is right and wrong. The worldbuilding isn't the best I've read, but it's also not bad: Marchetta has thought about things like trade and economics and minority populations and how each country has its own subpopulations. I particularly like notes such as how one country hates the Lumateran exiles because the Lumateran curse has cut off their access to the river trade and thereby improverished the country. On the other hand, I wanted a broader range of cultures and governing styles across the countries, especially because this book is so concerned with hereditary rulers and blood. It's also, like so much of fantasy, vaguely Eurocentric in inspiration, and I found that and the focus on prophecy and gathering together enough
That said, this is above-calibre fantasy in terms of characters; I didn't mind the various people Finnikin and Evanjalin had to round up because I found them all interesting. Also, I love that the book explores themes about community and nation and loss, how big the loss of Lumatere is to all the Lumaterans but also how they all react differently. I kind of wished that the journey to gather all the exiles had taken longer and been more difficult, especially given how many qualms Finnikin has about their quest.
Also, while the book seems very heavy on the male characters, Evanjalin is absolutely awesome and terrifying in a way I think many female characters don't get to be.
I absolutely love that she is the missing heir, and I love her ruthlessness in selling out Finnikin and in selling Froi to get her ring back. I loved how walking in sleep worked, particularly how she got the cure for the sickness via Vestie.
I kind of wanted to slap Finnikin after his umpteenth bout of woes over Seranonna saying he would become king by shedding Isaboe's blood, but the whole wanting to marry the queen and desperately hoping you are good enough to be king-consort is apparently a narrative trope that I adore. I also love that Finnikin is most definitely the consort, as opposed to one of my other favorite books with this trope.
I was also very glad to get glimpses of the resistance within Lumatere, and I thought it was really interesting that the quest to take the exiles back—traveling, linear direction, single goal— was mostly coded as male (finding Finnikin, the Captain of the Guard, the priestking, and the Guard), while the resistance inside Lumatere is very much female, with Beatriss and Tesadora hiding the girls away. It's interior and contained and survival based; it's a waiting game that depends on Isaboe to finally end the curse.
I'm a bit uneasy about the role of sexual violence in the book. On the one hand, it's a very real weapon used against colonized peoples, and the book reads as very real in that way and I don't feel that Marchetta is simply being exploitative. On the other hand, it was hard to read, even as summarized accounts. The parts inside Lumatere were the worst, and the bit that bugs me the most is how families would choose their daughters to be the first ones killed to avoid rape. I can't exactly put my finger on why. It's something about how in the book it's phrased as the fathers making the decision for their daughters that makes me think about people who would rather have women be dead rather than sexually violated.
Also, I am really not sure why this was published as YA, except for YA being Marchetta's usual genre of choice.
In conclusion: very good, and I really hope Marchetta keeps writing fantasy and hopefully starts to mess around with more genre conventions. (Also, I totally blame this book for completely wrecking my sleep schedule.)
- rilina's review
- lab's review (middle of entry)
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