Thursday, March 4, 2010

"Finnikin of the Rock" by Melina Marchetta

Summary: Lumatere was once a thriving kingdom, but for the past ten years, half of its population has lived in exile while the other half is trapped inside the magically imprisoned kingdom.  The Lumaterans rarely discuss what caused such tragedy--the five days of the unspeakable, in which the king, queen, and their children were murdered and an imposter king took over.  Since then, Finnikin, the son of the King's Guard, has been traveling with his mentor, trying to assist the Lumateran exiles.  But one day Finnikin is called to claim a Lumateran girl from a cloister.  The girl, Evanjalin, says she can lead Finnikin to the missing prince-king and return the people back into Lumatere.  However, Finnikin is unsure if Lumatere can ever be restored again.

Musings: Finnikin of the Rock leans traditional/high fantasy, which is usually not my genre.  In fact, in the first few pages when I was hit with a slew of generic fantasy names, I was a bit turned off, but I'm glad I stuck it through.  In the end, I really enjoyed the book, especially the first two-thirds or so, and the characters within it.

There's a lot going on the world Marchetta has created, but it's easy to focus on the lives of Finnikin and Evanjalin as they push and pull against each other, each trying to do what he/she thinks is best for the kingdom.  Much like I felt with Fire and Graceling, I enjoyed the novel most when it could focus on their relationship rather than on broad politics.  I'm always a sucker for a pining relationship, and I fell completely for this one.

I did became annoyed toward the end of the book as Marchetta needlessly prolonged the expected romantic union for a good seventy pages or so.  And, in fact, when said romantic union did occur, I was a somewhat disappointed.  The relationship had been built in both sweet moments and devotion in the hardest times, and the final acceptance of the relationship was a little too frivolous.

I also felt conflicted over the book's treatment of women.  At the time of the novel, Lumatere worships two goddess, Lagrami (light) and Sagrami (dark).  The goddesses were once worshiped as one, but Evanjalin says men feared the power of a female goddess and thus broke the worship in two in order to minimize female power.  That commentary and others on the way in which men can fear and seek to dominate women were interesting.  At the same time, there was an extraordinary emphasis on rape, which I had trouble with.  I found it disquieting, and I'm not quite sure why; certainly rape would happen in the world Marchetta created, but I also felt like rape was mostly discussed in the way in which it hurt men--the fathers, for example, who would kill their daughters rather than let them be raped.  On another vein, at one point in the novel, the travelers stop and Finnikin has a brief guilt-free romp with a prostitute.  While rape is certainly different than prostitution, given the description of the poverty and forced servitude of the time, it's hard to believe the prostitutes are in the profession out of a happy freely made choice.  The lack of acknowledgment of that while frequently speaking of the horrors of rape bothered me.  Some of these problems may have arisen out of the lack of female characters; through most of the story, Evanjalin is the only female voice.

Finnikin of the Rock definitely comes at the adult end of the young adult spectrum, as often its tone (and sometimes content) seemed geared more toward an adult audience.  I don't think the book would be inappropriate for younger audiences, but I was a little surprised by the designation.

Despite my problems with some aspects of the book, I was truly drawn into the story and felt emotionally attached to the characters.  I know this is Marchetta's first fantasy novel, so I'm interested in reading some of her other fiction.

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