February 23, 2010

Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta

I've been looking forward to this book ever since I finished Jellicoe Road and heard Melina Marchetta had a fantasy novel already out in Australia. It took awhile but eventually word went out that the wonderfully titled Finnikin of the Rock would be making its American debut this February and I settled back, somewhat impatiently, to wait. Jellicoe Road was my first experience reading a Marchetta book and I consider it a pretty much perfect reading experience. To say that my anticipation for her next book was high would be something of an understatement. Though the fact that it was high fantasy gave me some pause. I read quite a bit of fantasy of all kinds and I was fascinated to see how the very modern, fragmented style of writing I loved in Jellicoe Road translated to such a wildly different genre.

Once the son of the King of Lumatere's warlord, Finnikin of the Rock ran wild and happy with his best friends and rivals Prince Balthazar and Lucian of the Monts. As boys they make a blood pact to protect their homeland no matter what. Then, in Finnikan's ninth year, the five days of the unspeakable occur and the world changes. An imposter ascends to the throne, butchering the royal family and causing a curse to be laid on the the few remaining survivors. The walls of Lumatere close and the rest of its mangled population are scattered to the four winds. Years later, his mother long dead, his father long gone, Finnikin is a young man. Having spent his life wandering neighboring lands with his mentor Sir Topher, he refuses to give up hope of returning and reclaiming the land he loved and lost. When they are joined by the young novice Evanjalin, Finnikin is certain the off putting young woman who is sworn to silence will do nothing but slow them down. It is not long, however, before he discovers he could not be more wrong. For Evanjalin herself burns with a thirst for justice and it will be all Finnikin can do to keep up with her.

Truly this book has the makings of an absolutely divine epic fantasy. I was all set to fall in love. And the first section is very encouraging. However, not long after Finnikin and Sir Topher encounter Evanjalin, I began to run into problems on two fronts. First, the overall storyline began sounding eerily familiar and I realized it reminded me strongly of another epic fantasy I love and have read several times--Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay. Unfortunately, once I made the connection, I could not get it out of my head. The once lovely land fallen to a conqueror's control, all but wiped out and a curse laid upon its survivors that they may always remember and never reclaim what was theirs. The rebels in hiding, circling their forbidden home, determined to mount a rebellion, fulfill a prophecy, and restore a lost royalty. And though I found these resemblances uncanny, I still would have happily sunk into Ms. Marchetta's writing were it not for the characters. They were so cold, so far removed from me as the reader. As I said, all of the elements I love were present--the deceptively simple young woman with an agenda of her own, the dispossessed young man desperate to become a man like his heroic father, the dire curse, the mysterious disappearances. A few hundred pages in I was struggling to figure out what was wrong with me, why I wasn't enjoying this read, when it suddenly occurred to me that I didn't like the characters. Not one. I didn't care at all what happened to them. And, as a result, I went through the entire novel essentially unaffected by the sweeping events of the tale for a lack of caring and closeness. I found both Finnikin and Evanjalin in large part tiresome, petty, and prickly (not in a good way) and could not for the life of me feel the connection they supposedly had. Though I was told it was there, it never felt real to me. There was so much potential that just never found a grounding point. I've held off writing this review because I felt so bad about my reaction (or lack thereof), especially considering how much I assumed I'd like it. I even took time off to make sure it wasn't simply my mood at the time. But when I came back nothing had changed. They were still them and I was still me and we none of us cared much for each other so it was best we part ways. Now, I am definitely a lone dissenting voice on this one. So I certainly recommend you give it a shot because, though there was a decided barrier between me and them, I could tell that if these characters turn out to be your cuppa there's a good chance you'll love it even if I couldn't.

Linkage

14 comments:

  1. I wanted to read this one, but after your review I won't be in any hurry. I hate it when I feel no connection with any characters.

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  2. You're not a lone dissenting voice. I had exactly the same reaction you did, to the point I put it down and didn't finish it.

    I was given the Australian edition and read it last year, so I was watching all the northern hemisphere delight as people saw it was being published up there and wondered what the reviews would be like once people actually read it.

    Most seem to think it is great. So it is very, very nice to see someone who had the same reaction I did.

    I found it so very disappointing, because like you said, it had so much going for it. It could have been just wonderful, but for me it wasn't.

    I simply didn't care about the characters, they evoked no particular response in me at all. I didn't even particuarly dislike them. I just didn't care. So I stopped reading.

