Review: Quintana of Charyn

Quintana of Charyn by Melina Marchetta, Candlewick Press, 2013. Reviewed from the Australia edition (Viking, an imprint of Penguin Group (Australia), 2012), a gift from a friend. will be published April 2013.

Background: This is the final of three books (and one short story) that make up the The Lumatere Chronicles. It began with Finnikin of the Rock (Candlewick Press, 2010); the second book was Froi of the Exiles (Candlewick Press, 2012). Finnikin is a standalone and creates the world and characters of Lumatere; Froi and Quintana combine to make one story told in two volumes. (A short story, Ferragost, takes place during the same time as the events in the beginning of Quintana). Because of the way the story unfolds, ideally Froi needs to be read before Quintana.

So, I’m doing spoilers from here on out for both Finnikin and Froi, under the assumption that if you’re interested in reading Quintana you have already both of those books. If you have not, go read my reviews of Finnikin and Froi; read those books; then come back.

About ten years before the events in Finnikin, the country of Lumatere was invaded, the royal family murdered, and the country cursed; half the population are trapped outside in exile, half trapped inside with an impostor king. Finnikin is the teenage son of the head of the royal guard, one of the many exiles. Finnikin, despite his youth, manages to bring together the shattered and fragmented exiles, along with the help of a young woman who has visions of the lost heir of Lumatere. Together, they manage to break the curse and recover their country.

Froi takes place a handful of years later; Finnikin is now married to the Queen of Lumatere. Together, they have been working to restore peace and prosperity to their land as well as heal the harm done to it by half of their population being exiles, and half trapped in a country with an evil, sadistic ruler. Froi was introduced in Finnikin as a young orphan, raised on the streets, who was befriended by Finnikin and Finnikin’s friends. Froi was angry, hurt, violent, suspicious, needy, distrustful, hurt. He manages to find a place with Finnikin and the others, in part because he represents the lost generation of Lumaterans.

The Queen of Lumatere, the sole survivor of the massacre, wants those who orchestrated the murder of her family punished. Their country isn’t strong enough to start a war; is recovering from the harm inflicted to it to such an extent that they cannot proceed by normal channels. Froi may now be trusted, but he still has a violent, ruthless streak from childhood. He is selected to go into Charyn and assassinate their King.

Massive spoilers, now, for what happens in Froi. So in case that all sounds good, full of adventure, fights, politics, and all the sorts of things that make a great fantasy, which, yes, it is, so you want to read, go now. I’m warning you. Spoilers.

The King of Charyn is a nasty piece of business, and his fellow countrymen are either a, as nasty as he is, b, have hidden themselves away from him, or c, are trying to survive. The Charynites are hardly the evil enemy Froi was expecting.  And, the King has a daughter, Quintana. Remember Lumatere’s curse? Well, Charyn has one, also. Following the birth of Quintana, every pregnant Charynite woman miscarried and none have been pregnant since. Those girls and boys born that last year before her birth are called “last-borns.” Prophecy states that the curse of no children will end when Quintana gets pregnant by a last-born. After she turned thirteen, forced coupling has taken place in the hopes of ending the curse. I KNOW. This is the weird, twisted world where Froi finds himself, impersonating a “last-born” Charyn in order to kill the king. Instead, Froi finds himself falling for Quintana: proud, hurt, intelligent, damaged Quintana. He finds himself connecting with other people in Charyn, people like himself in that they are good people put in impossible situations.

Froi ends with Froi discovering that his family’s roots lie in Charyn, the King is dead, political instability leads to violence and armed vigilantes, a pregnant Quintana escapes, and Froi is left for dead as he tries to save her.

That leads us to

The Plot: Quintana knows that she is only a piece in a game being fought over control over Charyn. The child she carries has value, as a future king and as the curse-breaker, but she herself? Can be gotten rid of as soon as that baby is born. Quintana realizes she has to “disappear” to save both the baby and herself, and she does.

