The Church of Melina Marchetta

Finnikin of the Rock  - Melina Marchetta
”You asked me once what my magic was.
That is my magic.”

I am now convinced Melina Marchetta is made of equal parts freshly-baked cookies, clean laundry, pixie dust and waffles. Something about her books just comforts me in ways I cannot attempt to capture into words. Her oeuvre covers themes that in their simplicity would probably come across emotionally exploitative in lesser hands, but her crafty storytelling effortlessly ties textured characters with my personal reflexes and sentiments towards family, courage, hope and love. 

And somewhere in the middle a bit of magic happens.

As with fantasy books, it all started with a blood (and hair - courtesy of Isaboe, Balthazar’s younger sister) promise. Prince Balthazar of Lumatere pledged to die defending his royal house, his cousin Lucian of the Monts swore to be their beacon in times of need and his friend Finnikin of the Rock vowed to be their protector and guide for as long as he lived. Finnkin of the Rockchronicles Finnkin’s conflict in fulfilling that vow amidst despair and hopelessness ten years after Lumatere was besieged by the Impostor King sending half their peoples scattered all throughout Skuldenore while their last remaining royal, Balthazar, is nowhere to be seen. They travel to the Cloister of Lagrami where a novice named Evanjalin claims to walk in the dreams of the remaining Lumaterans within the walls has walked into Prince Balthazar’s dream.

While I’ve read (and loved) nearly all her contemporary books, it took me a bit of time to brave The Lumatere Chronicles. And by the way, I’M HOLDING EACH AND EVERY FRIEND OF MINE HERE WHO DIDN’T TIE ME DOWN AND FORCED ME TO READ THIS SOONER, RESPONSIBLE FOR THIS TRAVESTY. Mostly because being familiar with her narrative, fitting that particular style in High Fantasy feels a little… overwhelming. I mean, can you imagine this being told the way On the Jellicoe Road is written? Someone is bound to lose hair over that: pulled or shed. Thankfully this story unfurled in a more or less straightforward almost heist-like manner. Where Finnikin, Evanjalin and Sir Topher gathers the necessary implements and pieces to their fractured hopes to get their people home.

Though certainly, her fingerprint is still all over the place: Trevonian and Beatriss had a little of Sam and Georgie while the way the five days of the unspeakable was revealed is pretty much the standard in her books. She writes these characters with such a lovely insight in each and how they relate to each other: fathers and sons, friends and enemies, teachers and apprentices, orphans and the world. And lest you think this is just too heavy…

”Hungry,” Froi muttered.
“And we’re not?” Finnikin snapped back.
“He’s a boy,” Sir Topher admonished, “who needs to eat. You were the same at his age Finnikin.”
“No I was not.”
Sir Topher snorted with disbelief.
“All of you stay here,” Finnikin ordered. “I will get us food.” He pointed a finger at his father. “No fighting with the locals!”

Her perspective is very matriarchal and feminist (that scene where Yata asked Finnikin to meet Lady Abie, Beatriss and Tesadora makes me think of The Piper's Son), but the male characters don’t feel compromised. A very narrow buffer range that doesn’t exist where Marchetta’s concerned.

How does she do it? Why are there so many EL James clones and none of hers????

The scope of the encompassing story of Lumatere was vast, with some Old Testament-y feel to it (I could almost imagine someone crying “Let my People go!” in one scene). The way Finnikin and his crew travelled from one region to another getting themselves enmeshed in the politics and nuanced conflicts in that particular area gave this the gritty adventure I’d most expect in adult HF. Much like in Red Rising, I’ve had to check several times that this is young adult because it certainly didn’t have that feel you get from the usual suspects in this genre: Throne of GlassGracelingThe Girl of Fire and Thorns… this is perched way above whatever benchmark those fairytales set for themselves. This wears the grown-up pants quite comfortably. I loved it but that may very well be this book’s gift and it’s curse.

Because of the maturity in the story, the characters and the themes this chose to focus on, certain plot points felt off-key and an ill-fit to what this set out to do. I think most of the review here didn’t appreciate that reveal around the 75% mark and what came after. I actually loved that plot twist. I WANTED that plot twist 

These were my first two highlights in the book:

The three friends spent all summer digging the trap, and when it was finished, they dragged Balthazar’s youngest sister, Princess Isaboe, along to be bait.


… and they cut flesh from their bodies and tugged a strand of hair from the weeping Isaboe’s head to make a sacrifice for their goddess/

I liked Evanjalin fine but I was a fan of Isaboe’s story first.

Okay I liked Evanjalin most of the time. Especially when she’s not acting like a jealous non-girlfriend over Finnikin’s whoring after he survived the prison she sent him to in order to motivate Trevanion to escape. A prison where he could have been raped and beaten down. Repeatedly. I mean jebus cut the guy some slack, woman! But despite her messianic complex going on, that dose of manipulation and willingness to go far and beyond for her people, the intentions of her character doesn’t feel contrived or offensively perfect to me. Yes Madrigal, I’m looking at you.

(show spoiler)

So when that reveal came, I was a little disappointed with how the explanation felt a little anaemic. Almost as much as the elaborate explanation behind Evanjalin’s abilities. 

The POVs jump around a lot but didn’t deter me from forging emotional bonds with most of the characters. What was a little distracting was that there were visible holes in certain scenes where say Sir Topher orders Finnikin to go this way and the POV follows Finnikin on that adventure, but I’m left wondering, what’s Sir Topher doing while all that is happening? It created some lapses in the continuity, as if all the world stops with that character’s POV. 

The plight of the Lumaterans greatly outweighed my interest over the romance, if you can believe it. Though make no mistake, the romance was good and there were more than one occasion when I felt some swelling in my heart over characters being reunited and truths being revealed. The side-plots were mesmerising (Team Perri/Tesadora! Woohoo!) but it was that pervading theme of the despair and sorrow by the exiles, their heart-wrenching past and their losses in the present more than filled the very few points where this lacked.

Gah, I’ve blathered on far too long yet again! So hard to review High Fantasy concisely! Okay needless to say I loved it. I foresee a re-read down the line but I’m more looking forward to reading about Froi. 

Froi liked the way Moss said “our boy” as if Froi belonged to them instead of belonging to no one. Sometimes during their travels, he had imagined there was someone inside Lumatere searching for him. But there had been no mother like Lady Abian or father like Trevanion waiting. No kin who recognised him as theirs.

Last thing:
Goddess of Light = LAGRAMI
Goddess of Dark = SAGRAMI
Goddess Complete = SALAMI