Lumatere Chronicles

Finnikin of the Rock cover

Lumatere Chronicles book 1

a review by Nalini Haynes

Finnikin is a young man during the time of this novel, living in exile from his homeland Lumatere after murderous treason and witchcraft ended with half of his people trapped in Lumatere and the other half living in exile.  Flashbacks and conversations build a picture of the past for the reader, showing Finnikin’s happy childhood and the catastrophe that shattered the country.  Finnikin is the son of Trevanion, the former Captain of the King’s Guard in Lumatere, and Finnikin is now functionally the heir of Sir Topher, the King’s First Man.  He spent years travelling and trying to help his people who are scattered in neighbouring countries.  Finnikin and Sir Topher travel to visit a cloister where they are charged with caring for Evanjalin, a young woman who, as a novice, has taken a vow of silence she rarely breaks (at first).  Evanjalin exhorts Finnikin and Sir Topher to gather their people to help the heir of Lumatere break the curse, allowing them all to return home.

I have somewhat mixed feelings about Finnikin of the Rock.  I loved the seemingly Celtic-influenced setting coupled with African-like migration and suffering of refugees, something too easily discounted here in sheltered Australia.  No culture was overtly appropriated and yet Marchetta effectively described the plight of millions, bringing the reality of life as a refugee home to readers.

The premise of the story was solid.  To Marchetta’s credit the central protagonist wasn’t the heir.  At times the characters were suffering from a case of ‘puppet master’, where changes took place suddenly with insufficient justification.  For example, Evanjalin had taken a vow of silence, which she breaks only under the greatest necessity, but suddenly she can’t shut up.  Froi tries to rape Evanjalin, who has her revenge upon him, but later her happiness is inexplicably dependent on Froi being nearby and safe.

Froi is the ultimate street child with a porcupine personality (not just a wall around himself, but defence mechanisms that HURT those who approach).  Froi changes, see-sawing back and forth in stages of development as one would expect from a youth who has suffered like he has, and yet I wasn’t satisfied that his progress was given sufficient justification.  It seemed that he was budding into a nicer person in spite of being ordered around and even abused by his captors who became his friends.  Was Froi suffering from Stockholm Syndrome?

At times I felt scenes were only barely sketched in, as if Marchetta knew what she wanted to say but hadn’t quite remembered to tell me what she meant.  The characters seemed more solid than the land they traversed.  Descriptions of people changed; for example Evanjalin was unattractive but later she was beautiful.  A black cloud surrounded Lumatere then it didn’t.  Was the wall built around the palace or the kingdom?

Finnikin of the Rock engaged me up until the climactic conflict where I got a bit lost about what was happening, why, and what the net result was – was the entire village burnt to the ground?  If so, how come X was in a house? After the climactic conflict I felt the novel dragged a bit until the end.  While this was probably intended for character development and definitely centred on romance, it could have been handled more effectively, or at least more efficiently.

I am curious to see where this story is going.

Froi of the Exiles cover

Froi of the Exiles: Lumatere Chronicles book 2

Isaboe is the Queen of Lumatere, married to Finnikin, and they have a child, Jasmina.  Froi has settled in Lumatere serving a particular family who have unofficially adopted him.  There is conflict over who has more right to Froi, whether he should be a farmer or an assassin/fighter/diplomat for the crown. Isaboe as Queen assumes authority, sending Froi to Charyn to assassinate Charyn’s king, revenge thinly disguised as a pre-emptive strike.  Charyn has been suffering under a curse rendering the entire nation barren: no child has been born to any Charynite or half-caste for 18 years.

Froi impersonates a ‘last-born’ Charynite, one of the few who have been foretold to break the curse of barren-ness in Charyn.  While in the royal Charynite palace he meets Quintana, last-born daughter of the nation and daughter of the King, who is supposed to bear the first of the next generation.  Finding where the king is hiding in order to assassinate him is difficult, giving Froi time to get to know the court.  Along the way a few romances bloom, both in this and the next in the trilogy.

The second in the Lumatere trilogy, this is the second country to suffer a devastating curse that must be dramatically broken.  The plot is somewhat predictable – I foresaw the basic plot for this and the sequel quite early on.  What makes this and the sequel stand out among fantasy books is the focus on the characters, community and the discussion of issues.  When I interviewed Melina Marchetta, she said her focus for these books was a sense of community and a place of belonging.  These issues are embedded deeply within the narrative, particularly appealing to the young adult audience (both teens and young adults and those who appreciate issues relevant to that audience).

