Finnikin of the Rock

This is Week 5 of a 12-Week series of blog posts reviewing new young adult books. Check back each Monday for a new review.

Finnikin of the Rock, by Melina Marchetta, is a book for readers who don’t mind losing themselves. The land of Skuldenore is not always a pleasant place to be lost – in fact, it is often heartbreakingly dark. But I didn’t mind being lost within it, as long as I was with Finnikin.

Skuldenore is comprised of several countries, such as Osteria, Charyn, and Yutlind. Each country has its own interesting characterization, and there is much that goes into the world-building in this book, which makes it so successful. The country we care most about is Lumatere, Finnikin’s homeland.

Ten years ago, a power-greedy cousin infiltrated Lumatere’s royal castle, slaughtering the king, queen, and princesses. This violence set off another chain of violent events, which ended with the entire country being cursed and sealed off from the rest of the world. Those events are called “the five days of the unspeakable.” The people who escaped during that time roam the other countries, exiled, ignored, and mostly despised. They die from fever, starvation, and at the hands of other countries’ kings. It is not a good time to be Lumateren.

Finnikin is the son of the head of the King’s Guard, and for his whole childhood he was playmate to Prince Balthazar and his younger sister Isaboe. Along with Sir Topher, the King’s First Man, Finnikin works in these years of exile to improve the conditions of Lumaterans living in camps. Prince Balthazar’s body was never discovered during the five days of the unspeakable, and so Finnikin also searches for him during his travels.

One day the pair is summoned to the cloister of Sendecane, and there they meet the novice Evanjalin, who is said to have special powers. She claims to know something of Balthazar’s whereabouts and they set off for the remote kingdom of Sorel. Evanjalin is duplicitious in her methods and goals, but she does indeed have the rumored power: she walks in the sleep of those people still trapped in Lumatere with the cruel, imposter King.
She leads Finnikin and Sir Topher on a wild, perilous journey toward their cursed homeland, full of dangerous encounters and discoveries.

Finnikin of the Rock is a fast-paced, intense epic fantasy novel. There is plenty of violence and some mature themes, so it’s appropriate for 9th grade and up. This was first published in Australia in 2008 and in the US in 2010. Penguin Australia’s site has excerpts of the book in print and audio here.