Meanwhile, Froi is recovering from the wounds he sustained in assisting Quintana’s escape. He has no idea where she is and he is desperate to find her. He is also trying to keep his newly-discovered family safe and figuring out how, with all this going on, he can remain true and loyal to his Lumaterean friends and Charynite family.

The Good: So many hurt people! Froi, Quintana, and the family he discovers are all people who have been hurt by life. Froi is about those people who, when something terrible happens, instead of being broken, they try, each day, each moment, to not become the evil that was done to them. There is comfort going on, yes; but for a good part of this book Froi and Quintana are separated in part so that they can each become more of a whole person on their own. They both save each other, and save themselves, and the big question — after, will they be reunited? — is can they stay together? Should Quintana manage to survive (remember, there are people who want her dead as soon as her child is born), she still remains the daughter of the king of Charyn and mother of the heir. Should the “best” happen and the people of Charyn get their act together and put Quintana on the throne, she’ll need to marry for political purposes, and Froi as a former street teen turner soldier is hardly someone who can remain in her life once that happens.

Meanwhile, there is the Queen of Lumatere, Isaboe, and her husband, Finnikin, who are two of Froi’s friends who still think Froi is on a mission to kill a king and then come home. They have no idea that he is growing closer to the enemy each day; and frankly, Isaboe could care less if Quintana lives or dies because, well, Isaboe’s mother, father, brother, and sisters were all killed because of Quintana’s father.

I want to quickly mention there is a ton of action going on here, fights and battles and scheming, and also a lot of politics, because countries are made not just from battles won or lost but also from the people who have to govern after the violence and blood. There is also humor! Because these are real people, and real people can be funny, at times I laughed over things done or said. It is not all angst and feelings. I feel I need to mention these other things before repeating why I personally loved this book: the hurt, the anger, the damaged people who refuse to be shaped by their histories. This is not about revenge, but about reconciliation and peace and forgiveness that comes after blood has been spilled. It is forgiveness that happens because “forgiveness has to start somewhere.”

Here is a quote, said by one of the characters who should hate the world: “we could look at the side of wonder. Let’s look at the side of wonder as opposed to the disastrous.” Yes, an army is coming to kill you: but a son, a mother, and a father who were separated eighteen years before are now together. That togetherness, not the army, not the separation — look on that. See the wonder.

As I got to the end of Quintana, I began to worry — how was Marchetta going to pull this together? How was she going to give her cast of characters a happy, or at least hopeful, ending? Is it enough to look for the wonder?

All I can say is, I immediately reread it because I didn’t want to say good-bye to these people. And it’s a Favorite Book Read in 2013.

Other reviews: The Midnight Garden; The Mountains of Instead; Holes In My Brain; Dark Faerie Tales.

Teaser: Quintana of Charyn

Quintana of Charyn by Melina Marchetta (Candlewick Press, 2013) will be published April 2013. My full review will appear then; in the meanwhile, my tease — and tease it is — is I loved Quintana and loved this conclusion to the Lumatere series. You’ll be seeing this as a Favorite Books Read in 2013. Reviewed from the Australia Edition (Viking, an imprint of Penguin Group (Australia), 2012); gift from a friend.

The Lumatere Chronicles began with Finnikin of the Rock (Candlewick Press, 2010); the second book was Froi of the Exiles (Candlewick Press, 2012). Finnikin is a standalone and creates the world and characters of Lumatere; Froi and Quintana combine to make one story told in two volumes. (A short story, Ferragost, takes place during the same time as the events in the beginning of Quintana). If you haven’t read these yet, you have plenty of time before the final volume is published!

About ten years before the events in Finnikin, the country of Lumatere was invaded, the royal family murdered, and the country cursed; half the population are trapped outside in exile, half trapped inside with an impostor king. Finnikin is the teenage son of the head of the royal guard, one of the many exiles. There is a rumor that the royal prince survived the massacre, so Finnikin goes in search of him.

