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The Bulletin
of the Center for Children's Books

The Big Picture, a regular Bulletin feature both on-line and off, is an in-depth look at selected new titles and trends. See the archive for selections from previous months.
Finnikin of the Rock

by Melina Marchetta

Ten years after the Days of the Unspeakable and the slaughter of the royal family, the kingdom of Lumatere remains split in two; with half of its people trapped within Lumatere’s walls by an unbreakable curse and the remaining half left to wander the outside land as exiles, there is little hope for the kingdom’s future.  Barely escaping with his life from the cursed land at age nine, Finnikin, along with his mentor Sir Topher (who was the right-hand man to the dead king), has spent the decade attempting to secure the safety of Lumatere refugees as they suffer in fever-riddled camps and are essentially treated like slaves in foreign lands. Soon he meets Evanjalin, a young woman who insists that her prophetic dreams can lead them to the surviving heir and rebuild their kingdom, a claim that Finnikin finds ludicrous. Evanjalin, however, is far from the damaged girl she seems, and as her leadership inspires hope among the exiles, Finnikin is forced to confront the shame he feels at his failed attempts to protect his homeland even as he ponders what, if anything, remains of Lumatere for himself and the rest of his people.

With the deft characterizations that have made her contemporary coming-of-age novels (Jellicoe Road, BCCB 11/08, etc.) so effective, Marchetta transforms what could be just another epic quest into an innovative fantasy; it’s driven almost entirely by the intense relationships among its multidimensional characters, giving the reader a unique perspective on the Lumatere situation as both a personal and political crisis. Finnikin and Evanjalin are compelling characters, two people grieving the loss of their home, and their search to restore the physical land they knew as children mirrors their desire to recapture a lost innocence. Though both realize this is an ultimately unfulfillable yearning, it remains their shared secret hope nonetheless. It’s one that teen readers will certainly recognize, particularly as both Finnikin and Evanjalin come to understand that the lines of good and bad they drew as children do not necessarily translate to the world of adulthood. Their evolving relationship includes a fair bit of sparring and plenty of romance, and it is especially intriguing as they try to determine who they are as individuals at the same time as they’re figuring out who they are to each other—another dilemma with which young readers are sure to be familiar.

Though we’ve seen plenty of kick-butt heroines in YA before, Evanjalin is one of a kind: her political savvy and stubborn righteousness make her a formidable opponent to Finnikin’s assumed leadership, but it is her understated vulnerability and intense compassion for her people that make her more than yet another caricature of a strong female. Finnikin remains sensitive despite his many attempts to live up to the warrior code and act like a real man’s man, and, interestingly enough, it is only when Evanjalin assumes her rightful place as queen, removing Finnikin’s chance at power, that he is truly able to shed himself of his father’s notions of masculinity and become the man he wants to be. The supporting cast is just as intriguing, with their own issues of sorrow and culpability: Finnikin’s father, for example, grieves for his wife and questions his own prideful actions, while the Lumaterans must acknowledge both their heroic and hateful deeds during this crisis if the kingdom is to fully recover.

Because of the authenticity created by these strong characterizations, when Marchetta introduces the real atrocities of this war, including rape, abuse, and slavery, readers feel a profound sense of shock and grief as an abstract political struggle becomes horrifyingly concrete. Fortunately, there is a happy ending, though it is realistically tempered by battle scars, and even readers who tend to avoid fantasy titles will find themselves fully engrossed in this harrowing tale.

Kate Quealy-Gainer, Assistant Editor



Cover image from Finnikin of the Rock ©2010 by Melina Marchetta. Used by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

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This page was last updated on March 1, 2010.