Sadie Hawkins Sunday Review #18: Review: Finnikin of the Rock

Sadie Hawkins Sunday Review #18: Review: Finnikin of the RockFinnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta
Series: Lumatere Chronicles #1
Published by Candlewick on February 9, 2010
Genres: Adventure, Romance
Pages: 399
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

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 the three wonders with his friend Prince Balthazar and Balthazar's cousin, Lucian, and together they mix their blood to safeguard 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 impostor 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.

In a bold departure from her acclaimed contemporary novels, Printz Medalist Melina Marchetta has crafted an epic fantasy of ancient magic, feudal intrigue, romance, and bloodshed that will rivet you from the first page

First Sentence: “A long time ago, in the spring before the five days of the unspeakable, Finnikin of the Rock dreamed that he was to sacrifice a pound of flesh to save the royal house of Lumatere.”

If you blog YA books, you can’t avoid hearing about Melina Marchetta. I’ve had almost all of her books on my to-read list for years, just because of how good I’ve heard her writing is, but this is my first venture into her fiction. Finnikin of the Rock was not the book I was expecting it to be in a lot of ways, because I went in hoping for it to be the perfect book for me, and it wasn’t. However, it’s also a well-written book that sort of sneaks up on you, so that I went from being bored to grinning like an idiot at the end.

Usually I start with all the good stuff, but today I’m going to start with the flaw: the beginning of Finnikin of the Rock is slow and boring, at least if you’re a character reader like me. There’s a lot of journeying, vignettes of travel and the political situation of these realms with very little characterization. If you get off on world building, then the first hundred pages might be fascinating, but until I care about the characters I don’t give much of a shit about the world, so it’s just something to be got through. Of course, this is super common in epic and high fantasy, which do have a lot of world building to do, but the characterization in Finnikin felt like it moved especially slowly.

Though I never got super feelsy about Finnikin, Evanjelin, Froi, and the rest, they did grow on me. Only at the very end did I have any feels whatsoever, in that last chapter of awesome. Marchetta never really did go super character-focused, but the bits and pieces slowly added up into people that I cared about. Finnikin of the Rock is a book that gets better with every single page, and, from what I’ve heard, the whole series continues that. I much prefer a book to be a slow starter and a strong finisher than vice versa.

What Melina Marchetta does best is darkness. There are creepy and intense things that go down in this book starting on the first page, in which children cut chunks of flesh from their legs to swear an oath. So, yeah, intense. The people of Lumatere were attacked, cursed, and thrown out of their kingdom, left to the mercy of their neighbors, most of whom aren’t merciful. The people of Lumatere are hardened, without hope, and ravaged by their experiences. Every single Lumateran still alive is a survivor in the truest sense of the world; they’ve all been through hardships and are scarred one, mentally and/or physically. Even the heroes and heroines of Finnikin of the Rock are not pure and perfect: they lie, they kill, one even attempts a rape.

It is into this bleak landscape that the reader arrives. Finnikin has been called to pick up a novice from a far temple. This novice, Evanjalin, claims that she has walked the dreams of Balthazar, who would be king if he truly lived. Finnikin and Topher, the right hand man of the king that was, escort Evanjalin on a mission to rebuild Lumatere, slowly assembling the people and preparing to make war on the imposter king who took the throne. As hope grows, the people come out of their shells and the characterization picks up.

[Let’s sidebar briefly and talk about how dark the book is. You may notice that I’ve tagged this review adult, rather than young adult, because Finnikin of the Rock really doesn’t read like a young adult book to me. This is not because of the intense subject matter (I think teens can handle way more than we generally give them credit for), but because nothing in the book really seems to delve into issues of being a teenager. Though Finnikin and Evanjalin may be teenagers (I’m honestly not sure just how old they are), they are adults in their world, mature and responsible for their own lives. Of course, defining young adult fiction is pretty much impossible, but I felt I should mention it, because I found the YA designation puzzling; if you have insights, I’d be happy to discuss them.]

Despite all the darkness, there is a thin vein of humor and lightness. Much of it is the sort of humor that men of war will engage in, a sort of gallows humor and ribbing of compatriots. The romance too is a source of humor and light, as both parties pretend disinterest while fooling absolutely no one. Marchetta keeps the romance very low key, but still manages to convey a powerful sense of longing and a strong connection, even if it does initially seem to burgeon out of nowhere.

