Finnikin eclipsed by Froi of the Exiles

Froi of the Exiles (The Lumatere Chronicles, Book 2) by Melina Marchetta; published by Candlewick Press, Somerville, Massachusetts, 2011 (2012 first U.S. publication); 593 pages.

Three years after coming to Lumatere, Froi has pledged his bond to Isaboe and Finnikin.  Refugees from Charyn are amassing on Lumatere’s border.  In an attempt to prevent another imposter king from taking over their beloved homeland, Froi is sent to Charyn as an assassin spy to kill their king.  Pretending to be Olivier, a “last born” consort of the king’s mad daughter Quintana, Froi learns that things are not always as they seem.

It’s been a long time since I’ve blogged a review.  This book, and the book reviewed in the next post, are the reasons.  I’ve needed time to process what I’ve read.  Oh, but don’t let that comment, or the length of the book, prevent you from reading Froi of the Exiles!!!  You’ll miss one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.

Marchetta’s ability to weave a story has grown exponentially as this book exemplifies.  Finnikin may have been the narrator of Finnikin of the Rock but it was really Isaboe’s story.  So it is with Froi of the Exiles: Froi is the narrator, but this is purely Quintana’s story.  Subplots involve the stories of characters we were introduced to in the first book of The Lumatere Chronicles.  Through them all we get a view of the tragedies of war from multiple perspectives.  We are also reminded that there are always at least two sides in every war.  Is Lumatere completely without blame in their battles with Charyn?  Is Charyn the breeding ground of everything evil or could there be enlightened citizens there?  Many of these questions could be explored in real life current events.

I was most affected by Marchetta’s exploration of corruption in many forms (political, spiritual and personal) and the subsequent ripple affect.  At times, her subject matter was very difficult to read.  She was restrained in her descriptions and left much to the imagination; so for me (as an adult), the abuse of women was thought provoking and disturbing.  For teens, or young adults, the subject matter is delicately handled but might need to be discussed with younger teens.  In my opinion, this book puts Marchetta on the cusp of young adult vs. adult author.

Read. This. Book.  In my experience, reading Finnikin of the Rock, the first book in The Lumatere Chronicles, is mandatory.  The first few chapters of Froi of the Exiles will offer subtle reminders of the first book (a nice refresher asit’s been awhile since I read Finnikin) and help establish the direction of Froi’s story.  Marchetta’s ability to describe setting is at its best in this book as well and takes up much of the detail in the first third of the book.  Infrequent pauses in Froi’s story are offered in chapters which relate the experiences of certain Monts and Lumaterans which help drive the theme.  By about the middle of the book, I was on a slippery slope of reading without sleep as I desperately needed to know how the story ends for all of the characters.  Alas, the cliffhangers are breathtaking and demand resolution.  But the next installment is not due to be released until October, and that’s just the Australian release; we’re talking 2013 in the U.S.  I need the third book, Quintana of Charyn, and I need it NOW.  Anyone know how I can get my hands on a coveted ARC of this?  Anyone in Australia willing to mail me a copy in October?  Please?  Please?  Please?

Is it possible for a companion novel to be considered for the Printz award?  I don’t think I’m going out on a limb here predicting that Froi of the Exiles will be considered for multiple awards in 2012.

4P     5Q     Grade Level: 11 and up

Cover Art: I was slightly repulsed by Froi’s face–his eyes are too creepy, too corrupt.  But that’s how he is described by those in Lumatere and Charyn alike.  And once again, one shouldn’t judge a person by appearances.  The medieval looking sword and tumultuous sky together with Froi’s visage are intriguing.  Fans of the genre will be intrigued.

From Reading List: The Way It Could Be (Science Fiction or Fantasy)

YALSA announces first Best Fiction for Young Adults list

The 2011 Best Fiction for Young Adults list represents the first since YALSA (ALA’s Young Adult Library Services Association) restructured and renamed the Best Books for Young Adults list.  According to their website:

The books, recommended for ages 12-18, meet the criteria of both good quality literature and appealing reading for teens. The list comprises a wide range of genres and styles, including contemporary realistic fiction, fantasy, horror, science fiction and novels in verse.

