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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

'Froi of the Exiles' Lumatere Chronicles #2 by Melina Marchetta

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

Blood sings to blood, Froi . . .
Those born last will make the first . . .
For Charyn will be barren no more.

Three years after the curse on Lumatere was lifted, Froi has found his home - or so he believes.

Fiercely loyal to the Queen and Finnikin, Froi has been trained roughly and lovingly by the Guard sworn to protect the royal family, and has learned to control his quick temper. But when he is sent on a secretive mission to the kingdom of Charyn, nothing could have prepared him for what he finds. Here he encounters a damaged people who are not who they seem, and must unravel both the dark bonds of kinship and the mysteries of a half-mad Princess.

And in this barren and mysterious place, he will discover that there is a song sleeping in his blood, and though Froi would rather not, the time has come to listen.

Five days of the unspeakable.

Ten years in exile.

Three years later…

Queen Isaboe of Lumatere is a great and benevolent ruler. Together with her King consort, Finnikin, they have been watching their once displaced people grow and prosper and learn to live in peace once more.

But a faraway kingdom with a brutal King recluse and mad Princess could threaten everything Isaboe and Finnikin have worked for … especially their growing family.

Froi is a most loyal (but rarely humble) servant to his king and queen. Trained by the Guard, under the tutelage of Finnikin’s father Trevanion, he has become a brutal killer and a natural assassin. So when an opportunity presents itself to send a decoy into the Charynite kingdom, Isaboe orders Froi to do what he has been trained these past three years … get in, kill the King and leave no trace back to Lumatere.

Under the guise of lastborn Olivier, Froi enters the kingdom where the Charynites believe he has come to bed the Princess until a seed is planted and their childless curse is broken.

But it is in the Charyn cliff kingdom that Froi encounters many mysterious players with twisted hearts and hidden agendas.

There is the mad Princess, Quintana, who speaks in multiples and is fated to break her kingdom’s barren curse.

Lirah is the King’s Serker whore and Quintana’s mother – locked in the tower all-alone, her daughter calls to her from the windowsill.

The doomed twins Gargarin and Arjuro – one a godstouched disgraced Priestling, and the other a respected intellectual, coveted by many noblemen to sit at their court. Between these two brothers is a secret so vast, it could make or break a kingdom. . .

‘Froi of the Exiles’ is the second book in Melina Marchetta’s fantasy series, the ‘Lumatere Chronicles’.

This has got to be one of the most anticipated Australian novels of the year. Fans have been chomping at the bit for this second instalment since 2008, when ‘Finnikin of the Rock’ was first released and readers travelled across Skuldenore with a band of Lumatere exiles searching for home. It has been a long wait for readers. When we left them, Finnikin and Isaboe were beginning the task of reforming a displaced kingdom, and assuming their roles as ruler and consort. When we revisit them in ‘Froi’, it has been three years and much has changed.

Lumatere is trying to recover funds from their land and make money from dead soil. They are, begrudgingly, sharing their valleys with Charyn refugees and Isaboe is in the process of peace-making with those kingdoms who so cold-heartedly turned her people away in their exile. But most importantly, Finnikin and Isaboe have a two-year-old daughter called Jasmina. Their growing family gives Isaboe the impetus to instigate an assassination plan and send her loyal Froi to Charyn, to execute their king and secure her family’s safety. . .

‘Is it true that she’s mad?’ Froi asked.
The grimace was back on Gargarin’s face. ‘True enough,’ he responded. ‘But if you should believe anything, believe that everyone is out to kill her, Olivier. Her only delusion is the belief that she’ll break the curse.’
‘Then why am I here if everyone believes that she’s delusional about last and firstborns?’
‘Because the King doesn’t believe she’s delusional. Because the King is frightened by his own child and is convinced that she’s mad. When a mad Princess whose birth cursed a kingdom states that the gods have spoken, the King takes heed of her words.’

But when Froi arrives in Charyn, at their kingdom on the cliffs, he becomes caught up in palace lies and the Charynite’s futureless future. Under the alias of lastborn Olivier, Froi must spend time with the mad Charyn princess – the girl who does not speak of herself as an ‘I’ but a ‘we’, and who has been subjected to countless couplings with lastborn men to try and break her kingdom’s childless curse. She is a mad and feral princess, motherless and scorned by her people for her constant barrenness.

But Froi is intrigued by Quintana, the mad royal. She has suffered greatly in her life, but does not seem a victim. She lives in her cluttered, hazy mind – far away from the cold Charyn kingdom where her worth lies between her legs. A promise to Queen Isaboe means that Froi will not share Quintana’s bed without her wanting – and he finds that he desires nothing more than to be welcomed into this feral royal’s bed.

Meanwhile in Lumatere, people are still assimilating to life after exile. Those who were stuck in the Lumatere kingdom and those who were left to wander outside its walls . . . the adjustment period is especially difficult since Charyn refugees have taken to the Mont’s valleys since the curse was broken. Now the Lumatere residents are forced to live across the river from the same people who abused them during their cursed time. There is unease in the air, and violence on the verge.

