At the beginning of this year I decided to finally read through Melina Marchetta’s Lumatere Chronicles. I’d had plans to do so for a while now - I’d read and enjoyed Finnikin of the Rock and was so convinced by others that the later installments are even better that I bought copies of the entire trilogy.
I’ve been working through this series since the beginning of the year: reading a book, taking many weeks worth of break with other books, and then moving on to the next installment. And I’ve savored each and every second I found myself with the likes of Finnikin and Evanjalin, Froi and Quintana, Beatriss and Trevanion, within the country of Lumatere and beyond.
Although I will try to focus here on my general thoughts of this series, this review will contain some spoilers for Finnikin of the Rock. I will try to limit spoilers for Froi of the Exiles and Quintana of Charyn. If you’re interested in my spoiler-free thoughts on the first book, read my Goodreads review of Finnikin of the Rock. And then I recommend you go read the entire Lumatere Chronicles.
Finnikin of the Rock
Series: The Lumatere Chronicles, #1
Published: 2010, Candlewick Press
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
In Finnikin of the Rock, readers are introduced to the land of Skuldenore. All of its countries are plagued with hardship and strife, but perhaps none more so than Lumatere. During a horrific event referred to as the five days of the unspeakable, the entire royal family of Lumatere was murdered and a puppet king installed, all said to be the work of Charyn, Lumatere’s greatest enemy. The destruction of Lumatere’s royal family and lands also triggered a curse that closed Lumatere off from the rest of the lands, leaving many Lumaterans trapped within the walls of their kingdom and many more stuck outside, unwanted refugees for neighboring kingdoms.
Finnikin of the Rock is one such refugee, and he and his guardian Sir Topher, once one of the head advisors of the king, bring aid to their people where they can and collect stories to ensure that their people - and their culture - will never die. When rumors start circulating that the youngest Lumateran prince was not killed in the massacre, Finnikin and Sir Topher find their way to the cloister where a novice is said to hold secrets that can save Lumatere.
At one time or another, most fantasy fans have probably stated their reading preferences only to have the questioner turn up his/her nose in disgust, believing that fantasy means fictional which means not as real, not as important. Not so with Marchetta’s first foray into fantasy fiction.
Finnikin of the Rock is an intelligent, beautifully written, and nuanced work. The focus here isn’t on the fantasy world (although it is wonderfully built in and of itself), but on the people and their struggles. This is a story about loss and fear and hardship. But, above all else, it is a story about hope: the hope that Lumatere will once again be whole, the hope that its people can finally find a sense of belonging and home.
Conflicts between the various nations of Skuldenore and its inhabitants are not black and white. Protagonist Finnikin has his fair share of flaws, as does Evanjalin, the novice who supposedly knows secrets that can heal the broken Lumatere. They, along with the rest of the characters, are petty, prone to arguments, and make their fair share of mistakes. But their dream for a better future keeps them going and helps them form a better understanding of each other.
The story told in Finnikin of the Rock is complete in and of itself. Readers could have ended the story satisfied with the resolution enough if Froi of the Exiles and Quintana of Charyn were never written. But, seriously, thank goodness that Marchetta realized that she had more to write about the world of Skuldenore and its inhabitants.
Froi of the Exiles
Series: The Lumatere Chronicles, #2
Published: 2012, Candlewick Press
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
The protagonist of Froi of the Exiles is, unsurprisingly, Froi himself. Readers are first introduced to Froi in Finnikin of the Rock. As with Queen Isaboe (formerly known as the novice Evanjalin), Froi is considered to be one of the Lumateran children exiled during the five days of the unspeakable and then forced into a low life of petty crime and slavery.
In the three years since Isaboe and Finnikin have broken the curse and reclaimed their country, much has changed for the people of Lumatere. Froi has been unofficially adopted by Lord Augie of the Flatlands and trains with the Queen’s Guard. His loyalty to Lumatere and his queen knows no bounds, so when he is asked to infiltrate Charyn and assassinate the king and his crazy daughter, Froi doesn’t hesitate to accept the job.
It took me a while to read Froi of the Exiles. Far, far longer than it should have. The issue was that I really, really didn’t like the Froi presented in Finnikin of the Rock. Although his life and circumstances during the ten years of exile weren’t much different than what Isaboe experienced, his choices were. And there was that little instance where he attempted to rape Isaboe.