The last chapter of Finnikin of the Rock was just about the most adorable thing ever. If I could write up the whole thing for my favorite quote, I WOULD. After the darkness of the book, it’s fluffy and light and full of banter and just the most adorable thing in the world. I LOVE it. Also, I gather that Finnikin and company will be big players in book two, but that it will follow Froi as the main character, which sounds super awesome.

Though I’m not sure if Finnikin of the Rock is the ideal first Marchetta experience, it’s well worth reading for a patient reader. By the end, I want nothing more than to read the next one, though that will have to wait a few weeks.

Favorite Quote:

“‘Oh, that leaders of kingdoms should feel the pain of every one of their citizens who they send out to fight their wars.'”

Up Next:

The next Sadie Hawkins Sunday book will be Death Watch by Ari Berk, chosen by the bullying Kara of Great Imaginations. Seriously, you tell her that her book is up soon and she’ll ask DAILY when you’re reading it. Sheesh. What a jerk!*

*Just kidding. I love her.

Want to tell me what to read? Check this post.

26 responses to “Sadie Hawkins Sunday Review #18: Review: Finnikin of the Rock”

  1. Creepy and dark, you say? I’m in! I’ve been meaning to get to this series for the longest time. SOON.

  2. Angie F says:

    I actually just read this one on Friday and I’m almost done with the sequel (which is loads better!). I totally agree that it starts off super boring, but I did like the world building…I just wish it hadn’t been so boring. I never warmed up to Finnikin which is why I ended up giving this only 3 stars. I loved Evanjalin and Froi definitely grew on me. I’m enjoying his book a lot.

    I was a little confused about the YA rating too. Finnikin is 19, btw, and I think Evanjalin was 17 or 18. They are adults in our world and theirs, so I did think this had a more Adult feel. The same goes for the sequel, because Froi is about to turn 18 and he’s certainly not dealing with any teenage turmoils.

    The ending was SUPER cute! I wish there had been more little moments like that throughout, so I could have liked Finn more! Oh well. Great review!

    Angie @ Pinkindle Reads & Reviews

    • Christina says:

      Oh, I’ve heard that. What a coincidence that we read it at the same time. I only warmed up to Finnikin in the last scene, really, which was AWESOME. But yeah, that’s what bumped it from a 3 to a 3.5. I’ve heard Marchetta’s usually all about characters, so I think this was clunky because she’d not done fantasy before.

      Glad you agree! I’m torn between whether I should call it YA because everyone else does or do my own thing.*shrugs*

  3. A focus on world-building as opposed to character development is one of the primary reasons I tend to avoid high-fantasty novels, as I often find them a little difficult to slog through. While it sounds like I would have a difficult time with the introduction to this novel, I am intrigued by the fact that it becomes more engrossing over time.

    I’ve heard nothing but positive things about Marchetta’s writing ability, and while it’s not at the top of my TBR list, I have no doubt I’ll eventually get around to read it for pure curiosity’s sake alone.

    Thanks for the great and extremely helpful review! This gave me a much better idea of what to expect should I ever pick up this novel πŸ™‚

    • Christina says:

      Yeah, it’s funny that I love high fantasy so much since I am such a character reader. I guess because it is TOTALLY worth it when all things are working at once. Like Mistborn. *SWOON*

      You might want to start with her contemps. That’s what I’ve been hearing. Leave it to me to start in the most awkward place. :-p

  4. Okay, I’m warned now not to give up in the beginning, but this book is on my shelf and ‘m damn reading it, especially after your review, Christina! πŸ™‚

  5. fakesteph says:

    Soooo, I was thinking about reading this and now that I know how dark it is, I want to read it even more. I think I’ll definitely enjoy this one. Also, I really appreciated your sidebar, although I don’t have anything particularly insightful to say in response.

  6. Each reading experience is truly individual, because I think this series is incredibly character-driven. So much is revealed by the actions! I do agree that it was kind of slow to get into the story, though. There’s a lot going on.

    I also think this is a book that could easily be shelved in adult fiction. While I know teens who have loved it, it is dark and the experiences of the characters are about more adult themes, especially in the later books when the plot revolves around marriage and having children to some extent. Then there are other themes about friendship and family that seem universal. It’s interesting to me how these sorts of designations are made. This series is the first I give to an adult reader looking for fantasy or someone who is generally skeptical of YA.

