Finnikin of the Rock is character-driven fantasy

Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta; published by Candlewick Press, Somerville, Massachusetts, 2010; 399 pages.

The idyllic life of a child in a wondrous kingdom seems like magic.  In the case of Finnikin and his royal playmates, it was magic.  Magic was all around them in the form of goddesses, healers, priest-kings, silver wolves and unicorns.  In an act of innocence, three boys swore a blood oath to protect their kingdom of Lumatere.  Then life as they knew it was shattered by a coup de tat by a neighboring kingdom.  It was a holocaust. In its aftermath, a curse entombed the kingdom; no one could leave and no one could enter.  Fast-forward 10 years, and Finnikin is keeping his part of the oath–to act as guide to bring those in exile together again.  On his journey, he is led by a novice of one of the kingdom’s goddesses.  What she has to offer, and what she hides, is enough to complete Finnikin and his quest and maybe heal the kingdom.

What happens on their journey will keep you on the edge of your seat.  I knew I was in for an epic fantasy when I opened the cover to find a map of Lumatere on the end pages.  As I continued into the book, I was met by the poem “If This Is a Man” by Holocaust survivor Primo Levi.  Then more detailed maps of the Land of Skuldenore and Lumatere followed.  Hmm, a map of a new world juxtaposed with a reference to real history.  This is going to be an interesting book.

If that’s enough to scare you off, if you think you don’t like fantasy, you’re missing out on one of the best books I’ve read in this genre.  Marchetta excels at developing well-rounded characters.  While I think of fantasy as relying on new worlds and mind-blowing magic, Marchetta has created a fantasy based on characters, not worlds.  Their vendettas, and loves, are believable and carried me through the beginning of the book where I struggled to keep friends and enemies straight.  By the time I closed the back cover, I looked upon the map of Lumatere on the end pages and pieces of the story flashed through my mind just as I would remember the history of Europe or the United States.

This is a book that crosses genders (the real hero protagonist just might be the novice).  Girls need to be coerced to pick this up.  This is a book that crosses the generation gap.  Adults will be clamoring to read it as well.  I’ve read some buzz urging Marchetta to continue the story, but I think this book needs to stand on its own; I think its strength would be diluted by a sequel.

To sum up my review of the book in less than five words: I. Was. Blown. Away.

4P     5Q     Grade Level: 9+

Cover art: The cover looks like its the story of the Sword in the Stone.  Don’t let the sword or the font fool you.  This is a phenomenal fantasy that’s built around fully developed characters–especially a remarkable female protagonist.

From Reading Lists: Best Books for Young Adults (YALSA) nominee 2011, The Way It Could Be (Science Fiction or Fantasy)

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