Review: Finnikin of the Rock

Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta. Candlewick. 2010. Gift.

The Plot: When Finnikin was nine, the world as he knew it ended. The royal family of Lumatere, murdered; his father, the head of the King’s Guard, jailed; chaos, murder, betrayal, and curses resulted in half of the kingdom of Lumatere in exile and half trapped in the kingdom itself.

For ten years, Finnikin has dedicated himself to the exiles of Lumatere. He sees his people struggle in refuge camps, forgetting their language, struck down by disease, homeless, murdered.

A whisper of a rumor is heard: one of the royal family survived. Prince Balthazar, Finnikin’s childhood friend. There have been rumors before, of course, of Balthazar’s escape, because his body wasn’t found after the slaughter of his sisters and parents. Evanjalin, another teenage refugee, has the gift of walking through other’s sleep. She can find Balthazar, she is certain, she can find the lost heir, lead him to the gates of Lumatere, break the curse that traps half their people outside the kingdom, half inside. All she needs is Finnikin, and for him to trust her. In ten years of exile, Finnikin has learned to trust only himself. Together, can they save their people?

The Good: I love this book so much that I stayed up till four in the morning reading it.

I love this book so much that I am now torn between two book boyfriends (Eugenides and Finnikin), feeling like a fool, loving them both is breaking all the rules.

The reader is thrust into Finnikin’s world, and it takes a while to find one’s footing. To understand what has happened in Lumatere, to comprehend the horror of exile, to appreciate what Finnikin has sacrificed and accomplished in ten years. The reader is playing catch up in Finnikin’s world — much as the exiles have done and continue to do so, in the world outside of Lumatere.

The exiles; their experiences are as varied as the people. Finnikin was apprenticed to Sir Topher, loyal to Lumatere and to Finnikin’s father, Trevanion. Sir Topher is driven to take care of the exiles, find a solution, and to educate Finnikin. Ironically, had Finnikin remained in Lumatere, Finnikin would have been raised to be his father’s son: a member of the King’s Guard. Raised outside the kingdom walls, Finnikin has been given an almost royal education, in languages, politics, and fighting styles beyond that of his native country. He is caught up, heart and soul, in Sir Topher’s mission to care for the people.

Finnikin had given up hope of returning to Lumatere, focusing instead on life outside. Better to deal with the reality of today than waste time dreaming of home. With the appearance of Evanjalin, hope appears. Evanjalin, an exile, has survived the worst of exile life: massacre and slavery. Yet she still has hope. She still has faith. She believes. Evanjalin wants Finnikin to have hope. She doesn’t defer to Finnikin; she challenges him, she ignores him, she pushes him.

Marchetta has created a complex and often dark world. The stakes are high; people are tortured, raped, murdered. The worst happens. It isn’t sugarcoated and light. It is harsh and brutal. And yet — love survives, and life, and happiness, and even hope. It isn’t easy. But then, life isn’t. The worst happens and the world doesn’t end. People go on.

I love, love, love Finnikin. I love him because he is a true, good, person, stronger and better than he may realize. I love, love, love Evanjalin because she is driven and has a mission and, like Finnikin, is a true, good, person. And I love, love, love how Finnikin and Evanjalin begin to see each other as friends and then something more. And I love, love, love Finnkin of the Rock because it is about these two wonderful people.

What else? There is adventure! One cannot simply go up to the gates and say “go away curse! open up!”. And once the gates are open, what then? People are needed. An army is needed. What Finnikin has to do to put all the pieces in place…. fights and battles and escapes. There are politics aplenty, from who killed the royal family and why to how the sudden loss of one kingdom impacts the other kingdoms in this land. There is also a haunting picture of the immigrant experience, as we see how unwelcome the exiles are made.

Finnikin of the Rock is a standalone book. Marchetta’s universe and supporting cast of characters is so engaging that I’m left wanting more. Lucky for me, and you, Marchetta is working on a sequel!

Part of the joy of today’s young adult fiction is that many of the titles can be enjoyed by adults. Finnikin is nineteen, and any reader will enjoy the story of restoring a kingdom.

Is this a Favorite Book Read in 2010? YES!!!!! I so adore Finnikin, and his relationship with Evanjalin, and Evanjalin’s strength. I love that I feel as if I knew Lumatere, knew the hills and mountains. And I love that cried for the last fifty pages of the book.

Oh, before I forget, the two covers. The top one is the US edition; the bottom, the UK edition. Which do you like better?

21 thoughts on “Review: Finnikin of the Rock

  1. I loved Finnikin of the Rock. Its crazy good on so many levels. Its one of my favorites this year. I like the US edition better. The colors work well togethe. It has a stronger more focused look.

    In the UK edition Finnikin’s face is a competing with the title of the book and trees to be seen. Also there’s the sun in the back. Its a little to busy for me.


  2. I think I might be the only person who didn’t love Finnikin. It was either because there has been SO much hype, or because I read it right after A Conspiracy of Kings. Or both. I might have to revisit it later and see if anything changes my first impression of “eh.”


  3. Oh, I ADORED Finnikin. It was such an ultimately satisfying book. Dark, yes. But brilliant.

    And I agree with Doret: the US version is much simpler and grabs your attention. (And it’s such a pretty sword.)


  4. Liz, I also love love love ‘Finniken of the Rock’. My previous exposure to Marchetta was ‘On the Jellicoe Road’ so I was in no way prepared for such a well constructed fantasy (and my fantasy standards are HIGH). It is brilliant. Now, I just have to get the Ocean County Librarians to read it so we can vote it our Mock Printz winner, because it has my support!


