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Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta

Melina Marchetta’s first novel Looking For Alibrandi was published in 1992 and was released as a film in 2000 which she also wrote. She taught secondary school English and History for ten years during which time she released her second novel Saving Francesca followed by On the Jellicoe Road.  In 2006 she left teaching to become a full time writer. Her first fantasy novel, Finnikin of the Rock was published in 2008 and in 2010 The Piper’s Son, a companion novel to Saving Francesca was released. She has written a children’s book, The Gorgon in the Gully, as part of the Puffin Pocket Money series.

“Be prepared for the worst, my love, for it lives next door to the best.”

  At the age of nine, Finnikin is warned by the gods that he must sacrifice a pound of flesh in order to save the royal house of his homeland, Lumatere. And so he stands on the rock of three wonders with his childhood friend Prince Balthazar and the prince’s cousin, Lucian, and together they mix their blood. And Lumatere is safe.

  Until the ‘five days of the unspeakable’, when the King and Queen and their children are slaughtered in the palace. And an imposter king takes the throne. And a curse is put on Lumatere, which traps those caught inside and forces thousands of others to roam the land as exiles, dying of fever and persecution in foreign camps.

  But ten years later Finnikin is led to another rock to meet the young novice, Evanjalin. A girl plagued by dark dreams, who holds the key to their return to the Land of light…

This is a wonderful story about a generation that has lost its identity, and a young boy who strives to restore his people to their former glory. The book isn’t overloaded with fantastical elements; they are subtly interwoven into a mesmerising story. The pacing of the story is perfect – Marchetta takes time when it’s needed, sometimes whole chapters consist of one day, and doesn’t dwell on the unnecessary, sometimes skipping days, almost weeks at a time. The issues explored, including cultural identity and displacement of a community, are handled with sensitivity and care, and I think this is one of the best aspects of the book.

The romance between Finnikin and Evanjalin took me by surprise because I was initially of the opinion that it happened too fast. But I quickly realised that Marchetta isn’t writing your typical young adult fantasy, and this couple had to overcome some very serious problems before they could even think about romance. I thought it was a realistic approach to love – that heroes charged with the salvation of their people would not succumb to idle romance mid way through their quest. 

I liked reading a young adult book narrated with the voice of a teenage boy – it is still a relatively new experience for me and I loved it. Finnikin is a complex, interesting character with whom I empathised a lot, and I think he is wonderfully written. Evanjalin was exasperating at times, and I really didn’t understand her until much later in the book, and I am struck at her strength of character. 

Finnikin of the Rock is a great book which I suspect gets overlooked in light of the other young adult offerings out there. I think readers will be pleasantly surprised by Marchetta’s daring departure from contemporary fiction. 

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