My biggest criticism of this novel was the hangman’s rescue scene.  Worst. Hanging. Rescue. Ever.  Seriously. X leapt out of a tree, flew over the crowds, grabbed hold of Y’s body that was already swinging from the noose.  Miraculously the combined weight of both bodies swinging from Y’s neck wrapped in a noose did not break the neck.  Instead they swung out over the crowd (seriously? Exactly how long is this hangman’s rope?), X grabbed a sword while swinging, hanging onto Y’s body, then cut the rope while still swinging, holding onto Y’s body.  Y survives without a broken neck and with a little rope burn.

There are numerous trigger issues that are raised throughout these two books.  These issues include sexual violence, stigmatising a slave as a whore even after acknowledging she had no choice, politics, philosophical morality of murder etcetera.  Issues around sexual violence and stigmatisation are discussed with little reference to morality other than to state that the decree of the princess saved others from rape, thus justifying her actions that caused her to be stigmatised as a whore.  The other ‘whore’, the ‘king’s whore’, was stigmatised as such because she was a slave; this is acknowledged and yet even those closest to her continue to refer to her as a whore for some time.  I felt that the narrative was unreasonably judgemental in continuing to describer her as such after building relationships and exposing her powerlessness.  International politics was less than Machiavellian and, in my opinion, a little naive.  Philosophical discussion of the morality of politics and murder was discussed to a small extent without real judgement other than to expose Isaboe’s desire for revenge as the real motive.

Froi of the exiles was better written than Finnikin, more firmly grounded in this fantasy world with more character development and less of the puppet master.

Quintana of Charyn cover

Quintana of CharynLumatere Chronicles book 3

Quintana of Charyn is pregnant and separated from those who would help her.  She fled after Olivier, one of the last-borns, betrayed her to her rapist.  Froi and company search for her, looking everywhere except the obvious place.  This story is roughly divided between Lumatere proper, the valley in Lumatere in which Charynites have taken refuge after fleeing their own country, Froi and his new family.

Repeatedly throughout this novel Jasmina, spoilt princess toddler, steals mail in the palace because she likes the pretty seals.  Apparently Jasmina doesn’t grow up, nor does the royal household take steps to ensure the safety of international correspondence in the palace.  It’s obvious early on that this is going to relate to a plot point later, which annoyed me prodigiously.  No adult takes possession of the mail when it arrives?  In the entire palace there is no locked room for important matters of state to protect the mail from a 2 year old?  Instead Jasmina’s parents indulge her in spite of the risks to international diplomacy.  This was my biggest criticism of this novel, so it’s doing pretty well.

My other point of concern was where did the boundary lie between Charyn and Lumatere?  It seemed that the boundary was the stream in the middle of the valley but later it seemed the valley was Charyn or Lumatere complete – this was a little blurred.  The reason this was important to the plot was the refugee camp, Lumatere allowed armed Charyn mercenaries to take over this camp unchallenged, the mercenaries threatened a wife of a Lumateran nobleman and ownership of the valley related to a plot point in the climax of the story [spoilers, sweetie! Let’s not go there.]  There were some fantasy fight scenes and logistics of the story that felt a little… artificial?  I had the feel that Marchetta’s first love and comfort zone is not in fantasy and yet she’s carried off this story well, improving with each successive novel.

The narrative was mostly written in the third person following the point of view of a particular character such as Froi or Quintana.  Occasionally there were shifts into first person of one of these characters.  The third person PoV was a precedent well-established before shifts into first person, making these shifts uncomfortable.  When the narrative changes to first person it’s necessary to work out who is speaking – a pet peeve of mine where novels are written from shifting perspectives.  In some ways getting more firmly inside Quintana’s head shows her state of mind by articulating her verbal internal monologue and yet the third person point of view had already explored Quintana’s internal world-view.  I prefer narrative to either be in first or third person, not both.

Of the entire trilogy this has the strongest storyline and the best character development, rounding off this story well.  Some plot points are obvious in advance but the characters and their relationships, their seeking their place in the world, carry the story well.  Marchetta seems to feel much more confident in her descriptions of this imaginary country although she still seems to wrestle with some fantasy tropes.  Marchetta’s fight scenes could do with some work.

Overall, the Lumatere trilogy got off to a reasonable start in Finnikin of the Rock, improving in Froi of the Exiles to be finished well in Quintana of Charyn.  If Marchetta writes another sequel in this world I’ll definitely be interested in reading it.