Froi takes place a handful of years later; Lumatere has been freed of its curse and Finnikin, with others, has been working to restore the country and bring it back to a place of prosperity as well as heal the deep wounds from the turmoil years before. Froi was an orphan, a child raised on the streets, found and taken in by Finnikin and the other Lumatereans. Intensely loyal to those in Lumatere, Froi is sent on a mission of revenge to secretly kill the King of Charyn, the man the Lumatereans believe orchestrated the invasion and murders of the royal family. Froi finds the King to be just as bad as everyone believes, but also finds that the Charynites are not all evil. He meets the king’s daughter, Quintana, a cursed young woman.

In Quintana, Froi and Quintana have been separated and Froi’s loyalties are torn between Lumatere and Charyn. Charyn is in turmoil.

Quintana, like Finnikin and Froi, is full of adventure and politics, intrigue and romance. It also addresses bigger questions of survival; of forgiveness; of reconciliation; of hope. It’s about the hard choices one has to make. I got to the end of Quintana and began reading it again, because I was not ready to leave this place and these people.

Review: Ferragost

Back in August, I blogged about Melina Marchetta’s short story, Ferragost, a companion to her Lumatere books. As Marchetta explained in a blog post, “Ferragost is a stand alone short story. If you are a reader of the Lumatere Chronicles, you’ll remember that Celie is the daughter of Lord August and Lady Abian and is best friends with the Queen of Lumatere.”

 I recently read Quintana of Charyn, Book Three of the Lumatere Chronicles (Viking, an imprint of Penguin Books Australia, 2012). Don’t worry, I won’t post my review until the American edition is released by Candlewick. But, while reading Quintana and thinking of that review, I decided to post a short review of the short story, Ferragost.

Ferragost is, of course, a joy for fans of the Lumatere Chronicles, a bonus story of a world we love, despite its harshness and brutality. It could work as an introduction to Lumatere, if a reader wanted to start with something shorter than Finnikin to test the waters, to see if Lumatere is a good fit for them as a reader. It dumps the reader right into the action, into the world, just like other fantasies.

Ferragost is an Agatha Christie type mystery: Lady Celie is visiting the Belegonian spring castle, with only a handful of other people. A dead body is found. Who is it? What happened? With so few people in the castle, Celie is as much a suspect as anyone else. She has to figure out what happened, and who really did it. Twists! Turns! So much so that I hope that Marchetta decides to write a full length mystery one of these days.

Celie is the star of Ferragost; people like Froi and Isaboe and Finnikin are mentioned in passing. I suggest reading Ferragost before Quintana, because there is a bit of a reveal of something in Quintana that I enjoyed discovering on my own in Ferragost. Celie, a supporting (if not minor) character in the other books, takes the lead in Ferragost, so much so that I want to reread Finnikin and Froi, just to read about Celie, now that I know her better. Her character is strong and smart; did I realize it in the other books? Or was I taken in, thinking she was “just” the daughter of a lord?

Ferragost includes what I like best about the other Lumatere books: a fully created world, yes; engaging characters, yes; but also the sadness and tragedy that comes from the real-life world of politics and duty.

Ferragost

If  you’re a fan of Melina Marchetta‘s Lumatere books (Finnikin of the Rock and Froi of the Exiles), some good news while we’re all waiting for Quintana of Charyn (Australia, September 2012; US, March 2013).

And as you can see from the publication dates, it’s a real wait for us in the US!

The good news: Melina has a story set in the Lumatere universe, available for sale as of August 7! Full details at Melina’s website, but here is the nutshell explanation: “Ferragost is a stand alone short story. If you are a reader of the Lumatere Chronicles, you’ll rememer that Celie is the daughter of Lord August and Lady Abian and is best friends with the Queen of Lumatere. I promise it doesn’t really give away anything that happens in the upcoming Quintana of Charyn or even Froi of the Exiles. The events of Ferragost, however, are happening at the same time as in Quintana so you’ll understand the role Celie plays in the bigger picture when Quintana of Charyn is released later this year (early next year in the US).”

It’s published in a digital journal, the Review of Australian Fiction.

How to get the issue of the digital journal?

