Center for Children's Books
|The Big Picture, a
regular Bulletin feature both on-line and off, is an in-depth
look at selected new titles and trends. See the
archive for selections from previous months.
by Melina Marchetta
Ten years after the Days of the Unspeakable and the slaughter of the
royal family, the kingdom of Lumatere remains split in two; with half
of its people trapped within Lumatere’s walls by an unbreakable curse
and the remaining half left to wander the outside land as exiles, there
is little hope for the kingdom’s future. Barely escaping with his
life from the cursed land at age nine, Finnikin, along with his mentor
Sir Topher (who was the right-hand man to the dead king), has spent the
decade attempting to secure the safety of Lumatere refugees as they
suffer in fever-riddled camps and are essentially treated like slaves
in foreign lands. Soon he meets Evanjalin, a young woman who insists
that her prophetic dreams can lead them to the surviving heir and
rebuild their kingdom, a claim that Finnikin finds ludicrous.
Evanjalin, however, is far from the damaged girl she seems, and as her
leadership inspires hope among the exiles, Finnikin is forced to
confront the shame he feels at his failed attempts to protect his
homeland even as he ponders what, if anything, remains of Lumatere for
himself and the rest of his people.
With the deft characterizations that have made her contemporary
coming-of-age novels (Jellicoe Road,
BCCB 11/08, etc.) so effective,
Marchetta transforms what could be just another epic quest into an
innovative fantasy; it’s driven almost entirely by the intense
relationships among its multidimensional characters, giving the reader
a unique perspective on the Lumatere situation as both a personal and
political crisis. Finnikin and Evanjalin are compelling characters, two
people grieving the loss of their home, and their search to restore the
physical land they knew as children mirrors their desire to recapture a
lost innocence. Though both realize this is an ultimately unfulfillable
yearning, it remains their shared secret hope nonetheless. It’s one
that teen readers will certainly recognize, particularly as both
Finnikin and Evanjalin come to understand that the lines of good and
bad they drew as children do not necessarily translate to the world of
adulthood. Their evolving relationship includes a fair bit of sparring
and plenty of romance, and it is especially intriguing as they try to
determine who they are as individuals at the same time as they’re
figuring out who they are to each other—another dilemma with which
young readers are sure to be familiar.
Though we’ve seen plenty of kick-butt heroines in YA before, Evanjalin
is one of a kind: her political savvy and stubborn righteousness make
her a formidable opponent to Finnikin’s assumed leadership, but it is
her understated vulnerability and intense compassion for her people
that make her more than yet another caricature of a strong female.
Finnikin remains sensitive despite his many attempts to live up to the
warrior code and act like a real man’s man, and, interestingly enough,
it is only when Evanjalin assumes her rightful place as queen, removing
Finnikin’s chance at power, that he is truly able to shed himself of
his father’s notions of masculinity and become the man he wants to be.
The supporting cast is just as intriguing, with their own issues of
sorrow and culpability: Finnikin’s father, for example, grieves for his
wife and questions his own prideful actions, while the Lumaterans must
acknowledge both their heroic and hateful deeds during this crisis if
the kingdom is to fully recover.
Because of the authenticity created by these strong characterizations,
when Marchetta introduces the real atrocities of this war, including
rape, abuse, and slavery, readers feel a profound sense of shock and
grief as an abstract political struggle becomes horrifyingly concrete.
Fortunately, there is a happy ending, though it is realistically
tempered by battle scars, and even readers who tend to avoid fantasy
titles will find themselves fully engrossed in this harrowing tale.
Kate Quealy-Gainer, Assistant Editor
Cover image from Finnikin of the
by Melina Marchetta. Used by permission of the publisher, Candlewick
Press, Somerville, MA.
the Bulletin Archives]
This page was last updated on March 1, 2010.