Previously, Marchetta has been famous for her realistic fiction such as ‘Looking for Alibrandi’ and ‘Saving Francesca’. However, this time she is writing in the fantasy genre, with an authority and creative breadth that shows she is master of this genre also.
‘Finnikin of the Rock’ is epic in its scope, with action, romance and complex characters, and a well visualised sub-creation of the land of Lumatere and its surrounding kingdoms.We find out at the opening of the book that our hero, Finnikin has been warned by the gods that he must sacrifice a pound of flesh in order to save the royal house of Lumatere, his homeland. Together with his childhood friend, Prince Balthazar, and the Prince’s cousin, Lucian, they mix their blood to ensure the safety of Lumatere.
All continues in peace until the five days of “The Unspeakable”. During this dark time, the entire royal family are massacred in the palace. An imposter king takes the throne and a curse is placed on the land of Lumatere. This curse traps those inside the land and forces those outside to become exiles, living in refugee camps all over the surrounding kingdoms.
Finnikin and his mentor, Sir Topher, the King’s First Man, are part of the diaspora, or displaced people, kept out of their homeland. Finnikin and Sir Topher take it upon themselves to visit all the refugee camps, recording the dead and negotiating for their people’s welfare with foreign courts.
The future seems hopeless when Finnikin receives a summons to the temple of The Goddess of Lagrami for a meeting with the head priestess. They are introduced to a strange young novice called Evanjelin. She claims to “walk the sleep” of the heir to Lumatere and others trapped inside Lumatere. She proclaims that the heir to the throne lives, and the rest of the book is the journey back to Lumatere, leading all of the scattered peoples home.
Evanjelin is the most fascinating character in this book. She is complex, mysterious, arrogant and contradictory. Finnikin is both attracted and repelled by her, and at times feels totally betrayed by her. The relationship between Finnikin and Evanjelin is central to this book. It becomes clear that ‘Finnikin of the Rock’ is a character-driven fantasy; setting and action are subservient to this. For this reason readers who don’t usually like fantasy may well be attracted to this book.
One of the unique features of ‘Finnikin of the Rock’ as a fantasy is its themes of diaspora and dislocation of peoples. Marchetta is from an immigrant family and often writes about the struggles of the immigrant to integrate into a society which is culturally different from their own. In this book, she vividly portrays the struggles of the Lumatere people as they live in refugee camps, poverty stricken and losing hope. She points out how hard it is to communicate with the people around you when you don’t have their language, or when you realise your own language and culture is being lost forever.
Marchetta’s brilliant characterisations and imagination, along with her interest in the struggles of the immigrant, make ‘Finnikin of the Rock’ a very special fantasy novel. Highly recommended for young adults, and all readers of fantasy. – Jane Crew