Matthew Lamb, editor of the Review of Australian Fiction, explains it:

it is exclusive to Booki.sh and so not available on Amazon or Kobo, etc… which may confuse some people.

Booki.sh is an Australian development, which publishes the Review of Australian Fiction, and operates the ebookstore platform for several of Australia’s leading independent bookstores.
So this issue is only available through our website or through these ebookstores.

To access it, people will need to create a free Booki.sh account: https://booki.sh/home

Review of Australian Fiction ebooks are, however, DRM-Free, so after purchasing it through Booki.sh, the file is downloadable and convertible into .MOBI or other formats so that people with these contraptions can read it: http://about.booki.sh/support/faq/answer/what-does-lsquo-drm-free-rsquo-mean/

The cost of the issue containing the story is only $2.99AUS. The issue contains a second story, by Kirsty Eager, another Australian writer.

As Matthew Lamb explains, “the way our journal works is we invite an established author (like Melina) and we ask them to choose an emerging Australian writer to be paired with. Melina chose Kirsty for this issue.”

This is not limited to those in Australia; yes, US readers can purchase and read the issue with both stories.

So, yay! A new Lumatere story; plus, finding out about an author Melina likes.

Disclaimer: I’ve been provided a complimentary copy of the story for review purposes.

Marchetta Madness at Chachic’s Book Nook

Readers of this blog know how much I love Melina Marchetta’s books.

You know what I love almost as much as I love her books?

Reading how other people love her books.

Chachic’s Book Nook just wrapped up Marchetta Madness, so you can do what I did this weekend: go, read, and nod in agreement over just how wonderful her books are.

Chachic begins the series with What Was Your First Marchetta, and the final post is Random Facts which also includes individual links to each Marchetta Madness post.

My favorite, of course, remains Jellicoe Road. (And, as a member of the Printz committee that selected Jellicoe Road, I cannot tell you how much I love seeing all the Jellicoe Road blogger love.)

What is your favorite Marchetta book?

If you meet someone who hasn’t read her books before, which one do you recommend they start with? Typically, I recommend Looking for Alibrandi, unless the person I’m speaking with is a fantasy lover, and I suggest starting with Finnikin of the Rock.

And, not to gloat or anything . . . but I have a copy of the film version of Alibrandi. I KNOW.

Review: Froi of the Exiles

Froi of the Exiles (The Lumatere Chronicles) by Melina Marchetta (Candlewick Press, 2012). Companion to Finnikin of the Rock (Candlewick Press, 2010) (my review). Reviewed from ARC from publisher.

The Plot: Froi has spent the last three years making Lumatere his home. He is loyal to those who have befriended him: the royal family, the guards, the returned exiles. Froi may have been raised by thieves and street scum, but his recent years and friends have shown him there is a better way. All Froi has to do is keep his darkness in check, count to ten instead of lashing out with his fists, remember his loyalties.

Froi trains with the royal guards, learns farming, studies. He does what is asked, grateful for what they have given him: a life. A chance. A future. He’ll do anything for them, for Lumatere.

Anything includes helping to track down the Charynites responsible for the invasion of Lumatere and the murder of the royal family years ago. Anything includes accepting the most dangerous assignment of all: sneaking into Charyn, pretending to be a Charynite, and assassinating the King of Charyn. Lumatere will have justice for their murdered ones; better this one death, of the man who engineered it all, then a war that will kill thousands.

Froi goes, with one job to do. Kill a king.

Simple, right? Except it turns out, nothing is simple. Froi finds himself drawn to Charyn and their people. Secrets lurk in shadows and dungeons, and he will be faced with choices that will make him question his loyalties and his actions.

The Good: Let me get this out of my system. Oh, my, God, Froi. Fro, Froi, Froi. New book boyfriend Froi. Love him. And Quintana! Mad, smart, crazy, vulnerable, strong Quintana. The twists! The shades of gray! I WANTS THE NEXT BOOK AND I WANTS IT NOW.

OK, now that I got that out of my system.

