Finnikin of the Rock
Lumatere Chronicles #1
Published 2010 by Candlewick Press
Finnikin of the Rock is a reasonably good epic fantasy, but not a great one. It lacks the feel of an epic, and surprisingly doesn't compare to Marchetta's contemporary novels. It's worth a read, particularly if you're a romance-focused person, but it's not at the top of the list.
I find it rather odd that I like Melina Marchetta's contemporary novels better than her fantasy. In general, it's the other way around; contemporary bores me, while fantasy is my sandbox. (Mess with it, and I'll hit you with my trusty plastic shovel!) I like epic, in the sense of 10,000 page quests to save the world. So having discovered to my shock that I actually loved Saving Francesca, when I realized that Melina Marchetta had written fantasy books as well, I expected to be even more thrilled with those.
Not so much.
Finnikin of the Rock was a decent book with decent characters and a decent story. But it wasn't stellar. I didn't keep reading it late into the night and break my rule on not writing reviews immediately after finishing because I couldn't stop thinking about it. There wasn't anything really special about it.
First, there's the plot. An exiled youth has to return to free his people and save them from a tyrant usurper. This is a workable start, if not particularly unique. And overall, the storyline is good but, with one notable exception, never really surprising. Oddly, the interesting parts – Finnikin's time in prison, seeing the Guard, getting back into Lumatere, are glossed over, while more attention is devoted to the interactions between Finnikin and Evanjelin, making the story feel less epic than an epic fantasy should. But stories don't have to be paradigm-shifters to be good – I've enjoyed plenty of trite repetition for other reasons.
The problem is, most of those other reasons fail to meet expectations in Finnikin of the Rock as well. I never really felt connected to the characters. In the best books, the characters step off the pages and come alive in your imagination. Both Saving Francesca and Jellicoe Road achieved that impressive feat, but in Finnikin of the Rock, in comparison, the characters felt more like paper dolls: flimsy, swept away in an errant gust of wind. The most substantial of them, Evanjalin, was the focus of the story but never the one holding the camera. It would have been interesting to see the story from her perspective, but it was mainly Finnikin's head where we resided, with occasional shifts to various other, more minor characters that often seemed a bit out of place.
I did enjoy the romance, though at times it seemed melodramatic. It was still the most fleshed out and enjoyable part of the story, which makes sense, since it seemed to be the most lovingly crafted storyline. Maybe if you like romances more than I do, you'll enjoy this book more as well.
Although this review sort of looks like a list of grievances, Finnikin of the Rock is actually a pretty good book. The writing is lovely, the story is reasonable, and the characters are likable, if bland. But when you start reading expecting outstanding and end up with acceptable, it's a bit of a disappointment.
Finnikin of the Rock is similar to:
Pawn of Prophecy by David Eddings