  5. DogEar, I clicked over here from my reader HOPING to see a comment like yours. I must have been the only decently-read person in the world not to be all that impressed with Jellicoe Road, so I was curious about this one because it’s so different. So, I don’t have to be a previous Marchetta fan to enjoy this one? It does seem more up my alley…


  6. rockinlibrarian: While I do see the merits of “On the Jelicoe Road,” I definitely wasn’t falling all over myself about it. There were some rather poorly structured sentences and I didn’t even get into the plot until more than half-way through (but I force myself to read the Printz winners). Finniken, though, rocked my world 🙂 (btw: I couldn’t get into ‘Saving Francesca’ by Marchetta either!)


  7. Doret, I think I need to add a “crazy good” tag!

    Jess, I can see how reading two similar books could impact the reading experience. Gen & Finnikin have some similarties in that both have hidden aspects, but I think with Finnikin it’s more a gradual reveal than deliberate; it’s more Finnikin realizing he has been a leader all along.

    Melissa, it is a pretty sword!

    Michelle, ha! Keep in mind its a favorite list, not necessarily “best” or “most literary.”

    Dog Ear, when I first began reading Jellicoe I thought it was a fantasy. Back to Finnikin — the world building and how it’s conveyed, and the characterization, and wow, now I want to go reread it. I admit I had a bit of a hard time getting into it, I hope you can convince the others at OCL to read it and consider it. Did you hear about the sequel?

    rockinlibrarian, this fantasy is so different than Marchetta’s previous contemporary fiction (tho arguably Jellicoe is magical fantasy). I’d be interested to hear what you think.


  8. Just clicked over here while reading you great review of THE KNEEBONE BOY. I posted a review of FINNIKIN the same day you did and COULD NOT STOP GUSHING about him. Yes! Book boyfriend!! He is such an amazing character, and Evanjalin. I especially loved how Marchetta created a mutually nurturing relationship between the two that was able to exist on equal footing, despite the fact that she was

    [spoilers!! spoilers!! spoiler space added by Liz B]
    the heir to the throne. In addition to all the other amazing aspects of humanity (and it’s depravities) that Marchetta throws into the novel, I was deeply impressed with the male/female relationships in the book. I gave it to my teenage daughter to read and, while she devoured and loved it, Finnikin didn’t create the same sort of swooning for her that Edward Cullen did, sadly. A much better “book boyfriend” by leaps and bounds. Thanks for the great review and the info on the SEQUEL!!!! Frio was definitely a compelling, complex character as well – as was Evanjalin’s care and love for him. CAN’T WAIT!!!


  9. It’s probably uncool to comment on reviews of your own novels, but I was a bit teary reading this. Especially that my biggest literary crush is Gen and most especially that I do respect the opinion of Ms Lizzy B.


  10. I love the UK cover, it’s gorgeous. Your review has converted me, but I would have picked it up for that cover alone. I’ve got the first hold on the copy my library is processing. Can’t wait! (And I’ll try not to have overly high expectations, since Gen is _my_ true love, and you’ve put Finnikin on equal footing . . .)


  11. Tanya, I can’t wait for the sequel & I so, so, so totally share your enthusiasm.

    Doreen, my TBR pile is so out of control, I may need to bring in a specialist. Do they have professionals to deal with overwhelming TBR piles?

    Melina, I’m not worthy!

    Kim, Gen is your true love?! He’s sitting right here next to me on the couch reassuring me he’s mine! All mine!


  12. Your blog is perhaps the appropriate place to mention my weird pop-culture problem with Finnikin.

    Rachael Ray has a dog named Isaboo. In her magazine, show, etc., she goes on and on about Isaboo, ad nauseam. So for me at least, the character’s name, Isaboe, was ill-chosen. I thought the character and place names struck a slightly sour note in what was otherwise a compelling novel.


  13. I purposely waited to read this review until I had already read the book and posted my own. I’m so glad you loved it too! And thanks to you, now I know there’s a sequel coming out! Bonus!!


  14. Laurie, meanwhile, I was reminded of the author Ysabeau Wilce. So I kept thinking of her. Which is a good thing, because I adore her Flora Segunda books and can. not. wait for the next one. “Love is all we Desire. Will is all that we must Do”

    Jen, that is so funny because I do the same thing — see a book mentioned and wait to read the review until after I’ve read it!


  15. Oh, look at that, I came back to reread the review/comments after reading the book, and I see that you said you’d be interested to hear what I think! so…

    thumbs up!

    Quite great. Not my favorite book of the year, but up on the “Definitely Enjoyed” list. I was thinking about how different it would have been if she had taken the same themes and written another realistic fiction novel, and how I probably would not have been even interested let alone liked it, and if that’s just one of the things that makes fantasy so great– it gives you that step back to really look at things, whereas if it had been about a real modern-day society you’d have to fight against the defense mechanism that says “I can’t read that, it’ll just make me feel hopeless about people I can’t help.” You read fantasy and the focus is on the HOPE instead.

    It’s funny, whenever I try to articulate some sort of justification for why I couldn’t LOOOVE Jellicoe Road, I say the believeability of what someone who’s 11 remembers (and doesn’t remember) about someone who’s important to her that she last saw when she was seven was just too big a hurdle for me to get around; so it struck me as funny that in this book there were ALSO people not recognizing people who had been important to them in childhood! Though luckily at least Finnikin seemed to be the only character actually struck with this stupidity in reality. Oh, and his dad. Maybe it’s genetic.


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