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Monday, January 02, 2012

FROI OF THE EXILES By Melina Marchetta. Melbourne: Penguin, 2011

 In Finnikin Of The Rock, we met the exiles of the kingdom of Lumatere, locked out of their homes – literally! – by a curse, while a usurper king ruled with the help of  invaders from Charyn, another kingdom. The book was more about the refugee experience than about typical fantasy issues. The story was seen from the viewpoint of Finnikin, a young exile who had lost nearly everything. When he found the lost heir to the throne, Isaboe, they returned to the kingdom to rebuild after the tragedy of the invasion.

In this book, three years later, we see things from the viewpoint of the enemy, who have had tragedies of their own and some of whom are now refugees themselves. We meet ordinary Charynites who lost sons drafted into that invading army.

 Finnikin has married Isaboe and they have their first child. The kingdom is gradually returning to health and prosperity under their competent rule.

But bad things are happening in Charyn.  To stop them, an assassin will have to go to Charyn to kill the king whose soldiers invaded Lumatere in the previous story. That assassin is Froi, a former street kid who, despite what he had attempted to do to Isaboe, has been brought back to Lumatere, where he has learned pride in himself and has come to worship Isaboe.

Froi has found a home in Lumatere, but something is missing. Will he find it in Charyn? What else will he find in Charyn?

This book took me a long time to read. Apart from being thick-as-a-brick, it’s not easy reading – you have to work at it. I had to stop and read something, anything else, every so often, to give myself a break.

Was it worth the effort? Yes. The beauty of the writing and the way you can feel for the characters made it well worth persisting. The tragedy of Charyn unfolded gradually, layer by layer.  You didn’t feel the same about any of the characters at the end as you had at the start, once you found out the truth of what had happened over the last eighteen years. The descriptions of the landscapes of Charyn were breathtaking. The author says in an afterword that it was inspired by Matera in Italy

, Cappadocia in Turkey 

and the castle of Conwy in Wales.

If you don't have  good head for heights, all that description of Froi jumping across scary heights and climbing up to the next storey with the gravina (ravine) below will make you dizzy! Looking at the pictures I've inserted above should give you some idea of the scariness of the scenes.

The chapters about Froi in Charyn are alternated with what is happening back home, on the border of Lumatere, where some Charynite refugees have taken up residence, waiting and hoping to be allowed in. Loose ends from Finnikin Of The Rock are tied.

Finnikin was a perfectly good standalone book, despite the few loose ends; this one ends on a cliffhanger, so be warned.

I will be very surprised if it doesn’t go on this year’s CBCA short list, but it's not for the kind of teenager who likes the average YA fantasy.

I will be recommending it to those of our students who read and enjoyed Finnikin of The Rock. There were quite a few of those and they’re all very good readers, so we’ll see what they have to say – stand by for student comments!


Lan said...

Thanks for the review Sue. I'm a bit daunted about reading Finnikin as it's a thick book as well, but I will soldier on.

Sue Bursztynski said...

Oddly, Finnikin isn't quite as hard a read as this one. You're just discovering the universe so it doesn't say, "Okay, we know this world, now here's what you have to know about the characters". It's probably better if you don't treat it as fantasy, even though it is.