    I still have Marchetta’s contemporary books to read — it will be interesting to compare the experience!

    • Christina says:

      Huh, that’s interesting. I feel like there was a definite distance between me and the characters. For me, it seemed like a lot of the evolution of friendships and romances took place off screen. Like, Evanjalin and Finnikin hated each other until the didn’t, but there wasn’t really a transition.

      Honestly, I think such designations are only so helpful, and, really, people can choose their own books to read and shouldn’t worry so much about the intended audience.

  7. meg says:

    I completely agree with you when you say the beginning is slow and boring, I’m also a character reader and I honestly didn’t really care (or even feel like I had a clue what was going on) until probably a quarter of the way in. However, once it picked up I was hooked and the rest of the Lumatere Chronicles just get better and better.
    Finnkin was my first Melina Marchette too and while I really liked it I wasn’t all OMGTHISISAMAZING. But by the time I finished Froi, Marchetta was officially an auto-buy for me. If you have the time/opportunity, I really recommend finishing the trilogy.

    • Christina says:

      Yup. I’d say it started really picking up right around the hundred page mark. Oh yeah, I’ll definitely be finishing the trilogy! I just need the time to fit it into my Sadie Hawkins’ Schedule!

  8. Megan K. says:

    So after reading so many rave reviews for this one, it was refreshing to see a three-star review. I love that the darkness factor was done well, because I like my fantasies on the darker side, but the slow beginning does get to me a little bit. Still, I like the sound of Marchetta’s writing, and I have Finnikin sitting on my shelf right now, so it’s only a matter of time before I get to it. Great review!

    • Christina says:

      Ha, I’m that guy sometimes. Much as I think it was great, I can’t rate any higher because the beginning was a real slog. It’s apparently all worthwhile, because consensus is that Froi is the best book ever.

  9. Amy says:

    I’m not a huge fantasy reader, but this one really sounds good. I might have to give it a try at some point. Great review chick!!

  10. BULLY?? I AM A BULLY? I just was excited, you jerk! *sticks tongue out*

    But no really, I think this MIGHT be the perfect book for me. I read your review in its entirety and some of the adult themes have me a little worried but I do own a copy of this and I swear someday I will read it because I have wanted to forever now. I am all about world building. πŸ˜€

    • Christina says:

      *blows raspberry*

      IT MIGHT BE. You know what? I never realized until now how important world building is for you. Haha, this explains so much!

  11. Amanda says:

    I totally agree about the beginning of this novel taking off so slowly. I do love world-building in my fantasies, but for some reason I remember noting that it took me a while to become fully invested in this story (perhaps it was an initial slow build of characterization, as you noted). But it does get better and I did end up quite enjoying it by the end. I read Finnikin a year and a half ago and haven’t read the rest of the series. Since I’ve been immersed in lots of YA lit since then and have read more Marchetta and have the sequels within reach, I’m hoping to really enjoy re-reading Finnikin. We’ll see how it goes, I guess. Very informative review, Christina! I’m glad that you still were able to enjoy the story overall and I hope that you like the sequels more!

    • Christina says:

      I do plan to get to the rest of the series in the next few weeks. It’s a constant battle of time against my TBR pile. Haha. I hope I like the sequels even more too!

  12. Renae M. says:

    Jellicoe Road got off to a similarly uninspiring start, and I ended up DNFing. Fantasty tends to not be my thing, but I’m hoping that this will be the book to make me a fan of her stuff. I do tend to enjoy my books on the darker side of things (as opposed to all the fluffiness).

  13. Princess Ash says:

    I’m happy that Melina was able to suck you in even if it didn’t seem like it was going to be your thing in the beginning. There’s just something about what Melina does as an author that speaks to me. I too am a major character girl and still fell in love with this story. It felt like an olden tale or legend, something that could’ve happened, and I loved every inch of the setup, the puzzle of how Melina was going to put everything together, and I grew to love the characters immensely. In other words, I’M HAPPY YOU ENJOYED IT. πŸ˜€

  14. Molli Moran says:

    I’ve also heard time and time again how amazing Melina’s books are, but I haven’t really made that plunge where I’m all “MUST READ THEM.” Which is weird, because as you were talking about how dark they are, I was going, “I would like these.” Hmmmm. Let me go see if any of them are on my TBR so I don’t keep forgetting about them.

    Molli | Once Upon a Prologue

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