Finnikin of the Rock, by Melina Marchetta, was published in 2008 by Candlewick Press. It is the first book in the Lumatere Chronicles.
At the age of nine, Finnikin is warned by the gods that he must sacrifice a pound of flesh to save his kingdom. He stands on the rock of the three wonders with his friend Prince Balthazar and Balthazar’s cousin, Lucian, and together they mix their blood to safeguard Lumatere. But all safety is shattered during the five days of the unspeakable, when the king and queen and their children are brutally murdered in the palace, an impostor seizes the throne, a curse blinds all who remain inside Lumatere’s walls, and those who escape are left to roam the land as exiles, dying by the thousands in fever camps. Ten years later, Finnikin is summoned to another rock—to meet Evanjalin, a young novice with a startling claim: Balthazar, heir to the throne of Lumatere, is alive. This arrogant young woman claims she’ll lead Finnikin and his mentor, Sir Topher, to the prince. Instead, her leadership points them perilously toward home. Does Finnikin dare believe that Lumatere might one day rise united? Evanjalin is not what she seems, and the startling truth will test Finnikin’s faith not only in her but in all he knows to be true about himself and his destiny.
Finnikin of the Rock is an incredibly gritty and dark fantasy novel, definitely a more mature YA than most. But it’s also very well-crafted, with a well-developed world, an intense “we must take back our kingdom” plot, and a romance that’s a bit obvious but endearing all the same. For me, it evoked a little bit of Cinda Williams Chima’s Seven Realms series (another well-crafted YA fantasy series), but much more intense in terms of content.
I knew from the first chapter where the plot was going to go in terms of Evanjalin, but even knowing early on in the novel, I still enjoyed seeing the plot get there. And there were numerous other reveals that weren’t as “common fantasy trope” as that one, so I couldn’t say it was an obvious plot (I’m just very familiar with the tropes that fantasy uses). In fact, the book dragged me into the world and kept me turning the pages, eager to know what happened next—my absolute favorite thing to happen in a book.
As I said, though, Finnikin is a pretty gritty fantasy novel for YA. Sexual situations are no stranger in YA, but they are less common in fantasy than in realistic—and even among contemporary YA fantasy novels, Marchetta still stands out in her inclusion of sexual thoughts and situations (at least among the books I’ve read). It’s never explicit (it’s YA, not “New Adult” or whatever they’re calling the newest genre rage that’s basically an excuse to write explicit sex for teenagers to read), but it’s more intense than what you usually find. And as befitting a gritty fantasy novel, nothing turns out all sunshine and roses in the end, even if the ending of this book is a happy one (well, for Finnikin at least).
Recommended Age Range: 16+
Warnings: Sexual situations and thoughts, violence, mentions of rape and torture, death.
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Finnikin of the Rock is a page-turner fantasy novel, with an intense and intriguing plot, interesting characters, and a well-developed and –explained world. Marchetta also does an excellent job of showing how war, trauma, and suffering affect people’s decisions. However, the book is pretty dark and gritty, not to mention a little more focused on sexual situations (which also includes rape) than I’ve found in other YA fantasy, so be warned. I also knew one of the character arcs from the first chapter, but it didn’t take away anything but the surprise—I still enjoyed it.
You can buy this here: Finnikin of the Rock