Tuesday, April 3, 2012

"Froi of the Exiles" by Melina Marchetta

Though I had some concerns with the first book in this series, Finnikin of the Rock, I enjoyed the character and relationship building enough to quickly request the sequel, Froi of the Exiles, when I saw it available on NetGalley. Froi puts the reader back into the land of Lumatere; Queen Isaboe now reigns with her consort, Finnikin, and they are trying to restore the land and people of Lumatere after the ten-year curse and exile. Froi, the savage boy they picked up in the last book, has sworn himself to the service of Queen Isaboe and has been training in fighting. Froi is recruited to travel to the land of Charyn, the country that had invaded Lumatere, in order to assassinate the king. Once in Charyn, he meets the damaged and wild princess, the object of a prophecy: she is the last born child in Charyn, and the country will have no children until she produces an heir with another last born child.

The above summary only begins to cover the story lines running throughout Froi of the Exiles. Although that's fairly standard for fantasy (Game of Thrones is no less bursting with characters and secrets), I also found it rather confusing, especially in the beginning.  I had a hard time keeping track of the characters and their allegiances, and so many secrets are revealed throughout the course of the book that it was difficult to remember what the truth was.

Froi is often an unlikable character in Finnikin of the Rock, and though he's obviously more sympathetic here as our primary protagonist, I like that Marchetta has still kept some of his dark side. He has a temper and is quick with bitter words; he holds a grudge and feels love and betrayal with equal passion. He's paired well with the mad princess Quintana, a young woman who has been whored to her country in hopes of producing a child and who lives with multiple selves inside of her. Because of their pasts, their relationship can't have quite the romance that Finnikin and Isaboe had (though theirs was also touched by horror), and the two can clearly have no happy ending.

In my review of Finnikin of the Rock, I discussed the pervasive presence of rape in the novel and the way in which it is used as a tool of war. I was concerned that the book seemed to focus more on rape's effects on men (when used against their loved ones) than the women. Rape is similarly present in Froi of the Exiles, though I could see why a little clearer. In some ways, Froi presents a dystopian society, exploring what happens--to the men and to the women--when women are used as tools of tyranny and destruction. Through characters such as Beatriss, Lirah, and Quintana, the reader sees different points of view. Beatriss feels shame for feeling relief that her rape was better than the alternatives; Lirah feels anger and fury at having been used as the king's whore; and Quintana has broken into a wild animal, a cold "ice princess," and a mimicking fool in an attempt to stay together.

Despite their tragic backstories, I couldn't feel for the characters quite as strongly as I did in Finnkin, perhaps because there are more of them and because I had a hard time keeping everything straight. Nonetheless, Marchetta has created an intense fantasy world. Though the story is young adult, it's very dark and sometimes graphic, and it wouldn't be right for all readers. But, the book ends on a huge cliffhanger, and I'll certainly read the third in the series.

E-galley received by the publisher through Net Galley for my review. 

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