Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Finnikin of the Rock, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Maps

 Kady is here and she is tackling a genre that is scary to a lot of people (including this librarian): Fantasy with maps.
Finnikin of the Rock
by Melina Marchetta
I don't read books with maps in them. Some people might call it high fantasy, I call it made-up geography and made-up names and it is simply not my jam. Then, about two years ago, my very favorite, one hundred percent, I always want her to have a new book out author, Melina Marchetta, released Finnikin of the Rock and I had to have a serious conversation with myself:

"Do you see that book? There's a big sword with a ruby on the cover. There is no way we are reading that."
"But it's Melina Marchetta. She brought Jimmy Hailer into the world. I think we should read it."
"The main character's name is Finnikin. FINNIKIN. No way, no how."
"But it's Melina Marchetta. Do you not remember the territory wars in Jellicoe Road?"
"Dude, there is not one but two maps on the inside covers. Uh-uh."
"But it's Melina Marchetta."

This went on for a while until it became apparent that nothing Normal Kady said would outweigh Fan Girl Kady's insistence on reading anything Marchetta puts out. And so I read it. I wouldn't say that Finikin of the Rock made me a believer in high fantasy, but it sure did cement my belief in Melina Marchetta. That woman can do no wrong.

I went back recently and re-read Finnikin in preparation for the US release of the sequel Froi of the Exiles, which came out earlier this week, and there are a few things I think you should know about it if you, like me, are wary of books with maps.

1) The quest (which all map books inevitably have) really is an EPIC quest. Imagine your home has been ripped in two by a curse from a terrified and dying witch. Imagine you and over half of your countrymen have been forced to flee your country's boundaries while others remained, trapped inside behind an impenetrable black fog and ruled by an impostor king. The same impostor king who brutally murdered the royal family, every last one of them. Although. No one ever did find the body of the heir (and your best friend). Now imagine it's your job, your responsibility, your burden to care for your country's refugees and you've just met a crazy, silent nun who says she can take you to the heir and back into your kingdom. Frodo Baggins ain't got nothing on you.

2) Finnikin is way better than his name. I had a hard time getting over it too, but he's a really great character. At 21 he's brash, arrogant, thinks way too highly of himself and way too poorly of himself when things go wrong. Although he's lived a life of privilege, he has a huge soft spot for the refugees of his homeland and feels keenly responsible for their well-being. He misses his best friend terribly and the prophecy of an old witchy woman has been haunting him since he was 11. In other words, he's an actual person who was handed a lot to deal with very early in life and has fought through and emerged the best way he knows how.

3) The Bald Nun of Awesomeness. It might be Finnikin's book, but it is most definitely Evanjalin's story. This bald novice (they shave their heads when they enter the nunnery and then never cut their hair again as a sign of devotion) is probably the single strongest female character floating around in YA right now. Move over Katniss, Evanjalin is on a mission to bring her people back to their war ravaged lands and she'll do whatever it takes to get them there including, but not limited to, walking through people's sleep, straight up lying about her identity, selling a thief (who tried to rape her) into slavery and then buying him back again. Because even the most wretched of her people deserve to go home.

Finnikin of the Rock is available now at a library near you. The sequel, Froi of the Exiles, came out earlier this week and I'm currently one of only three holds. Seriously y'all, get on it.

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