First sentence: “A long time ago, in the spring before the five days of the unspeakable, Finnikin of the Rock dreamed he was to sacrifice a pound of flesh to save the royal house of Lumatere.”
This is a dark book. I’m not going to beat around the bush: there are dark, harsh, brutal moments in this book. They’re not graphic — thankfully — but they are there, and they are effective in their purpose.
Ten years ago, the unspeakable happened in Lumatere: assassins came, invaded the castle and brutally murdered the king, queen and most of their children. The country was sent into chaos and more than half the citizens fled into exile. An impostor seized the throne, and the country was left under a curse: no one can enter, no one can leave, until the rightful heir returns. Finnikin of the Rock, son of the captain of the King’s Guard, is on the outside, and has spent the intervening time learning from the King’s First Man, and visiting the exile camps, working on a way to gather his people in a new land; he has no hope for ever returning to Lumatere.
Then he meets Evanjalin, a novice in one of the goddess’s orders — in many ways, this book has the same magical feel as Mists of Avalon: very female-centric, very earthy in its magic — who gives Finnikin some hope that they can actually return to Lumatere. The journey they take to get to the doors involves danger, betrayal, pain, and hope as they find and gather together what’s left of the Lumaterian elite, and decide exactly how to break the curse and dispose of the impostor that keeps the country in darkness.
The book starts out incredibly slowly; in fact, I had several people tell me that they just couldn’t “get into it.” It’s quite plodding to begin with. But it’s also one of those books that if you give it time, if you invest yourself in it, you will be richly rewarded. The romance isn’t swooning, but it’s solid and beautiful. The payoff at the end, the hope for the country which, as a reader, you’ve become invested in, is palpable. Sure, there are some missteps: I wasn’t quite sure what Marchetta meant to do with the slave boy, Froi; he just seemed to lurk around in the background, never fully part of the story. And the story could have been tightened; there was a lot of background that didn’t quite feel truly necessary, not to mention the vast number of characters to keep track of.
But, after a while, the clunkiness became less important, and I was swept away by the mythology, the connection Marchetta built with the characters. Evanjalin is a strong female character, not kick-butt, but strong-willed, smart, and an awesome presence. Finnikin is her match in almost every way; he’s a bit slow to come around, but he cares about his country and is fierce in his loyalty. It’s rewarding to see their relationship pan out.
Then again, it’s rewarding to see this story, as painful as it is, come to its fruition.
Rated: Moderate, for a few instances of mild swearing, one F-word, and references to violence, brutality and rape, though nothing graphic.