Friday, October 15, 2010

Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta

Finnikin of the Rock
The best way for me to start this review is to link you to another: here is the one at Angieville. When I got to page 60 and realized that I couldn’t describe this book to another person, I went looking for reviews, and it took reading another for me to put the pieces together. It all sounded familiar, and made more sense, but perhaps not enough. 

And Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta (Candlewick) doesn’t always make a lot of sense. I have a feeling that I’ve picked up the second book in a series—that I’ve missed the entire history somewhere. The characters spend a great deal of time talking about the time when their kingdom fell apart. Between the references to people and places that we don’t see in the present of the narrative and the difficulties of juggling multiple characters of the same gender in the same scene (To whom does that “he” refer?), I found the story confusing more often than not. 

I usually like it when authors dump me right into a world and leave me to swim (see: my great love for Incarceron and Sapphique), but I wished for more streamlining in Finnikin of the Rock--or the prequel, which exists only as several prologue pages of italicized backstory. I also wished for some sort of linguistic pattern that might indicate something about Finnikin’s world; there’s Finnikin and Trevanion, a Kristopher (Topher), Evanjalin, Beatriss, Perri, goddesses Lagrami and Sagrami, an August and a Froi. I was looking for a pattern—maybe prefixes or suffixes in names that would help me keep track of people, but the names seemed chosen at random.

There are some really cool things happening in Finnikin of the Rock. Though Finnikin acts quite mature, is older than your average YA protagonist, and even references his desire for the one present-time female character pretty bluntly, it’s not at all out of range for a teen reader. Hero Finnikin and his father have an interesting and close relationship, rare when teens, especially fantasy teens, lose both their parents to terrible fates. There’s reference to a multi-part goddess worshipped in Finnikin’s kingdom, which also acts as a metaphor for divides in the residents. There’s consideration of large-scale war and class and gender-relations issues and politics in the story’s world, without miring down in any of those. I think that there’s interesting exploration of the “band of brothers” dynamic in the warriors trying to re-gather themselves after being scattered to the wind. Evanjalin is one of the most awesome girls in a story that I’ve ever met where that girl is not the protagonist: she has agency and she’s not afraid to use it, even though she lives in a paternalistic world. The last quarter of the book is incredibly strong and vibrant, taking on not only the "final battle" but the aftermath and rebuilding following (all without resorting to an epilogue!).

Parts of Finnikin of the Rock are fantastic, gripping reads, but they’re scattershot with some very confusing stretches and too much reminiscing for my taste. Still, my misgivings about the first half of this book were flipped by the ending. I’d match this book with someone who really likes high fantasy; fans of The Lord of the Rings and A Wizard of Earthsea might enjoy Finnikin very much.

What’s your take?

I read this book as a first-round judge for the Cybils Awards, which means that I may have received a review copy from the publisher (or not; I own a lot of the books in this category). I read some books nominated for the YA fantasy and science fiction category in 2010 before the nomination period, and may have already reviewed them or declined to make a public review; these books might not have a Cybils post tag. As a first-round judge, I was tasked with helping create a shortlist of books. My personal reviews do not reflect any actions or discussions of the judging committee. 

A book trailer with a bombastic soundtrack:


  1. I haven't read Finnikin, but it's lying on my shelf in wait. I can say, though, that one of my students read it last year and couldn't put it down.

    Thanks for the post.

  2. Oh, that's cool! I wondered a little about its teen appeal.


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