Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta
Candlewick 2012, 416 pages
Lumatere, Finnikin’s home, has suffered. After the royal family is slaughtered and a curse laid upon the land, Finnikin goes off on a journey. He trains and, along with his guardian friend, begins a search for the prince he believes to still be alive. They meet Evanjalin, a young woman sworn to silence as a part of her pact — a convenient one which allows her to keep secrets. She keeps her silence until violence continues to mount, then proves her strategic and sometimes manipulative abilities to keep the group moving forward. The three meet Froi and, despite Froi’s violent and inappropriate tendencies, keep him as they travel toward the end of suffering, meeting plenty of it along the way.
Here’s the thing — I did not expect to like Finnikin of the Rock. The concept — an epic, nearing the idea of “high fantasy” — is typically not something I can get myself to sit through. A little secret for you: I couldn’t get through any of Lord of the Rings ( to be fair, I was twelve or so when I tried reading it and I started with The Two Towers for some idiotic reason, having already seen the films up to that point). So I hesitated at picking this one up, but it was on the list for book club as we were reading the sequel for March, so I figured — why not. And I’m glad I did.
Finnikin of the Rock features some very well-done characters. Though in some scenes a little overwhelming with the number of people to keep track of, the overall direction of individuals is impressive. Marchetta manages to make stakes high when characters deal with internal conflict — her strength, actually — while maintaining a sense of unreliability with each character. This balance makes the characters really come to life, which is something I rarely see in fantasy as the focus is typically so intent on world-building. Despite their unreliability, the characters are likable and I felt compelled to hear their story, understand their histories, and, ultimately, cheer them on. I did find, as secrets came to light, some characters did not stay consistent in their personalities. While some change in character can be attributed to the events of the plot, much of it seemed awkward and unbelievable.
The overall plot was a bit skeletal for the length of the book. Perhaps this is because I am generally bored by politics and struggled to keep the story of Lumatere’s takeover (and the individuals involved) straight, but generally I felt I needed a little more help grasping the events that brought our characters to this point. Luckily the relationships of the characters were interesting enough to keep me reading, although the ambiguity of the main plot left me confused and therefore a bit bored.
Marchetta adds skillful prose, however, that helped mitigate my fears of anything that resembles high fantasy (which I’m not necessarily saying this book is, but does, from my perspective, at least have some elements of). The sentence structure was rarely (if ever) overly complex and Marchetta used flourishing language only when it served the plot. I particularly appreciated the subtle shifts in style which occurred as a chapter focused on one character or another without using first person narrative (George R.R. Martin, I think, could take a hint from this!).
I wouldn’t go as far as to say this is my favorite book ever, but I liked it enough (and had the pressure) to finish it within a matter of three or four days despite the length of it, and then move on to its sequel, Froi of the Exiles. If you’re looking for something a little on the slow side with a few surprises, take a chance on Finnikin.