Wednesday, July 16, 2014

I Am Yao, King of the Rock (Not Really, but Whatever)

Published:  February 9th, 2010
Finnikin of the Rock (Lumatere Chronicles #1)
By: Melina Marchetta
Candlewick Press
ISBN-13:  9780763643614

At the age of nine, Finnikin is warned by the gods that he must sacrifice a pound of flesh to save his kingdom.  He stands on the rock of three wonders with his friend Prince Balthazar and Balthazar's cousin, Lucian, and together they mix their blood to save Lumatere.

But all safety is shattered during the five days of the unspeakable, when the king and queen and their children are brutally murdered in the palace.  An imposter seizes the throne, a curse binds all who remain inside Lumatere's walls, and those who escape are left to roam the land as exiles, dying by the thousands in fever camps.

Ten years later, Finnikin is summoned to another rock -- to meet Evanjalin, a young novice with a startling claim: Balthazar, heir to the throne of Lumatere, is alive.  This arrogant young woman claims she'll lead Finnikin and his mentor, Sir Topher, to the Prince.  Instead, her leadership points them perilously toward home.  Does Finnikin dare believe that Lumatere might one day rise united?  Evanjalin is not what she seems, and the startling truth will test Finnikin's faith not only in her but in all he knows to be true about himself and his destiny.


     I have only read one of Marchetta's books before this, a contemporary called Looking for Alibrandi, and while I liked it, I was by no means in love with it.  I didn't really know what to expect from a high fantasy written by her.  But a good portion of my Goodreads friends and fellow groupmates in my one active corner of the internet were mentioning it a fair bit.  This made me curious and I really do love me some well-written, deeply developed fantasy.  If I step into a book and the world catches my attention, I like to stay and visit for awhile.  So I figured this might be the one to get me out of my reading slump.  I actually think I may have been right, if not for the reasons I originally thought.
     Finnikin is the son of Captain Trevannion of the Royal Guard and best friends with the royal children.  Making a blood pact with Prince Balthazar and his cousin, Lucian of the Mont people, the boys vow to protect Lumatere to the death.  Then five days of unspeakable horror come to Lumatere, during which the entire royal family is slaughtered, Finnikin's father is imprisoned, many of the people become exiles, and a curse is laid upon the land.  Ten years later, Finnikin along with his mentor Sir Topher follow a rumor to a sort of convent (can't remember the exact word they called it), looking for information about Prince Balthazar possibly being alive.  What they get instead is Evanjalin, a mysterious novice, who claims to walk the sleep of the people of Lumatere.  She claims she has been chosen for the King and will lead them to him.  Of course nothing is really that simple, and Evanjalin is hiding secrets of her own.  Can they unite the people of Lumatere, break the curse, and restore the rightful heir to the throne?  Or will they kingdom continue to lay in ruin, destroyed by the horrors of the past?
     I think my biggest problem with this book was that it had so much potential.  The characters were well developed, with Finnikin especially taking center stage and garnering the interest of me as a reader.  I didn't quite like him, but I could understand his motivations.  Evanjalin, is a girl who has a purpose.  She has suffered great horrors, but it willing to sacrifice everything to make Lumatere right again.  That said, the constant lying, manipulation and flat-out refusal to tell Sir Topher or Finnikin anything got on my everlasting nerve!  Not to mention, she treats them like dirt and speaks to them like they're idiots - when she even speaks to them.  More often than not she just does something seriously dangerous, just expecting to be excused for her reasons, which are always worthwile (*snorts in derision*).  I felt like everything was just a little too smooth.  Yes, there was some struggle along the way, such as breaking Trevannion out of the mines, and when they're attacked by a tribe in Yutland Sud.  But I never felt like anyone was ever really going to die in the process of reinstating the kingdom.  That's strike one.  
     Strike two happened to be that I had already figured out Evanjalin's identity by the time I was even halfway through the book.  A complete lack of the element of suprise in what should have been a major plot twist just had me speed-reading to see how things would end.  The side-story with Lady Beatriss and Trevannion, not to mention the witch Tesadora was probably one of the most interesting things in that interim.  The only things other than that really catching my interest was the growth of Froi, who starts his place in the story as a thief, slave and general scum of the Earth.  By the time the book ends, Froi is loyal to both Evanjalin (who he almost did serious harm to) and Finnikin, pledging himself to Lumatere and learning to better himself.  It was a very stark and realistic character development throughout the course of the book and the characters are definitely where Marchetta shined.  I might not have liked Finnikin (his density towards his destiny annoyed me greatly as it dragged on) or Evanjalin all that much, but they were well-written.  That said, this book is full of action, magic, curses and some serious court/political intrigues - I won't say anymore to try and avoid spoilers.  I recommend it if you're a fan of high fantasy and if you can make it through this one, you'll be after Froi's story next if only to find out what happens.  I got caught in that trap myself.

VERDICT:  3/5  Stars

**No money or favors were exchanged for this review.  This book is now available in stores, online, or maybe even at your local library.**

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