But Froi surprised me, as did the entire book. Over the course of a little more than three years since Lumatere was reclaimed, Froi has grown into a much more likable young man. In some ways he’s taken over Finnikin’s old position, learning much about languages and history and swordsplay. Yet Froi still retains that bit of darkness that presented itself in Finnikin of the Rock, that darkness from back when he experienced horrors Finnikin cannot understand (and some that even Isaboe cannot).
Froi of the Exiles is not a story of redemption per se, although redemption certainly plays a significant role in the novel. As with its predecessor, this is a story about identity and finding hope. It’s about not simply conquering inner demons, but embracing them to some extent.
Much of this story deals with the tail end of Froi’s evolution from a bitter, hateful boy to a young man finally beginning to accept his own worth. But this isn’t just Froi’s story; this is also the story of the Charynite people. As much as readers are taught that Charyn is the enemy in Finnikin of the Rock, Froi (and readers) learn that “evil” isn’t quite so easy to define. The Charynite people have been dealing with a curse of their own, ruled over by a power-hungry king. They’ve pinned all their hopes on the princess, Quintana, who has literally begun to go a bit crazy.
And it’s the broadening of the story outside of Froi’s mind, in a non-Lumateran-centric world, where Froi of the Exiles becomes truly impressive. The scope for this series isn’t limited by a few suffering people, or even a suffering nation, but by the ties that bind together people in the midst of their tragedies. It’s powerfully compelling to witness Froi’s growth, and to humanize those labeled simply as “the enemy” from the first book. All in all, I think the second book was even better than the first.
Quintana of Charyn
Series: The Lumatere Chronicles, #3
Published: 2013, Candlewick Press
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
While Froi of the Exiles reads more like a companion novel to Finnikin of the Rock, focusing primarily on a secondary character from the first novel, and a new conflict, Quintana of Charyn should be viewed as direct sequel to Froi of the Exiles. The second book in the trilogy ends with little-to-no resolution, leaving everything to be wrapped up beautifully in the final installment.
This really is a multi-part novel where no one character’s development takes precedence. Froi is still a major player, as are Finnikin and Isaboe, Isaboe’s Mont cousin Lucian and Charynite wife Phaedra, Charynites Arjuro, Gargarin, and Lirah, and, of course, Quintana, the rightful heir of Charyn. Despite the rather large cast of characters that Marchetta juggles, she does so deftly, allowing each’s storyline to become fully developed. Marchetta deserves the highest possible praise for her characterizations; most of her characters are downright unlikable at times, but they’re so undeniably human, so very real.
I enjoyed all of the characters of The Lumatere Chronicles, but I think my favorite is Quintana. At each turn Quintana must deal with issues related to her loyalty to her country and what responsibility she has to her people, her feelings for Froi, and the knowledge that her own people think of her as little better than a whore. That her life by itself has been deemed virtually worthless. It’s a fascinating (if saddening) complexity of character. And best of all (and perhaps slightly spoilery), Quintana’s madness isn’t simply a plot device; once it’s served its purpose, it doesn’t simply disappear. Quintana continues to grapple with her distrust and mixed emotions throughout the trilogy.
As I mentioned earlier, Quintana of Charyn wraps up the stories of all the
characters readers have come to appreciate. Not everything’s neat, and there are plenty of surprises and plot twists in store, but everything ends on a substantial enough note to leave this reader satisfied.
Truthfully, I’m a bit surprised at the amount of praise that Marchetta’s Lumatere Chronicles has garnered - not because they’re not worth it (they are), but because of how complex they are. They’re not the sort of novels that can (or should) be sped through in order to fully grasp their contents. And they’re teeming with characters it can be difficult to empathize with.
But what Marchetta brings to the fantasy genre - and to books in general - is worth any confusion or discomfort on her readers’ part. Through The Lumatere Chronicles she introduces conflicts that all readers can relate to and shows us convoluted, many-sided conflicts where no perspective can be easily dismissed.
Although I still have Marchetta’s backlog of contemporary novels to read, I also most ardently hope that she’ll write more fantasy novels in the future. I’ll be among the first in line to read them when she does.
Rating: 5 stars