Thank you Melina Marchetta - this was beautiful. Trust someone with Marchetta's skill to deliver a fantasy story filled with believable, developed characters. My faith in young adult fantasy literature is restored!
Finnikin of the Rock is the story of a young man who, in his childhood, commits himself to the protection of his kingdom, its royal family, and all the citizens Lumatere. Little does he know that he will become the standard-bearer of his people after their kingdom is conquered and a vast number of Lumatere is sent into exile. Finnikin must find the courage to gather his people and lead them against the enemy king.
I was looking for epic because the last few young adult fantasy novels I read fell short, far short, of epic. And while I'm not sure that I would call Finnikin of the Rock epic, it comes close. However...and more importantly...it is just plain well written.
The conflict: Good conflicts are relatable conflicts. Good conflicts center on a reality that exists in our world and speak to modern problems, even if they are set in a world of fantasy. Finnikin of the Rock does just that. Displaced people looking for a homeland; countries seeking puppets for purposes of going to war; inhumane treatment of exiled people. It isn't hard to see the modern atrocities of violence and war in the Middle East or the horrors in Darfur reflected in the conflict here. And Marchetta doesn't pull punches. She portrays the violence, particularly against women and children, with heart-rending honesty. In fact, I caution more sensitive readers. While she is in no way gratuitous, she does tell it like it is. It brought a few tears to my eyes. War is beastly.
The characters: I loved them because they felt developed and real. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know them, particularly Finnikin and Evajalin, the novice. I believe good conflicts can create strong characters. Evajalin and Finnikin face painful choices and consequences as they make their way to Lumatere to fulfill what they both know is their destiny. They do it with a love for their people. They do it knowing it will be hard. They do it even if it seems impossible and they are afraid. Oh how I love characters who are imperfect and scared senseless but who try anyway. Evajanlin in particular is a great underdog. I have more to say about her...next.
The feminist themes: Finally a heroine who reflects real women! Why? One word - vulnerability. And a few more words. Evanjalin is strong. She is strong because in spite of her weaknesses, she faces the daunting task of taking her people home with courage. She knows she cannot do it alone, and she is not afraid to ask for help. She makes sacrifices for her people that no one else is willing to make. She falls in love, too! And she plans on marrying him! Imagine that. A woman can be vulnerable, strong and in love. And men don't pose a threat! Finally a writer who gets it. Independence does not equal strength of character. Rather, facing difficulty, looking for help, loving others honestly, being true to yourself - this is what makes for a real and good heroine with strength of character. And one that is believable, to boot!!! Again, Marchetta rocks!
There are a few things...well that I didn't love but that I didn't hate either. The denouement was long. The story centers on two intertwining conflicts. The first was resolved a little too quickly and the second a little too slowly. And I thought that there were some gratuitous sexual references and moments that were entirely unnecessary. And I still want something bigger...a bit more epic. Perhaps that was due to the ending being a bit anti-climatic. But overall, I loved it and highly recommend it.