The complete list can be found at the YALSA website: http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/yalsa/booklistsawards/bestficya/bfya2011.cfm

And the Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults, 2011, are:

  • Bacigalupi, Paolo. Ship Breaker
  • Donnelley, Jennifer. Revolution
  • Marchetta, Melina. Finnikin of the Rock
  • Matson, Morgan. Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour
  • McBride, Lish. Hold Me Closer, Necromancer
  • Mulligan, Andy. Trash
  • Perkins, Mitali. Bamboo People
  • Reinhardt, Dana. The Things a Brother Knows
  • Saenz, Benjamin. Last Night I Sang to the Monster
  • Sedgwick, Marcus. Revolver

Congratulations to all winners!  Be sure to vote for your favorite book, reviewed in this blog, in the poll on the right!

In addition to the Best Fiction list, YALSA posted it’s other “best lists.”  Included in the “Great Graphic Novels for Teens” for 2011 was Jane Yolen and Mike Cavallaro’s Foiled (reviewed here).  In the “No Surprise” category, the “Popular Paperbacks” list included Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games (review here) and Maggie Stiefvater’s Shiver (review here).  Two of the “Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers” were also reviewed in this blog: Kody Keplinger’s The D.U.F.F. and Darren Shan’s Birth of a Killer.

Interested in all of YALSA’s booklists? Find links to all the booklists, and awards, here: http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/yalsa/booklistsawards/booklistsbook.cfm

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)

Jellicoe Road: Piecing the puzzle together

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta; published by HarperTeen, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 2008; 419 pages.

Do you know that feeling when you dump out all the pieces of a really big, really complex jigsaw puzzle?  It’s frustrating to find those first connecting pieces and you probably debate whether or not to continue to sort through 500—or  1,000 or more—pieces; is it really worth the effort?  Then, a shift in your thinking occurs, you can’t really identify when it happens, but you’re drawn in, the challenge grips you; and the beauty of the emerging image intrigues you, holes and all.  As the last few pieces call you to place them on the board to finish the project, you slow down and savor those last few moments of the sweet challenge.  That describes Jellicoe Road

At age 11, protagonist Taylor Markham was abandoned by her mother on Jellicoe Road.  Miraculously, the mysterious Hannah found her within five minutes and took her to the local boarding school where pieces of Hannah’s life weave their way into the puzzle of Taylor’s life.  While she sorts through the puzzle pieces of her own life, Taylor becomes embroiled in the turf wars between her school, the Townies and the Cadets; and of course, there is a boy and there is angst and there is rebellion.  By the end of the book, Taylor’s existence not only parallels that of Hannah’s youth but becomes inexorably intertwined.  In the process, she rediscovers trust, love and faith. 

I almost put this book down in favor of a less-confusing, and therefore faster, read.  I am so glad I persevered!  Marchetta unfolds the mysteries of the stories to us as Taylor discovers them for herself.  And, oh!, it was a treat to meet Taylor Markham.  She faces similar (yet magnified) coming of age issues as Bella Swan (from the Twilight series), and finds solace in the strength and support of a young man, but Taylor is an independent young woman that recognizes she must be independent and have an existence outside of her relationship to Jonah Griggs.  Beautifully written in language accessible to young adults, Marchetta weaves a mysterious tale that would draw in any teen who can overlook the confusion of the first few chapters.  Love, war, and self-discovery pave Jellicoe Road for Taylor.  This puzzle is worth the time to solve!  As a mystery with a strong protagonist, I think it will appeal to teens.

 4P     5Q   Grades 9-12

jellicoe_roadCover Art:  The image of the orange poppy is explained in the story, but the real value of the cover is the font.  It’s edgy and playful and must have been chosen by a teenager!  The bright orange of a painted swath above the orange poppy and green background makes the black type pop and the visual appeal is echoed on the spine.  This book would definitely stand out on a bookshelf—in fact, I was looking for another book when this caught my eye and I chose it because I recognized the title from the reading list.  It’s not the image that provides the appeal to teens, it is the use of bright orange with an edgy font that will get their attention.

From Reading List: Michael L. Printz Award, 2009 Winner

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