This is a companion book, so it’s best to first read Finnikin of the Rock. However, it’s not a straight sequel, in that Finnikin’s journey was told in his book. This is all about Froi. And, needless to say, spoilers for Finnikin of the Rock.

You know Lord of the Rings? Well, imagine if for the companion books, Tolkien set it in Mordor with a Mordor princess and suddenly the reader realized . . . hey, things aren’t quite so simple as good guys / bad guys / let’s kill all the baddies.

As you may recall from Finnikin, the Lumatere royal family was murdered and an impostor king set on the throne with the backing of Charyn; accusations, infighting, and other violent acts resulted in a curse being placed on Lumatere, with half the inhabitants (including Finnikin) trapped outside living in exile and half the inhabitants trapped inside with the impostor king and his Charyn soldiers. It wasn’t pretty for anyone, and Finnikin of the Rock is about how Finnikin ended the curse and freed the country.

Froi was a young teen, a thief, “street scum,” who joined Finnikin’s travels during the course of Finnikin of the Rock. Many believe Froi is from Lumatere, a child orphaned and abandoned when the curse was placed on the country. All Froi knows is he was nothing, and now he is something. Someone. Without Finnikin and the others caring, without Finnikin and the others as role models, Froi would be, at best, a street thug and, at worst, a slave.

Froi of the Exiles is set three years after Finnikin; just long enough for some things to have settled down in Lumatere. Just long enough for Froi’s bonds with those who have taken him in to strengthen. Even with these friends, Froi has to fight the darkness in himself, the darkness that is the result of being raised on the streets by brutal people. Froi is not a story of happy, witty thieves with a code of conduct. His is a story where if a child is weak and without power, as any child is, he will be used. This, then, is the young man who is sent to Charyn to kill a king. A young man who has the skills and brutality to carry out such an order; a young man who yearns for a place and acceptance so will do this, will kill, because it’s asked of him by those who love him and whom he loves.

Froi enters Charyn expecting monsters, as does the reader. Instead, he finds a fractured country with plenty of its own problems, with infighting, with its own history of abuses and massacres, of loss and desperate acts. He finds the mad princess Quintana, who — because of a curse eighteen years old — is whored out to young men who hope to break it. In a dark twist on fairy tales, kissing a princess doesn’t free her; sleeping with her, though, willing or not, could break a curse that threatens to destroy the kingdom and its people. A young woman, as used and broken as Froi? Of course these two people are going to find each other.

If Finnikin was about two good, decent people who remain that way no matter what, Froi is about two people who refuse to be broken by what has been done to them. It is about people who pick up the pieces and refuse to give in to the darkness that pain, hurt, loss and abandonment cause.

I’m hesitant to say much more, because there are twists and turns. Some, I guessed; some, I did not. The strength of Froi is not any “gotcha” moment, but, rather, the detailed and complex and sympathetic world of Charyn, a world that in Finnikin the reader was told was dark and now turns out to be — not light, but, rather, one with shades of gray. This is an ugly story, beautifully written; a story of both the harm that people can inflict, and the healing. It is about need and forgiveness. It is about hope, but the hope that is earned by blood and tears, the hope that is willed into being because of a desire that life should be better than what it is.

Lest this sound too emotional, too romantic, rest assured it is also action packed. It is, after all, about war; about killing a king; about rebellion. Froi is someone who prefers to uses his fists.

Froi is also funny, in the type of real-world way that people are, a bit sarcastic and flip. Sometimes the humor is dark, the type of humor used in tough situations.

This is, no doubt about i, one of my Favorite Books Read in 2012. Because I fell in love with Froi, and Quintana, and the Charynites Froi meets on the way. Because like Froi, I began to forget the task he had to do and what his new friendships would mean to those left back in Lumatere.

One other thing — there will be a sequel, Quintana of Charyn. I just want to get into my TARDIS, go forward a year, and read it now. Instead, I’ll reread, for the third time, Froi.

Review: The Piper’s Son

Today the One Shot World Book Tour is: Book City! The list of participating blogs is over at Chasing Ray.

