Another very complicated story by the author of one of my recent favorites, Jellicoe Road. She’s trying out fantasy this time: when Finnikin, son of the captain of the guard of Lumatere, is a child, the ruling family is murdered and the city occupied. It’s also sealed off, Sleeping Beauty-style, by the dying curse of the powerful leader of a persecuted people.
Finnikin escapes and spends his adolescence traveling with his mentor, doing what they can to alleviate the suffering of the scattered Lumateran refugee camps and find their people a new home. As the book opens, he has been called to a distant monastery to take on a new traveling companion: Evanjalin, a traumatized Lumateran refugee who claims to have seen their kingdom’s lost heir in her prophetic dreams.
I love me some complicated stories (5th season of Lost, what now?), but this is a bit “kitchen sink.” There are too many Important Messages, too many characters with Painful Pasts, and too many Big Reveals. The stuff about the two goddesses and their religious conflict, in particular, seemed tacked-on.
I also have no problem with violence or sex or challenging subjects in YA lit, per se. That sort of book is not for everyone, which is why it’s part of my job to be familiar with what might be difficult about the books in my collection, but they can be powerful for a lot of kids. That said, I do have a problem with gratuity. If it isn’t key to the story or the characters, gloss on over that sex scene or graphic torture. I’m no prude, but despite the themes of growing up and finding oneself, I’d be hard-pressed not to put this in the adult section.
All that aside, I think I would have been more into this when I was younger. I was going to be a martyr to activism; the strong woman tying herself to trees, no doubt about the rightness of her cause. I admired no end characters in books who walk miles with no shoes and torn and bloody feet, as Evanjalin does, sheltered by their single-minded purpose.
Turns out I have no single-minded purpose. Turns out I prefer nesting in a safe city with my friends around me and working at a job that is meaningful but not overly exhausting (er, usually). No one’s going to write any epic biographies about me, and I am a-ok with that. Now that I’m an adult, Evanjalin and Finnikin’s single-mindedness just seems naive. I recognize that they are refugees, that their lives are challenged in ways that mine never has been and hopefully never will be. But I still found it hard to connect with them. I want a spin-off about Lady Abian and her household full of displaced villagers, keeping her community alive with low-key good humor (and randomly having really loud sex with her husband, because for some reason Marchetta felt the need to share these moments with us). She’s much more my speed.
But this seems to be in the Megan Whalen Turner category of “stuff I should love, that everyone else loved, but I couldn’t get into.” So your mileage may definitely vary.