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Book Review: Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta

Finnikin was only a child during the five days of the unspeakable, when the royal family of Lumatere were brutally murdered, and an imposter seized the throne. Now a curse binds all who remain inside Lumatere’s walls, and those who escaped roam the surrounding lands as exiles, persecuted and despairing, dying by the thousands in fever camps.

In a narrative crackling with the tension of an imminent storm, Finnikin, now on the cusp of manhood, is compelled to join forces with an arrogant and enigmatic young novice named Evanjalin, who claims that her dark dreams will lead the exiles to a surviving royal child and a way to pierce the cursed barrier and regain the land of Lumatere.

But Evanjalin’s unpredictable behavior suggests that she 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.

As you probably know by now, Melina Marchetta's 2009 Printz Award winner Jellicoe Road is one of my favorite books. So I was understandably thrilled to be sent an ARC of her newest book, Finnikin of the Rock, several months before its February 2010 US release date. While all Melina's other young adult books are contemporary, FOTR is fantasy. High fantasy. Epic fantasy.

While I am in awe of all great books, well-written fantasy tomes leave my brain gasping. So many characters! So many places! New cities, countries, histories! No googling the Wyoming Surnames Database for names like I did for my novel. It's a lot to wrap your head around as a reader, let alone as an author.

I didn’t doubt Melina Marchetta had the skill to write such a complex story. And yet, Finnikin of the Rock completely blew me away.

At its core, Finnikin of the Rock is the story of a people displaced. In fact, the novel starts with a poem by Primo Levi, the famous writer, chemist and Holocaust survivor. It's allegorical to all the real-world exoduses and genocides—not only the Jews, but also the Armenians, the Cambodians, the Darfuris, and the people of Serbia and Bosnia and Croatia, countries I backpacked through just two weeks ago with FOTR's Lumateran massacre still on my mind.

So yeah, there's heavy stuff there. But with the exception of certain parts, the book is hardly dreary. It's packed with adventure and magic and battles and dreamwalking and humor and peripheral characters that shine. There are Surprises! too—the kind we'd expect from the author of Jellicoe Road. Even if you guess a couple ahead of time, it only enriches the revelations, because you so want to be right. In other instances, Melina pulls off near-impossible feats of character development: specifically, the redemption of a character I absolutely despised (you'll know who I'm talking about).

But my favorite parts of FOTR are smaller moments. The parts that reflect Melina's gift for human connection. An arm slung playfully around a son's neck. Words spoken close at a cliff's edge. In the book's most heart-singing part, a Mont cousin approaching with alarming speed.

And of course, the romance. Sigh, swoon, sob. Melina's romances tend to creep up on you, just as they do her protagonists… right before they slap you in the heart.

While a measure of magic can be attributed to her careful pacing, the swoon factor is mostly because of her characters. They're rich, they're real, they're infinitely dimensional. Although Finnikin leads the story, fierce, compassionate Evanjalin is the true star—one of my all-time favorite characters, badass and broken and entirely unwavering in her quest to unite the severed kingdom of Lumatere. You'll adore her.

Finnikin of the Rock is marketed as young adult, but it's a great example of crossover, with appeal for adults as well as teens. It'll be available in the US on February 9, 2010. Copies are already available for pre-ordering.

Visit Melina Marchetta's website at

-Kirsten Hubbard

ARC provided by Candlewick
Kirsten Hubbard

Kirsten is the author of Like Mandarin, Wanderlove, and the middle grade novel Watch the Sky.

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  1. I NEED this book. Jellicoe Road is my favorite book and epic fantasy is my favorite genre... so the fact that Marchetta has written a novel that is epic fantasy is a dream come true.

    Wonderful review... you succeeded in making me even more excited for it... which I didn't know was possible!

  2. Gotta agree with Sara. Marchetta + epic fantasy can only be amazing. Cannot wait to read this! Great review Kirsten!

  3. Great review and great blog! I'm so glad I stopped by - I'm a new fan, and I'll be back! :)

  4. I'm so excited to read this book! Great review Kirsten :)

    (And hi, Shannon! Glad you like us!)

  5. I can't wait to get this one in my hands! Mail it, woman! Superb review, just enough to get my mouth watering.

  6. Wow. Amazing review, and I absolutely cannot wait to get my hands on this book.

  7. Like Kirsten, I'm in awe of good epic fantasy (and I'm picky, too) so I CANNOT wait to read this book. Thanks for the review, Kirsten!!!


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Item Reviewed: Book Review: Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Kirsten Hubbard