I'm a HUGE fan of fantasy, always have been. Dragons, yes. Fairies, bring it. Strange new worlds, love it. But lately I've seen a trend in the fantasy books I read of gritty, realistic, political, and emotional stories that, even though they don't have the typical magical elements I usually look for in fantasies, are still highly enjoyable. I'm talking about books like A Game of Thrones, The False Prince, and this book, Finnikin of the Rock. While I had some qualms when reading this (no book is ever perfect), I was blown away by the realistic interpretation of what it meant to be a nation of refugees, something I hadn't read about in a fantasy book before.
The Lumaterans have been expelled from their ancestral lands because of a curse after allowing an illegitimate ruler to ascend to the throne and cause a massacre. While there are various political machinations at work, what really shone for me was the portrayal of asylum-seekers in Finnikin of the Rock. I drew a lot of parallels while reading this book (I started actually about a month ago and slowly worked my way through it) with my experience in Greece, which has a lot of refugees and displaced people. Melina Marchetta definitely ramps it up a lot, but that definite sense of displacement and hopelessness is extremely prevalent and realistic from what I encountered in Athens.
Finnikin, working for the previous king's First Man, is an emissary for the Lumaterans among the nations that they are forced to reside in. Some of these nations are benevolent and generous, others are cruel and deadly hosts. He writes down the experiences of these peoples in The Book of Lumatere. This act of giving a voice to the voiceless is of such importance in my field of study (anthropology), so I found this aspect of Finnkin's character to be particularly compelling (while other aspects were not so compelling).
Melina is also not afraid to reject stereotypical character tropes. Evanjalin is the most conniving, ruthless, and strong out of the men she encounters. She calls out the other characters for their behaviour (especially Finnikin), and lies and schemes in order to obtain her goals, which she remains mysterious about for much of the book. I loved seeing a female character like this, totally dominating yet being herself. You can never tell if she's the good guy or the bad guy, and her brokenness is such breath of fresh air in YA fiction. Finnikin on the other hand is often lost, confused, arrogant, generous, and frankly, sometimes a complete a-hole. He grows, but at the end of the story, he isn't the perfect man, or even the perfect hero. I loved him for that, and I loved Melina for making him like that.
The worldbuilding in particular was fantastic. I enjoyed learning about the different kinds of people living in the small kingdom of Lumatere, and their statuses after their expulsion. They all had their own subcultures and stereotypes of one another, but these differences marked their closeness as a large extended family rather than a kingdom. The other kingdoms were interesting to explore with the characters as they were forced to deal politically and violently with other countries and their military. Each of the countries had their own policy in treating the Lumaterans as well.
I had a few difficulties really understanding what was going on at points, however. There are descriptions where the author explains something so vaguely in terms of the characters' feelings, or leaves things up to interpretation that I really would like to completely know, that I was often lost. Even at some points I would ask myself, what is going on?! But even this in itself was an interesting tool to really lose yourself in the characters' mindset. Instead of telling the reader how confused the protagonist is, Melina makes the reader as confused! So while this often worked, sometimes I just got really frustrated with not knowing at times what I was supposed to take away from a story, or a conversation, or even an action scene.
I also felt kind of aimless in this type of confusion. It wasn't a streamlined plot, but rather twists and turns as new events happen, new characters are introduced, plans are rejected, or truths are discovered. I think that's why it took me so long to get through this book (despite the length), because there wasn't as much as a driving force. Lastly, I'm kind of at odds with the ending. I can't figure out if I loved it, or if I'm just meh.
Usually I write this much either because I really dislike a book or if I absolutely love it. This time, I really liked it, but it wasn't quite at the level of "one of my favourite books of all time." If you love realistic and emotional fantasies that don't shy away from everyday or gory details (everything from menstruation to the plague...oh wait, isn't that the same thing?), then definitely pick up this book!show more