Tesadora turned her attention back to the old man before her.
‘Give him a blanket, Japhra,’ she said quietly. Japhra placed a blanket around the man’s shoulders and he walked away.
‘Do you give everyone a blanket?’ Lucian asked, watching as Japhra had to almost drag the next woman to Tesadora.
‘Just those who are dying,’ Japhra said, when it was obvious that Tesadora had already dismissed him.
Lucian was livid. ‘If he’s contagious he can’t stay in the valley,’ he hissed.
Tesadora’s stare was hard. ‘The only thing contagious around here at the moment, Lucian, is fear and ignorance. The Charynites are afflicted with one and the Monts with the other.’

‘Froi of the Exiles’ brings readers to the middle of Marchetta’s ‘Lumatere Chronicles’. The page-count has grown along with Marchetta’s universe. ‘Finnikin’ was 399-pages long . . . whereas ‘Froi of the Exiles’ is a 593-page mammoth book to get lost in. This series is epic fantasy, not unlike George R.R. Martin’s ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’. With ‘Froi’, readers find themselves in the thick of the story – trekking through Marchetta’s expansive universe and tangled in the aftermath of death and exile. Readers should be warned that, whereas ‘Finnikin’ left readers with satisfying open-endedness , ‘Froi of the Exiles’ is all about Marchetta walking readers to the edge of a cliff and preparing us for the inevitable fall . . .

I love, love, loved this book. I have been desperate for the continuation of the Lumatere story since 2008, and re-reading ‘Finnikin of the Rock’ last month just whet my appetite to drooling-proportions. I had high expectations for ‘Froi of the Exiles’, and it should come as no surprise to anyone that Melina Marchetta met, and exceeded, those expectations.

The main story in this book is, obviously, Froi’s. Froi was the wretched street urchin we met in ‘Finnikin of the Rock’ – feral and brutal, he tried to rape Isaboe and at one point begged Finnikin to kill him. He was always bound to be a wonderful protagonist – a man of many shades. And three years since his first introduction and Froi is still utterly compelling – vicious but loyal, cheeky and cruel. His and Quintana’s story is epic romance, and at times unsettling to read. ‘Froi’ is a more violent book than ‘Finnikin’, in my opinion. What the Princess Quintana has been subjected to is gut-wrenchingly awful. She has been abused throughout her young life, indeed from the moment she started bleeding she was being bedded to break a barren curse. It’s a sad character history . . . and for that reason, Froi treads lightly. But when he breaks through Quintana’s shields and armour, theirs is an epic and beautiful romance to rival that of even Finnikin and Isaboe.

There are more side-stories and intersecting plots being told in ‘Froi’. A returning story is that of Queen’s guard and Finnikin’s father, Trevanion, and his tortuous rekindled love with the Lady Beatriss . . . the woman he thought dead these past ten years. When we left them in ‘Finnikin’, Trevanion was coming to terms with the fact that Beatriss had become a mother in the ten years of exile – raped by the guard’s of the impostor king, and subjected to violence and torture, simply because she was Trevanion’s wife. Trevanion spent his ten years of exile in a dungeon, not knowing that Beatriss was alive. But when the two faced one another again, after so long and so much heartbreak, it was a sad case of love not necessarily conquering all. Instead, love takes time to heal. And in ‘Froi’ the past continues to haunt Trevanion and Beatriss. . . I am so glad these two are still a focus for Marchetta! I got especially caught up in their story upon my re-reading ‘Finnikin of the Rock’. It’s so heartbreaking and tragic, but with plenty of room for redemption and romance.

The other side-story is that of Isaboe’s cousin, Lucian, and his Charyn wife, Phaedra. Theirs was an arranged marriage; a way by which to mend the past and move on from the Charynite’s cruel treatment of the Mont people all those years ago. This is setting up to be the other big romance of the series, and I do wonder if Lucian will get his own book? I love this couple, almost as much as Beatriss and Trevanion. Phaedra is subject to her husband’s keen dislike of her people, and he is not afraid to admit that he married her out of obligation and nothing more. Lucian, meanwhile, is unbelievably lonely and self-doubting since taking over the care of his people. He hates the Charyn and despises his wife. But as they spend more time together, and work to learn the other’s ways, a romance blossoms.

One of my favourite things about ‘Froi of the Exiles’ was the Charyn city setting. Marchetta said that she got the physical lay of this land from villages and castles in Turkey, Italy and Wales. She has envisioned this place beautifully – so it felt like I was really jumping between balconies with Froi, and I could feel the cold stone of the dark cliff-face rooms. Setting is so important in this series, as all the characters are looking for home whether because they were exiled from the physical place, or never knew the people of their blood. Melina Marchetta articulates place and setting beautifully, and Charyn is a testament to her landscape prose.

Readers have been anticipating ‘Froi of the Exiles’ ever since we left Finnikin and Isaboe to their recovered kingdom back in 2008. This second outing is sure to please fans, while also leave them panting for more. In ‘Froi’, Marchetta is pushing readers off a cliff, sending us hurtling and plummeting towards book #3, ‘Quintana of the Charyn’ which is due for release in 2012. And I, personally, cannot wait for that fall.


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