Finnikin of the Rock by Melina MarchettaFinnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta
Series: The Lumatere Chronicles #1
Published by Viking Australia on September 29th 2008
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
Pages: 416

Finnikin of the Rock and his guardian, Sir Topher, have not been home to their beloved Lumatere for ten years. Not since the dark days when the royal family was murdered and the kingdom put under a terrible curse. But then Finnikin is summoned to meet Evanjalin, a young woman with an incredible claim: the heir to the throne of Lumatere, Prince Balthazar, is alive.

Evanjalin is determined to return home and she is the only one who can lead them to the heir. As they journey together, Finnikin is affected by her arrogance . . . and her hope. He begins to believe he will see his childhood friend, Prince Balthazar, again. And that their cursed people will be able to enter Lumatere and be reunited with those trapped inside. He even believes he will find his imprisoned father.

But Evanjalin is not what she seems. And the truth will test not only Finnikin's faith in her . . . but in himself.

3.5 Stars

Finnikin of the Rock  was an inspired YA fantasy, written by one of the icons of Australian literature, which soared high to the Monts and at times fell flat like the Flatlands.

It was a gripping book, it really was, yet has not entirely managed to win me over. Initially, I awarded Finnikin of the Rock with 4 stars, but the book hasn’t stuck with me at all and remains somewhat forgettable compared to other 4-star reads, which is why I lowered my rating half a star.

I was worried before starting this, as Marchetta’s contemporary Saving Francesca was and still is one of my favourite books from my teenage years, yet I was unsure how she was going to handle a totally different genre.

The story begins with Finnikin’s memory of the Five Days of the Unspeakeable – his homeland Lumatere being invaded and its royals being slaughtered –  and wrapping up crucial events in a prologue is definitely telling, not showing. All of a sudden, you’re supposed to care for an entire kingdom, and it just doesn’t work! I was a bit put off by this, to say the least. The story sort of lulled for me in the beginning, as Finnikin and his mentor, who are both exiles, cross paths with Evanjalin who claims to know the whereabouts of the missing heir to Lumatere. For the first third, it’s the trio moving from town to town, picking up a foul-mouthed stray which I will further acknowledge in this review later. And so, for quite some time, I swayed between boredom and indifference, until the plot finally picked up. If you struggle through the slow parts, swordfights, political schemes, a sweet romance, emotional reunions, and a game-changing plot twist await. 

Characterwise, Marchetta is easily as talented in fantasy as in contemporary. Apart from his avid intelligence and his talent for acquiring new knowledge or learning languages, Finnikin of the Rock is fierce and loyal but hotheaded (he actually reminded me a bit of Yarvi from Half a King). I appreciate how Marchetta also filled the hero of the story with darkness. I don’t care for good characters who are portrayed as innocent lambs. It does not make for an interesting book, and Finnikin is far from innocent. Even less so is Evanjalin of the Monts who has a spark to her, which repeatedly results in hot-tempered arguments between her and Finnikin. She’s witty and not a stranger to taking risks which is sort of the motor of the whole plot. I love badass female characters.

They were just in time to see Finnikin trapped in a headlock by a man who was twice his size.
“What are they doing?”Sir Topfer asked in alarm.
“They’re proving their manhood,” Evanjalin said in a bored voice.
“How long is this going to take, Finnikin? Ask him if they have food. You promised me roast pork.”
Finnikin rolled his eyes as Moss swung from side to side, trying to dislodge him from his back. “Woman, I’m trying to fight here! Or has that escaped your attention?”

I was equally fond of Sir Topher of the Flatlands, Finnikin’s mentor and a man wiser than he appears to be at first. And let me not forget Trevanion, the source of Finnikin’s hot temper, except that his father is purely hotheadedness, swinging his sword first and asking questions later. There are various side characters I would love to know more about in Froi of the Exiles. Which brings us to Froi. Sometimes, people do bad things because they’re damaged. And Froi is definitely damaged from growing up in a lawless world as an orphaned exile. However, at no point was his well deserved punishment served to him (we’re talking about attempted rape here). His actions were belittled, in the sense of “It’s not his fault, he doesn’t know better!”. Well, I’ll be damned! I strongly believe that every human being, no matter what life they’d led up to this point, has the capability to distinguish right from wrong. And Froi chose wrong, yet was never really reprimanded for it throughout the book. On the contrary, Marchetta even attempts to have the reader like him in the end. Like, no thanks. From what I’ve heard, he’s a precious little cinnamon roll in the sequel, but… where are the morals?

To shed some positive light on Finnikin of the Rock again, the world-building came as a lovely surprise to me. While I feared I’d get another one of those flat, unoriginal fantasies, where every town looks the same as the next, after that dreadful beginning, it is visible how much effort Marchetta put into shaping distinct kingdoms with diverse people, customs, languages, and so on. As someone who likes to collect new languages (well, if I had more time), I was a great fan of how knowing other kingdoms’ languages was valued in this book.

“Never underestimate the value of knowing another’s language. It can be far more powerful than swords and arrows.”

Overall, Finnikin of the Rock impresses with fleshed out characters and well constructed world-building, but I cannot ignore the info-dump, the slow beginning with an utterly uneventful plot, and some moral issues. For me, Marchetta will remain the Goddess of contemporaries, but the first instalment in her fantasy series remains somewhat forgettable.