I’ve chosen a city I’ve never been to, but, because of the author’s books, I feel like I have: Sydney, Australia, as depicted in Melina Marchetta’s book, most recently, The Piper’s Son.

So, here is my review; and don’t forget to head over to Chasing Ray for the complete list of books in this Book City tour!

The Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta. Candlewick. 2011. Candlewick on Brilliance 2011. Read by Michael Finney. Reviewed from audio from Brilliance.

Do I double dip? Yes, I double dip. I reviewed The Piper’s Son in February; and just listened to it on audio. So, this is the audio review.

The Plot: For those who don’t click through to my original review, two years ago Tom Finch Mackee had it all: a girl he’d spent one and a half wonderful nights with; good friends; a large, loving family. Now, he’s pursuing oblivion through drugs and alcohol and hasn’t spoken to family and friends in months.

Two years ago,  his Uncle Joe was alive. Two years ago, Joe hadn’t been blown up on his way to work. Two years ago, the family hadn’t buried an empty coffin.

Can Tom find his way — if not back to who he was two years ago, can he find his way to a Tom who doesn’t hide from the grief and pain of Joe’s loss, and his family splintering, and of messing things so badly with Tara Finke that she and their mutual friends can barely say hello to him?

The Good: While, for me, Tom’s emotional journey of putting his life back together, still broken but together, is what resonates with me. For others who, say, may want more action? Here’s the pitch: Two years ago Tom had a one and a half  night stand with a girl he loved and after, treated her so badly that not only won’t she talk to him, she has left the country. When you’ve treated someone horribly, is it possible to fix it?

Finney’s Australian accent emphasizes the setting of The Piper’s Son; the slang, the city, even the music. It’s the city setting — Sydney, Australia — that made this my pick for this One Shot – Cities tour. The Piper’s Son was on the shortlist for the Ethel Turner Prize for Young People’s Literature, (alas, it didn’t win)and their judges comments explain perfectly why I picked this for its city setting: “This is the eagerly awaited sequel to Saving Francesca, and Marchetta creates a fresh and vibrant story that focuses on Sydney’s inner city suburbs and the life of a young and out of work musician, Tom Mackee. Homeless and haunted by the death of his favourite uncle in a terrorist bombing in London, Tom desperately seeks to put his life back together by re-establishing ties with his aunt, his friends, and his long separated father. For him, it is a long and very hard road. Marchetta’s insightful narration and wonderful cast of characters take her readers on an always fascinating ride through the gritty, pulsating streets of the city’s inner west. The story culminates in an emotional and memorable conclusion.” More on the inner city inspiration at this interview with Marchetta.

Tom’s parents and their friends made a deliberate decision to remain in Sydney’s inner city instead of move out to the suburbs, a decision led by his father, Dom: “All the people they wanted in their lives lived within a ten-mile radius. Her brother Dom had started the vow of not moving away from each other just because they’d be able to afford bigger houses in the outer suburbs. “Let’s stick together, no matter how poky our houses are,” he had made them all promise. “Better to be able to pick up each other’s kids and hang out together than have bigger backyards and rumpus rooms.”

The neighborhood, the Sydney neighborhood, is as much a character in The Piper’s Son as any person. So much so, that someone later observes that Tom himself has never moved out of it, always living within a few blocks of friends and family. “You could draw a line around the parameters of your world, Tom.”

Things I noticed about The Piper’s Son this time around: the craft of the book, how it’s all put together, how Marchetta weaves the past and the present together, and her use of different points of view to tell the whole story.

Coming of age books are usually about independence; in the hands of another, The Piper’s Son would be look at how people failed Tom, cast those adults as villains, and ended with Tom in a new place, with new friends, and a new direction in life. Marchetta recognizes that life is messier and more complex than that; people failed Tom, and each other, because each, individually, was so torn apart and hurt by Joe’s death that they could barely take care of themselves let alone anyone else. The Piper’s Son is about the role of community in one’s life; for Tom to mature, to grow, he has to once again become part of a community of friends and family. The goal is healthy interdependence, not independence. The friends and family that grow around the Finch Mackee family is so wonderful, funny, and loving, that even though sadness and hurt and grief have touched them, and none of them have had an easy time, I still want to go to their homes, hang out over a bottle of wine, laugh as the children play in the garden. If I’m every in Australia, I want to walk these Sydney streets.

