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 dream propels Finnikin to pledge to be Lumatere’s protector. Although not fully understood until much later, this pledge would change the course of his life. Short months after his pledge, in Finnikin’s ninth year, the unthinkable happens. His country is invaded and brutalized, an Imposter King takes the throne and his country is cursed as a women burns to death at the stake, on display for all to see. Lumatere is shut off from the world by an impenetrable fog and those lucky enough to escape spend the next ten years in refugee camp rife with fever and violence. The people of Lumatere find it impossible to fully settle in new lands and unable to forget their homeland.
Enter Finnikin, under the care of the King’s First Man, on a never-ending journey to attempt to secure a new homeland for the exiles. On the power of another dream they visit the cloister of a Goddess in hopes that the Lumatere heir survived and is in hiding. It is Evanjalin, a novice who walks the sleep of the exiles, but perhaps more importantly, she walks the sleep of those still inside Lumatere.
I loved this book. I must admit I found it a bit hard to get into at first. And I think my two paragraph summary speaks to that point. There is a lot going on in this book, a lot for readers to wrap their heads around (and the names of those cities and countries…ugh). I think there is almost too much explaining at the beginning about this world where Lumatere is located, it is a bit bogged down. (However, even though I am an avid fantasy lover, this does tend to be something of a personal problem - as in I dislike weird names and lots of setting up - I just want to get to the story people! So I do think for others this may not be an issue.) There is also some weird jumping from characters perspectives – the book is third person, but for most of the book Finnikin is clearly the focus, then oddly, for a couple of chapters near the end it jumps to two other characters, then back to Finnikin. It jarred.
So I could see some readers putting this one down, which would be a shame because these are some kinda characters. They are fierce, brave, human in ways that will break your heart and make you want to sing their praises. The dialogue is outstanding – it is some of the best dialogue I have ever read. Hands down. And that is saying a lot, but I absolutely mean it – I met some of my favorite characters ever in this book: Finnikin, Evanjalin (especially her, my god), Perri the Savage, and on and on. These were fully fleshed characters, even the ones we meet briefly.
My only other comment is that it is a darkly realistic book. What one imagines would happen when a country is invaded does. There is bloodshed, there is torture, there is rape. Marchetta doesn’t dance around these issues – they are in there, they are prominent, and I think they make the book stronger because of it. This is a fantasy, there is prophecy and magic, but it is a fantasy that is extremely rooted in both the basest and greatest parts of human nature.
The Australian edition of this book won the Aurealis Award in 2008 for the Best Young Adult Novel category. Well deserved.
A final note on the cover. It is beautiful, but more than a whif of King Arthur don't you think?
Book Source: ARC provided by publisher