Whew, glad to get that off my chest. Normally I don't do the whole fangirl thing, but well, MM mad...moreFirst off:
MELINA MARCHETTA, I LOVE YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Whew, glad to get that off my chest. Normally I don't do the whole fangirl thing, but well, MM made me squeal more than once in this book and so I think I have to let loose a bit. I've been recommending this series to friends for a while now, and last week I even told my brother in law to get it. Yes, my BROTHER IN LAW. He used to be a big fantasy fan and he does read YA occasionally, and holy hell, if anyone who likes those two things doesn't read this series then there is something wrong with them.
Froi of the Exiles is a continuation of the first book, Finnikin of Rock, and yes, unfortunately you do have to read the first book in order for this one to make sense. Froi is a different story in itself, focused several years later, with a different main character and a slightly different angle. Those that have read Finnikin and long for his return won't be disappointed though; there are plenty of little scenes with Finnikin and Isaboe to make your heart do that pitter-patter thang. I have to say that when I learned the second book would focus on Froi, the little urchin who does quite a few unspeakable things in the first book, I was a little... afraid. Would I like him? Would I be able to forgive his past transgressions and come to the point where I'd fall in love with him? I was concerned. But by the first page, I got my answer. YES AND YES!! Unbelievable, but that's Melina Marchetta for you. In truth, I actually liked the second book better.
There are a lot of similarities between Finnikin on the Rock and Froi of the Exiles- a curse to be broken, a main character that you predict early on will break said curse, a strong female lead, sexual tension up the wazooki. :) But make no mistake, it's not the same book. Froi's character is much more complex than Finnikin - happily (for the reader), he's more tortured. Orphaned and broken early in his youth, Froi has grown up to trust no one but himself. When he finds his heart bound to Queen Isaboe, his duty to his queen easily defines him. He takes on the mission to assassinate the king of Charyn with pride and the conviction that he will not fail. All of this comes crashing down on him, of course. His loyalty is tested, his heart is broken, put back together and broken again. Marchetta spares him no grief and it is this that endears him to us and makes us pound our fists with the unfairness of it all when the last, cliffhanger line is read.
A little mention about the other characters in the book. First there was Quintana, the Charyn princess who appears mad and even quite repulsive when we first meet her. I was sort of scratching my head thinking, this is our heroine/Froi's LI? The girl who lets her hair fall into her food? Who eats off other people's plates? But I grew to love Quintana's ferocity and eventually saw what would make Froi fall in love with her. Then there were the two brothers, Gargarin and Arjuro. I was never quite sure which one to hate and which to love. Both are a little rough around the edges, both incredibly brilliant. I loved their story and how it all fit together with Froi's. Finally, a little mention about Lucian and Phaedra. I wasn't sure what to make of their story. I quite hated Lucian at first for taking a Charyn wife and their resulting conflict, but as I saw the two eventually make their peace (and saw Lucien act more like the gentleman he was supposed to be) I found myself wanting them to fall in love. But then horror of horrors happen, which I obviously can't say because that would be too much of a spoiler. *big cheeky grin*. I'm so anxious to see how this plays out and what the whole purpose of it was. There are many other characters I could mention, each unique in his/her own right. Melina Marchetta's ability to create complex characters that we both love and hate is reminiscent of Tolkein's genius. I often have to simply stand back and marvel at her.
Oh, I could go on and on about a dozen other little things that I loved about the book. The wonderful world building that makes you feel like you're RIGHT THERE in that stone-sheltered world. The descriptions *sigh* and the wonderful prose *double sigh*. The flirtatious dialogue that made me squeal and pound my pound my feet with glee, yes! yes! I do like to give a balanced review though, so I will mention two little things that I didn't like about the book. One, it was a bit hard to keep the backstory straight. There are a lot of characters in the book, many of whom are dead, and so as I was learning the story of Froi's past I had to re-read a bit. Not a big deal overall because in the end it made sense and compared to some fantasy books it was trivial, but I'm just giving it a mention. As for the other thing, and this isn't really a criticism but more of an 'oh phooey' sort of comment, the subject material is just a little too heavy-handed for my son to read. I love getting him excited about series that I've read, but at his age he's just not quite ready for some of the things that happen in this book. In two years though, I fully intend to introduce him to MM's world.
Finally, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, to Candlewick Press for letting me review this book ahead of it's US publication date. (less)
Larkstorm is a cross-over between dystopian and traditional fantasy. Witches and super trains. Dark magic and repressed societies. Perhaps I'm just no...moreLarkstorm is a cross-over between dystopian and traditional fantasy. Witches and super trains. Dark magic and repressed societies. Perhaps I'm just not well-read enough (even though I try), but I thought this was a unique cross-over combination that allowed for a lot of unusual plot development. What if witches brought about a global catastrophe? What would that look like and how would society rebuild itself with magic at the helm? Miller brings that world to life with intricate detail and descriptive writing.
But at its heart, Larkstorm is a love story. Lark and Beck grow up believing they are destined to be together and the earlier scenes attest to their devotion. I loved the interactions between them - the tension! OMG, how does Lark manage to not jump all over that boy and eat him alive?? She definitely has more will power than I do! I also admired Lark's bravery for going against everything she was brought up to believe in order to find Beck and clear his name. When the two are reunited (well, that's a bit spoilery, but you knew it would happen), I admit I had an 'Ah, that's so sweet' moment. I was eager to see how the two would fight the system together and bring it down. At that point, Miller pulled the rug out from under me, and I learned things that I really wish I hadn't. I'm all for a good plot twist, but it all seemed so unfair! I felt Lark's frustration and anger through it all, which is a testament to Miller's ability to tug on the reader's emotions.
Secondary characters - I have a fascination with secondary characters because I believe they're one of the hardest story elements to get right. They're in the backround, always lurking, always adding their two bits. As an author, you want them to shine and feel "real", but giving them their own unique flavor and history without letting them take over the story is hard, to say the least. In Larkstorm, I loved the character of Bethina. She reminded me a lot of Mrs. Weasley with her warm, motherly demeanor, and no-nonsense attitude. She really stood out. Other favorites included Lark's best friend Kyra and the creepy Eamon. They each added something to the story that intrigued me and made the story richer.
I will admit that I wish Lark had been a more active character in the last third of the book. Given the strength that Lark displays in the first half I thought there would be more instances of her pushing against those who I'll call the enemy (for lack of a better term since again, I don't want to spoil the fun). I didn't get that. But what I did see, and actually loved, was Lark's inner conflict as she tries to figure out who she is. Imagine the frustration and doubts that build as people try to convince you that you will hurt the one person you love or die yourself. This is an effective plot device, and Miller utilizes it to its full advantage by including her own unique elements.