Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Review: Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta

Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta
Series: The Lumatere Chronicles #1
Genre: Fantasy
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At the age of nine, Finnikin's world is shattered by the five days of the unspeakable: the royal family of Lumatere is brutally murdered, an imposter seizes the throne, and a curse binds all who remain inside the kingdom's walls. Those who escape are left to roam as exiles. 

Ten years later, Finnikin and his mentor, Sir Topher, are summoned to meet Evanjalin, a young novice with a startling claim: Balthazar, the heir to the throne of Lumatere and Finnikin's childhood friend, is alive, and she can lead Finnikin to him. Even as he suspects this arrogant young woman, Finnikin also begins to believe that Lumatere might one day be raised.
I'm in a strange predicament with this book. One that I don't believe I've ever been in before.

I like the writing style. It's not flowery or overly descriptive like so many fantasy books. (Which is also great, but I'll admit, sometimes I want just a straight forward fantasy yarn without it being so heavy on the descriptions.) This feels immediate. The book drags you in, sits you down and says 'shut up. Everything you need to know will be explained as we go.' There are some info dumps, but they're most dialogue which is somewhat easier for me to take.

The plot line isn't exactly original. After all, an imposter king sitting on the throne while it's unsure whether the true heir is alive or dead has got to be the second most common fantasy trope. However, there's enough added that it is interesting. (Besides, this is one of my favorite fantasy tropes.) You have a kingdom that no one has been in or out of for ten years because of the magical wall surrounding it. You have the theory that the heir won't ever sit on the throne, but our titular Finnikin will. (Which I spent nearly the whole book wishing would never happen.)

Which brings me to the one thing I didn't like about this book. The characters.

You see, I'm all about the characters in my stories. Give me a slightly boring plotline but characters I like and I will enjoy the book.

I didn't like these people.

While I have reasons for each one, it all comes down to one thing: I don't like hard characters. I don't like brooding people. If I have to read about characters sent through hell, I want to read about ones that put on a mask. That are 'stepford smilers', if you will. Ones that struggle to keep that part of themselves separate but the mask might crack once in a while. These characters are not happy people.

Well, neither are the ones in this book, but there's no faking. They're all hard and just so not the type of people I like.

Finnikin is…well. He's arrogant, a cocky braggart and is so sure that he knows better than everyone else around him. He'll never face up to the fact that he might be wrong. He's too caught up in being the best for me to like him. (And I won't even go into how much I hate guys that think they're not 'worthy'. Of course, that's not any worse than the ones that can never admit that there's someone better at something out there than they are.) I started to dislike this guy almost right away, but it wasn't until he thought to himself that he's had women touch him everywhere but it never felt like this that I began to understand why, exactly, I didn't like him. (Reading a review on this book just after writing mine and the word I was looking for is: posturing.)

Evanjalin is too much of two things and I don't like either of them. She reminds me a lot of Vin from Sanderson's Mistborn books (especially the second one). She's hard and tough but turns weak and pliable occasionally. I think that if she would have stayed one or the other I might have liked her. As it was, I felt like I was getting whiplash. Not to mention the fact that she is such a perfect little manipulator.

Trevanion is like a more brooding version of Finnikin. (Yay! Arrogant and brooding! It's like the best of both worlds!)

Froi is an attempted rapist. (Who I fought against myself for most of the book to dislike and never really did. That worries me. This is probably because after he tried to rape her, it was swept under the rug only to be mentioned, what, once afterwards. After all, it's so believable that there would not be any lasting effects from a foiled rape. Not even foiled by the girl, either, but by another man! I feel terrible for saying I even somewhat liked him, but I'm always honest in my reviews, even if it hurts you. Or in this case, makes me wonder about my mental health. Of course, judging by his POV chapters in here, I'm not sure I could tolerate that narration style for most of a book.)

Topher is actually kind of likable. I'm not sure why. Maybe because he's the only one that's quiet and not trying to push his thoughts off on other people. (Although I hated it when he told Evanjalin when she and Finnikin were argueing that she wasn't to speak 'unless given permission'. Why just her and not Finnikin too?)

Maybe I only feel this way because I disliked the people… Okay, okay. I hated Finnikin and disliked Evanjalin (would have to be the two mains) so much that I was looking for a distraction but… There's a kind of casual sexism in this book. It's not misogynistic or anything like that. And with Evanjalin being a tough girl (except when she's not) and a few other women (who play hardly any role in the story until the last seventy pages) … Uh… Yeah, that was supposed to be proving that it wasn't sexist. Anyway:

Whistles are meant for combat. Not wooing women. Women don't understand whistles.

I'm sorry. Dogs understand whistles. Are you telling me that in this culture women are viewed as less intelligent than dogs in our culture? Also, there was way too much talk about 'your woman'. 'Is she your woman?' Like a man is laying claim to her. Oh…wait… He kind of was, wasn't he? After all (to paraphrase): Tell me if she's your woman and I'll back off, otherwise I'll flirt with her. What about what she wants. Do women/girls even have a say about marriage here? This is like some strange barbaric culture where the women stay home and knit.

And the romance. Honestly, no. I didn't like it. Finnikin was almost in love with Evanjalin before they even spoke and he was rather…possessive. And way too touchy if you ask me. (And by that I mean he touched her too much.) She just had her mouth invaded by a guard's fingers and that prompted her to hurl. A few moments later, Finnikin is 'tracing the bruise around her mouth'. Seriously? This is appropriate how? (And to all those people that claim this isn't insta-love. Yes, yes it is. And if it wasn't (which you'll never convince me) it was at the least lust and infatuation (which is all insta-love truly ever is) on Finnikin's part. Evanjalin? I don't know what that girl was ever thinking, so... She might have just wanted him so she wouldn't have to bed a complete stranger - which would have almost had to be preferable.)

And, finally, the plot. It had what was supposed to be a twist but…Well, it wasn't exactly unexpected. I liked it, but I also hated it. *shrugs* Go figure. Unfortunately, the earlier drama and such (precious little fighting for a fantasy book) had all but vanished by the last seventy pages and I was left instead with a 'how Finnikin's an ass and Evanjalin still loves him though it takes these seventy pages for them to get all romance-y'.

I'm really of two minds if I should even bother continuing with this series. Everyone says the next two books are amazing. But I'm also thinking that the characters still won't work for me. (And I really had no idea this review would be so long…) If I didn't cover something though, just check out the one or two star reviews at Goodreads. I probably agree with everything that was said. (And I'm officially going to quit editing this review now because I am finding more and more stuff I didn't like.)