Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta

I have been a big fan of Marchetta’s contemporary young adult novels (Looking for Alibrandi, Jellicoe Road, and Saving Francesca) so when I heard that she was writing a fantasy for young adults, I knew I had to pick it up.

Ten years ago, Finnikin’s homeland of Lumatere suffered the massacre of its royal family and the vengeful curse of a mysterious priestess that caused an impenetrable dark mist to descend on the kingdom and prevent anybody from going in or out. Since that day, Finnikin and this guardian Sir Topher, along with many other Lumateran exiles have been trapped outside, with not even an inkling of how the citizens of Lumatere inside the kingdom are doing. Then, one day, Finnikin and Sir Topher are summoned to a religious cloister where it is revealed to them by a mysterious girl named Evanjalin that Balthazar, the son of the murdered king, is actually alive.

Together, the three of them set off together in search of the heir and the hope that one day Lumatere can be freed from its curse. Along the way, they encounter many refugee camps where the exiles of Lumatere now live; these camps are often nothing more than groups of tents, with people ravaged by fever and bereft of a future. The sight of these refugees drive our protagonists along on their quest to save the kingdom of Lumatere. But as they continue their travels, the mysterious Evanjalin unwittingly reveals that she is much more than what she claimed to be originally, and Finnikin must decide whether or not to trust her.

Everything about this book–the story, the characters, the plot, the history, the adventure–had so much potential but in the end it just didn’t work out for me.

One of the reasons I am such a big fan of Marchetta’s is because of her ability to draw in the reader with her writing, and make every emotion ring true. I connected very much with her protagonists in her contemporary YA novels, and I felt very emotionally tied in with the stories. However, this was not the case with Finnikin of the Rock. It felt like every chapter ended with an overwrought and overdramatic revelation or emotional realization by a character. There was no basis for it, it happened all the time, it felt fake and it made me want to roll my eyes.

The characters were at first intriguing, especially the mysterious Evanjalin. She was unpredictable, but at times to a point of being kind of out of character. Finnikin, the hero, had traditional hero characteristics (bravery, a quest, a mentor, fighting ability, honor) but not much more than that. Additionally, the romance that the author tried to inject into the plot was strangely plotted. At first our hero and heroine could barely remain civil to one another, and then a chapter later he was burning with lust for her. I didn’t get it. There wasn’t an ounce of sexual tension or emotional development. I didn’t feel like they were even friends yet, and then the romance was thrust upon us.

There was also some logistical weirdness, and all the distractions kept me from being able to enjoy the story. The world building was not solid. Marchetta’s fantasy geography and the history of the kingdoms within her world felt slapdash, stereotypical fantasy-land, and it did not stand out to me or make me care about the world in any way. I felt a large problem of the world building (as well as the characterizations, the romance, and the plot) was that there was too much telling, and not enough showing.

This book was extremely up and down for me. I would be reading along for a few pages and it would be smooth and well written and promising–but immediately it would go for some strange characterization, or awkward dialogue, or too-dramatic emotional revelation in a strange place in the story, and it would be downhill for awhile from there.

I’m still a big fan of Marchetta’s because her other books have been so amazing and are some of my favorites. However, her first foray into young adult fantasy didn’t wow me.

How did I get this book? My local library
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction
Author Website: http://www.melinamarchetta.com.au

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Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta

looking for alibrandi by melina marchettaRating: 7 out of 10
Summary:Seventeen-year-old Josephine Alibrandi is no stranger to conflict. If she’s not caught between her strict single mom and her even stricter grandmother, then she’s trying to choose between wealthy good boy John Barton and working-class bad boy Joseph Coote. Josephine is always in trouble with the nuns at her Catholic school (who everyone calls “penguins because of them wearing wimples and all that Sound of Music gear”) because she fights with native Australian kids over her mixed Australian/Italian heritage. Just when she thinks her situation couldn’t possibly get more complicated, her mysterious, long-lost biological father comes back and Josephine must decide if it’s worth getting to know this person who abandoned her and her mother. But through it all–including a startling revelation from her grandmother and the suicide of a close friend–Josephine manages to hold on to her sense of humor, as in this reflective moment: “I could have been a model for Hot Pants. Except that when I finally put my glasses on, reality set in. Hot Pants would have to wait.”