Yes, this remains a Favorite Book Read in 2011.

And yes, I listened to this on the way to and from work and cried every day.

Review: The Piper’s Son

The Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta. Candlewick. 2011. Reviewed from ARC from publisher.

The Plot: Tom was aiming for oblivion and he got it. Along with ten stitches, and a concussion, and Francesca Spinelli, who used to be his friend, staring at him in the hospital room, staring not in judgment, but worse, with compassion and empathy. Five years ago, would anyone have guessed that the tight group of friends and family that surrounded Tom would become so fragmented and distant?

But that was before. Before a bomb killed his uncle, not leaving a body to be buried. Before his mother and younger sister left. Before his father started drinking too much. Before his father left. He would see his friends and it would be all tears and crying and Tom didn’t want that and so he dropped out of university, dropped his friends, found flatmates who didn’t care, and found that weed dulled his senses, and helped him to not remember. “And suddenly the room is spinning and when he hits the ground, headfirst off the that table, his life doesn’t flash before his eyes because Tom can’t remember his life. Can’t remember the last year, anyway.”

Now his flatmates have thrown him out and the only place he can go is his Aunt Georgie’s who has her own problems. At work, he’s forced into seeing those people who used to be his friends.

Slowly, Tom and Georgie discover that even though people and friendships and family can be broken, they can be mended.

The Good: The Piper’s Son left me breathless with heart pounding — it is a beautifully written love song about the flaws and strengths of family and the long journey of grief, about the love and laughter and disappointments that tie people together.

Marchetta weaves together two stories: Tom, just entering his twenties, floating through his life because what he loved, what he valued, is gone. What isn’t gone he threw away, better to leave it behind than risk the hurt of more loss. Georgie, twenty years older, is single and pregnant with mainly Tom for support. If Jellicoe Road was a puzzle, and Finnikin of the Rock a rough immersion into an unknown world, The Piper’s Son is an onion, something known but full of layers and secrets.

From the first pages, we know Tom’s hurts: “memory taunts him and he’s back at the cemetery where they’re burying his uncle in an empty grave” and “that was a world before dropping out of uni and parents splitting and two nights of everything with a girl whose face you can’t get out of your head and relationships falling apart and favorite uncles who used to call you Tom Thumb being blown to smithereens on their way to work on the other side of the world.” Tom, Tom, the Piper’s Son…. Tom is hurt and hurts others. He admits he can be a bit of a bully.  He gets angry. He can use words, use them cruelly. He can lash out. Tom is not a perfect young man, but he is real — he’s the boy you pass on the street.

For the next 300 pages, the layers of Tom’s life are explored, the past years, to feel the hurt as if it happened the day before. All of these events are safely in Tom’s past, if any loss can ever be safe or in the past, so Marchetta can concentrate on the heart of the matter — not what one does in the first hour, the first week, the first month, but how one lives the rest of their life. It’s also about how nothing happens in isolation. This is not just about Uncle Joe’s death. It is also about how Tom’s father, his hero, the “piper” who was the leader of his friends and family, proceeded to disintegrate and fall apart, not because Joe died (how easy an answer that would be!) but because we are all the sum of our lives, not one incident or day, and the “piper” was not as strong as everyone liked to believe No, needed to believe.

