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.
Finnikin grew up with royalty. His childhood companions were the prince and princesses of Lumatere, their noble cousins were his partners in crime. Finnikin’s father was Captain Trevanion, head of the King’s guard and close personal friend of the royal family. Finnikin’s beloved stepmother, Lady Beatriss, was carer to Prince Balthazar and Princess Isaboe. Life in Lumatere was near perfect . . . until the five days of the unspeakable.
In those dark days the impostor king slaughtered the royal family and took Finnikin’s father and stepmother prisoner. Blood was awash in the Lumatere palace, and a blood curse placed on its inhabitants.
Finnikin’s father was deemed traitor and thrown to the dungeons, while Lady Beatriss was accused of treason and sentenced to death – along with her unborn babe.
Finnikin escaped, and for ten years he has travelled with his guardian, Sir Topher. They have trekked the stretch of Skuldenore, looking for a way to free Finnikin’s father and save Lumatere.
Ten years of searching – and now a mute novice girl called Evanjalin claims that she can walk the dreams of Lumatere captives, and prophesizes the return of Balthazar to the throne.
‘Finnikin of the Rock’ is the first book in Melina Marchetta’s fantasy series, the ‘Lumatere Chronicles’. The book was first released in 2008; to much critical acclaim which marked Marchetta’s transition from contemporary young adult literature, to the realm of epic fantasy. In anticipation of the second book in the ‘Lumatere Chronicles’ series, to be released in October and called ‘Froi of the Exiles’, I have re-read ‘Finnikin’ and revisited Skuldenore.
I grew up with Marchetta’s books – I mourned John Barton with Josie, fell in love with the St. Sebastian boys and climbed a tree with Jonah Griggs. Marchetta’s novels mark my teenage transitions and have pride of place on my keeper shelf. Ms Marchetta is one author whom I trust, completely. And so, in 2008 when ‘Finnikin’ first came out I went into the book with arms and imagination wide open. . . and I was rewarded.
True, ‘Finnikin’ was a genre departure for Marchetta, who in the past favoured the dynamics of private schools, the socio-economic microcosm of the suburbs and the landscape of tight-knit family. ‘Finnikin’ is fantasy – set in an imagined land with a ruined kingdom and epic mythology. But, this is still a Marchetta book – and despite the creation of Skuldenore and a trek for a Kingdom’s freedom, ‘Finnikin of the Rock’ is a beautiful book for having a focus on connection.
All those worried readers who didn’t want to venture so far outside of Marchetta’s genre should be reassured – ‘Finnikin’ stays true to what Marchetta is best at. At its heart, the book is about people, and the myriad of storylines woven throughout the saga are firmly tethered to the characters.
Finnikin was a boy who lost his home and his family. Now, he is a man searching for his father and his place in uncertain times. Evanjalin is a girl with a secret, drawn to Finnikin’s fierce loyalty and determination and powered by her own sense of justice. Sir Topher has become surrogate father to his friend’s son, and developed a strong bond with his pupil in the ten years that they have lived wandering. Trevanion lost everything in the days of the unspeakable – the woman he loved, the babe he never had a chance to hold and the son he couldn’t protect.
All of these characters are searching for home – another constant in Marchetta’s books – the sense of belonging and being bigger than the sum of your parts. Josie was reluctant to take her place amidst her large ‘wog’ family, held back by a family curse and secret. Francesca’s family had to rebuild itself in the wake of her mother’s downward spiral, all while being lost at sea in a school that didn’t want her. Taylor needed to understand her past, to carve a place for herself in the present. Likewise, Finnikin and his weary travellers are searching for home, literally – the home that was ripped away from them by an impostor king.
Re-reading ‘Finnikin’, I find myself bringing a new maturity to the novel. Perhaps it is because I am a slightly older reader now, or perhaps it’s a reflection of current affairs – but I couldn’t help connecting the Lumatere people’s exile to that of the ever-present ‘boat people’ debate in Australia, and the case for refugees seeking asylum on our shores.
The Lumatere people were scattered across Skuldenore in the wake of their kingdom’s fall – and as Finnikin and Evanjalin seek their countrymen and women, they see the mistreatment they have suffered for being ‘exiles’ and unwanted. They are persecuted and herded wherever they go, left to be ravaged by plague and fever, turned away from every other kingdom’s doorstep. This is certainly a subtle reflection of our times – in the wake of Australia’s ‘Pacific Solution’, and now the abysmal ‘Malaysia Solution’. Whoever says fantasy is a complete departure from reality need only look as far as Marchetta’s cunning commentary on the Lumatere people’s exile to see connecting threads to the current political climate. . .
He felt her stare but did not turn and look. Did not want those eyes reaching into him.
‘So you are destined to spend the rest of your life scouring this land? Who are you, to deserve such a curse?’ she asked.
One who has an evil lurking inside of me, he wanted to say. An evil that Seranonna of the Forest Dwellers recognised that day in the forest as he played alongside Isaboe.
Her blood will be shed for you to be king.
‘What is it you want, Finnikin?’ Evanjalin persisted.
‘I want to be left alone to do what we’ve always done,’ he said vehemently. I want to go searching for my father, he longed to shout.
‘And what is that? Wandering the empire? Collecting names of the dead? Where would you like me to leave you, Finnikin?’
In the numb peace we lived with before you came into our lives.
I am also re-reading ‘Finnikin’ in the wake of ‘The Piper’s Son’ – Marchetta’s stunning novel about Tom Mackee, a favourite St. Sebastian boy from ‘Saving Francesca’. With Tom still fresh in my mind, I saw a definite influence between Georgia and Sam’s awkward relationship, and Trevanion and Beatriss’s equally complex devotion. Both of these couples are learning to love in the wake of heartache – for Georgie it was a betrayal of the deepest order. For Beatriss and Trevanion, it is ten years of brutality and twisted fate. I loved Trevanion and Beatriss’s story even more the second time around, and I sincerely hope that they have a large re-appearance in ‘Froi of the Exiles’.
Speaking of Froi, I paid much closer attention to Evanjalin’s Sarnak thief this second time around . . .
‘His name is Froi,’ Evanjalin said.
The thief grunted.
‘It’s boy,’ Finnikin argued. ‘It’s just that his lip is split and it sounded like Froi.’
‘Everyone has a name, Finnikin. You can’t just be called boy. His name is Froi.’ The thief from Sarnak opened his mouth to speak, but Evanjalin raised a finger to silence him.
Marchetta offers us few snatches from Froi’s perspective in this first book, but what is there is powerful. Like Froi seeing Evanjalin and Finnikin’s reunion after a near-death experience, and interpreting their clear affection through his jaded eyes. Froi definitely leapt off the page in Finnikin’s book, and hinted that he was protagonist material. He is a beggar child and a thief, from a brutal background who did awful things in ‘Finnikin’ – but at one point also begged to be killed. He will be a formidable and, I think, uncomfortable narrator – and I can’t wait for his book.
‘Finnikin of the Rock’ is an incredible fantasy novel swinging between bloody violence and great romance. It is a book that showcases the best of Melina Marchetta – her preoccupation with home and connection, fitting in and finding our place in the world. But it is also a novel of dark complexity and brutality, exploring current political climates through the exile of a fantasy kingdom and their harsh treatment by those who should offer shelter. I loved revisiting Skuldenore by re-reading ‘Finnikin of the Rock’, and trekking with the Lumatere people back to their rightful home. Now I can’t wait for ‘Froi of the Exiles’, and after that ‘Quintana of Charyn’.
'Froi of the Exiles' will be released on October 3rd 2011