Summary 2: A scholarship student at a tony Catholic girls’ school, Josie is aware that she is different from her affluent “Aussie” classmates: she’s illegitimate, and she’s closely tied to her Italian immigrant community. She feels periodically rebellious against her classmates’ snobbishness, against the nuns’ authority at school, against her community’s mores. Even so, Josie clearly regards the women in her life–her single mother, her grandmother and even some of the nuns–with affection as well as exasperation. Josie has less experience dealing with guys until senior year, when three members of the opposite sex complicate her world. Her father, who has not previously known of her existence, arrives on the scene unexpectedly, and she can’t help feeling drawn to him. She also becomes involved with two boys her own age: the upper-class but desperately unhappy John Barton and the wilder, iconoclastic Jacob Coote. (both summaries from amazon.com)

My Thoughts: I think this is the third time I’ve read this book–I get something different from it each time because the first time I read it I was quite young–probably elementary school, and the second time I was in middle school, and now I am graduating from high school. I remember being extremely confused when I was younger because of the cultural/geographic differences between Australia and the U.S. Several times in the narration it talks about how July is the coldest month, and school ends in September or something, or it’s hot during Christmas… I was so confused, hahaha.

Some of the plot points and characterizations might sound cliche and stupid from the plot summaries, but Marchetta has a way of making everything very multi-faceted–the characters aren’t just two dimensional cardboard cutouts.

I liked the way the author developed Josephine’s family and relationships, and the way she changed as a person throughout the novel. There were funny aspects (Josie has what most people would call a big mouth), but there were serious and somber aspects too. It ended well. A good “coming-of-age” novel.

Three books for $13! That’s only $4.30 per book!

I love a good deal.

I haven’t been very good about updating this blog recently… I have been in a bad-book-slump. Where it seems like all 6 of the books you checked out from the library are all boring and you can’t get past the first two chapters in each. That’s been the last month for me, I’m not sure why.

Well, since I read Jellicoe Road in 2 hours last night, I think my bad-book-slump is over! In addition, I went to Half-Price Books today and bought 3 books that I have all read before but never reviewed here, as I read them when I was much much younger.

Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta (since Jellicoe Road reminded me of how good an author Marchetta is)
Midnight Predator by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes
Redwall by Brian Jacques (I loved these books in the 3rd grade… I’m excited to re-read it.)

After I re-read these childhood goodies hopefully I will have more things to write about.

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

jellicoe road by melina marchettaRating: 8 out of 10
Summary: “What do you want from me?” he asks. What I want from every person in my life, I want to tell him. More.

Abandoned by her mother on Jellicoe Road when she was eleven, Taylor Markham, now seventeen, is finally being confronted with her past. But as the reluctant leader of her boarding school dorm, there isn’t a lot of time for introspection. And while Hannah, the closest adult Taylor has to family, has disappeared, Jonah Griggs is back in town, moody stares and all. In this absorbing story by Melina Marchetta, nothing is as it seems and every clue leads to more questions as Taylor tries to work out the connection between her mother dumping her, Hannah finding her then and her sudden departure now, a mysterious stranger who once whispered something in her ear, a boy in her dreams, five kids who lived on Jellicoe Road eighteen years ago, and the maddening and magnetic Jonah Griggs, who knows her better than she thinks he does. If Taylor can put together the pieces of her past, she might just be able to change her future.

Summary 2: Taylor Markham has been living at the Jellicoe School since her mother abandoned her at a gas station when she was eleven. Taylor’s whole life is a mystery to her-from what happened to her mother and who her father was to why certain people in town are so interested in her well-being. As the Jellicoe School students begin their annual territory wars with the Townies and military school cadets, Taylor is thrown together with Jonah Griggs, the leader of the Cadets. Although they are sworn enemies, Taylor and Jonah have a history and find themselves drawn to one another. Together they begin to unravel the tragic story of the five teenagers who started the territory wars a generation before and how their lives are tightly linked with Taylor’s own. (both summaries from bn.com)

Commentary: Neither of those summaries I provided above sound all that great, at least compared to the actual story Marchetta has written. 

I have read her two previous novels, Looking for Alibrandi and Saving Francesca, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed. While Marchetta does tend to have a sort of formulaic plot and characters that kind of show up in all her books, she does such a good job that I don’t mind it. 

Jellicoe Road was a little confusing to start out with at first, I almost stopped because I didn’t really get what Marchetta was going for or what kind of tone she was trying to set up in her first few chapters. I had to re-read the beginning. But it got moving right after that and I started to really enjoy it–I didn’t like the double, intertwining storylines at first, but when it started making sense I thought it had some good twists and surprises. 

Marchetta’s books are very “teenage-girl-coming-of-age-discovering-new-things-about-herself-sentimental-heartfelt-hmmm.” It’s nice though, and I really like the way she does the budding teenage romance thing. As a young adult myself, I wouldn’t say that the teens in this book are completely realistic… but it’s enjoyable, in the “i wish i could be as cool and mature and fun as these guys” way.

Good read, recommended.