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  3. I'm about two thirds of the way through and I think it's amazing! I thought I was going to hate it after the first chapter but it cast it's spell over me.

    I've been really surprised that I haven't seen more about it, so thanks for the links.

    Sorry you had a disappointing experience, that's always tough when you're excited about a book :(

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  4. Brenda, it's an insurmountable flaw for me. It didn't matter how cool the goings on were, I had no interest in the people. *sigh*

    Kerry, wow, I feel better now knowing I'm not the only one. I thought this would be a sure thing for me and it was so NOT a sure thing that it left me pretty blue. I put it down as well and came back reluctantly. But it was no better. And the ending was clearly supposed to be awesome and it really would have been if it had been happening in, say, Megan Whalen Turner's world to her characters. Or Kristin Cashore's. But I've read comparisons between FINNIKIN and those two authors' work and I have to say I just do not see it at all. I couldn't feel more indifferent to these characters. It sounds like we had an identical reaction and I bet you really were interested to see how it would go over on this side. I'm glad it's doing well. I just found it really, really flat. Sad.

    Alexa, lol, sounds like we went in opposite directions from our start. I loved it initially and then it went downhill fast.

    You're welcome for the links! I'm sure it'll be gaining buzz here soon.

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  5. Don't feel too bad, Angie. I had a similar experience with a different book last year. Was supposed to be an easy homerun, and everyone else seemed to love it, but I hated it. With a passion probably elevated by the fact that I'd hoped so hard to love it.

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  6. I was very uncertain about the characters until about half-way through, to the point of not knowing if I would finish or not, but then I decided I had enough invested in them to keep going...

    I was more bothered by the incessant horrible-ness; in my own review, I recommended it to those who enjoy Patrick Ness, who leave me with a similar somewhat bruised feeling.

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  7. It really is sad when you end up not liking a book that you looked forward to reading. On a more positive note, I haven't read Tigana but I added it to my wish list because of what you said. :)

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  8. Hm, good to know. I've been meaning to read Guy Gavriel Kay for a while now, but I might read Finnikin first (I want to love Melina Marchetta!). :P

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  9. I smack in the middle of this one (they're on a ship at this point) and although I've never read a book by this author it sounded like a story that I would love (so I went and bought it straightaway).
    I've really been trying to forge ahead, but I find that the story goes hot and cold so often that it's makes it harder for me to believe that these characters have any connections. I'm still going to finish, but I can definitely see where you're coming from.

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  10. Diana, thanks. :) That's how it seems to work, isn't it? You react strongly in the opposite direction because of those dang expectations. Oh, well. On to the next...

    Charlotte, first off, I've added a link to your review! Not sure how I missed that one. And you're quite right. I think the horrible-ness bothered me. Though it was more within the characters for me. I just wasn't down with Evanjalin's methods or Finnikin's...cavalier-ness, if that makes sense. If I'd cared more I would have felt bruised for sure. I know what you mean.

    Chachic, oh, good! It's a beautiful, beautiful book. Heart wrenching and lovely. In the best way. And the characters have you by the throat. :)

    Jenny, lol. I hear ya. Definitely give it a shot and let me know. But do not miss JELLICOE ROAD. It's a work of art. And I love Guy Gavriel Kay. The Fionavar trilogy and TIGANA are my favorites.

    Samantha, sigh, yeah. I kept trying to believe in them and they seemed to keep trying to relate to each other as well. But it just came to a whole lot of nothing. Let me know what you think when you finish.

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  11. Anonymous12:14 PM

    I have a copy, but I haven't had the urge to read it. I only skimmed your review because I'm sure the stuff that bugged you will bug me. We have similar reactions to books (except, maybe, the vampire academy books). Sorry it wasn't for you. Karen

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  12. Karen, you're right. Aside from Dimitri and Co. *grin* our tastes really do align. I don't think this one will be for you either.

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  13. Ah, so it wasn't just me (you have a link to my review on Skerricks at the end of your entry). Looking for Alibrandi is a great book by Marchetta, and Saving Francesca probably my favourite. I've just got a copy of The Piper's Son, which follows SavFran some years later. I want to be absorbed and to like it - it's on the to-read pile. Cheers.

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  14. Just sorted out my thoughts on this one. It was a complicated thing to review for me, and I saw the book it could have been.

    http://simplelittlebookworm.blogspot.com/2011/01/review-melina-marchettas-finnikin-of.html

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