Sharon Hancock, Executive Director of School & Library Marketing for Candlewick, says “no one does families like Marchetta.” The Piper’s Son is about families, three generations, of love and hurt. Tom’s family is not idealized or romanticized, but it is real with its angers and hurt and also love and laughter and support. Healing from loss isn’t easy, and it can be selfish, and that selfishness can keep others at arms-length which just creates more rifts. We know the plot going in: what happened in Tom’s life over the last few years and that this book will be about him putting his life back together as he restores relationships with friends and family. While “will Tom get the girl back?” may be a bit of a page-turner, the real reason for turning the page is the deep, complex, familial relationship explored in these pages, including the family that is made from good friendships. For all their flaws and sorrows, a reader cannot help but fall in love with the entire Finch-Mackee clan and want to be part of that family.

Halfway through the book there is a fight between Georgie and her mother, one that is about “now” and “then” and Georgie reminds her mother of something said years ago, “That’s what you said to me and those words killed me more than anything.” Her mother replies, “Oh, you’re a cruel girl, Georgie, to remember that over everything else.” That, there, is the brilliance of Marchetta: in two sentences she shows a lifetime of hurt, and continuing hurt, and misunderstandings,  in a family.

Georgie’s story– OK, I’ll admit that part of the reason I loved Georgie’s story is I’m an adult in the same age bracket as Georgie. Georgie’s story is a bit of a surprise, with a few more twists than Tom’s. Georgie is pregnant and single. Her brother Dominick, Tom’s father, her twin, had been the leader of a group of friends whose friendship goes back almost twenty years: Dom and his now estranged wife; Lucia, her husband, her sister; and other friends, Jonesy and Sam. Sam…  Georgie’s ex. Georgie may be older than Tom, but hurts are hurts and age does not give wisdom in terms of how to handle love and betrayals and reunions and what does forgiveness really mean, anyway? What is the reality of day to day living it, rather than just saying it?

This is a book about love — so yes, there is healing and the hurt that comes from healing but it is also about love. Love between family, between friends, between lovers. So there is love and tenderness also; and there is laughter, from sibling jokes (an email is signed “love, the better-looking sibling“) and teasing to laugh out loud moments.

What age is The Piper’s Son for? Tom and his friends are in their early twenties, still at university (or having dropped out of university). Georgie and her friends are in their early forties. Is this is a young adult book or an adult book? Both. This is the perfect crossover book, to be bought and shelved in both the adult and teen fiction sections of the library and bookstore. The readers of young adult books are getting older, into their early twenties. For those still in their teens? The appeal is Tom and his story of being broken and put together. It doesn’t matter that he is 21 and not 15. Does a sixteen year old want to read about someone just a few years older, to see that the “real life” of post-high school is complex and messy? I say yes. I also say Georgie will be of interest, because she may sound older (and, well, she is) but for all her years she is dealing with an unexpected pregnancy, handling both as wisely and poorly as any teen mother. I think, also, that teen readers are smart enough to want a book that shows adult lives as being as messy and full as their own.

Every now and then, someone complains about parents not being in young adult books. The Piper’s Son gives a whole extended family: parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles. To make those adults real, and not caricatures of either good or evil, they come with their own stories, their own strengths and weaknesses and flaws. Does the inclusion of adults as something other than villain or saviour make that book one just of adults? I don’t think so. If anything, it tells the teen — your family is normal. It’s not just you. No family is “normal” or “typical.” Here, in The Piper’s Son, is the story of one family. Are teenagers interested in books about families, when they are at a time and place in their lives to begin to realize “not all families are like mine”? I say yes.

The Piper’s Son is a companion, a sequel of sorts, to Saving Francesca. Francesca, the main character in Saving Francesca, is one of Tom’s group of friends. Tom was a character in Saving Francesca, but not a main one. The Piper’s Son takes place about five years after Saving Francesca, and stands alone quite nicely. Because Tom hasn’t seen some of his friends for a year or so, he is getting re-introduced to them in a way, so the reader is also getting introduced to them.  For those who haven’t read Saving Francesca, I find the covers and descriptions don’t do it justice. It’s a book about depression, really; about finding oneself; and about how one thinks they see things and how they really are can be two different things.

The Australian cover is quite different from the US one; I guess I should add that Tom is a musician and playing and singing music is one of those things that connected him to his family and friends, so, of course, it is one of the things he abandoned.

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?