Hardcover, 508 pages
Published February 9th 2010 by Candlewick Press
I have a curious history with Finnikin of the Rock. Back when I was still a teenager, back before I became as prolific a reader as I am today, not very many afters I had come to Canada, I asked my sister in law to take me to Burnaby Public Library because their collection of YA novels was far superior to the library near my house. I frequented that library for a number of years and every time I would walk past Finnikin of the Rock without feeling the least desire to pick it up.
I would look at the cover, wrinkle my nose, and move on. I have no idea why. I hadn’t even read the back but for some reason I had decided that the book wasn’t for me. At that point, I hadn’t read anything by Melina Marchetta and perhaps had I done so, I would have read this one far earlier than I did.
But ultimately I am glad that I didn’t pick it up then because I lacked the emotional maturity to fully enjoy this book. Yes, I understand that the book is categorized as YA which is what I was then but I think that adults will enjoy this book a lot more simply because it is so incredibly complex and multilayered.
If you have never read anything by Melina Marchetta, you probably don’t know that she gives the same treatment to the adults in her children’s books as the YAs get. What I mean by this admittedly cryptic statement is that all characters in her novels are treated as unique individuals with backstories, dreams, motivations, and voices. No one is stereotyped or trivialized.
Marchetta’s realistic/contemporary novels are, I feel, better known and for ages I wondered how she would hand the high fantasy genre. I was a bit apprehensive because she reigns in one of the top positions of my best writers list and I didn’t want her to fall from that pedestal. I needn’t have worried though because Finnikin of the Rock…well, what can I say?
The book made me laugh, cry, scream, and everything in between. The idea of reviewing the book feels a bit silly to me because I honestly cannot imagine distilling the experience of it to a couple hundred words. So, let me talk in general, in bites, of the things I really liked and maybe if you like the things, you will read the book too.
The book deals first and foremost with people who have lost their homeland. Some political terror followed by a magical curse have driven a large number of Lumaterans out from Lumatere and now they live in what are essentially concentration camps, entirely at mercy of the kings in whose lands they are trying to find refuge. In real world speak, this would be a story about a Syrian boy trying to find a way to gather his people and return to Syria. It’s a bit surprising when you think about how pertinent this book is right now.
Anyway, Finnikin’s father was the captain of the soldiers and loyal to the slain king of Lumatere. He has been imprisoned somewhere for his refusal to accept the traitor as his king not that it matters since Lumatere is now inaccessible. Finnikin and his mentor travel the lands, visiting the camps their people are in, trying to petition various kings for small parcels of land the displaced Lumaterans can call their own. One day they get a message that a nun is waiting for them at a monastery. There they find Evanjalin.
The novel subverts expectations constantly and the plot moves in unpredictable ways. Just when you think you have a character figured out, they will show a different facet of themselves which will make you rethink everything. Finnikin and Evanjalin are wonderful protagonists whose struggles against their own selves and each other move the story forward in strange and wonderful ways.
Since the book is high fantasy, certain tropes are followed but what sets the novel apart from the legions of others in the same genre is the authenticity of the emotions evinced by the characters in the book. There is a cleanliness to the emotions, an absence of melodrama and romanticism, that makes the book so memorable.
Finnikin’s relationship with his father whom he finds in a prison underground is just as intriguing as his father’s relationship to the soldiers he commanded years ago. The unexpected humour and the ever-present heart in and of this novel makes it one not to miss.
Obviously this is the first one in a trilogy but it can be read as a standalone. If you like high fantasy and good writing, you should most certainly try this one.
“Because without our language, we have lost ourselves. Who are we without our words?”