Froi of the Exiles by Melina Marchetta

14 Jun

So, about a month-ish ago before I lost my mind trying to move all my crap for the umpteenth time this year, I reviewed Melina Marchetta’s Finnikin of the Rock. I loved the crap out of that book and was chomping at the bit for the sequel, Froi of the Exiles (Candlewick Press). I think that, in an alternate universe, I will write a paper about the psychological state of a person delving into a much-anticipated installation in a series versus that of a person cracking open a standalone or a first book. Totally different experiences, and if any of you are academic types I give you permission to steal my genius ideas and go win the Nobel. Anyways, I was excited, and alas, while I did really like Froi I didn’t LOVE it the way I did Finnikin.

It’s been three years since Finnikin and Isaboe reclaimed Lumatere from the imposter king, and both the land and its people are still healing. Froi has spent the past three years working the land with Lord August, studying with the Priest King, and training with the King’s Guard. When Froi is sent on a mission to infiltrate the royal court of Charyn so he can assassinate the king who orchestrated the Five Days of the Unspeakable, he finds himself drawn into the tragedy of the mad princess Quintana. You see, Charyn has its own cute little curse: no child has been born or conceived there for eighteen years. Quintana, through her own oracular proclivities, long ago claimed that she was the only one who could break the curse, and so has been essentially whoring herself  out to royal d-bags for her entire young adult life in order to save her country by producing a child. As Froi struggles to find a way to fulfill his mission, he slowly loses himself into the twisted workings of accursed Charyn, and each twist brings him closer to finding out what his destined role in all the madness is.

I’ll start by saying that I did really like Froi, no doubt about it. I just didn’t adore it. I know that a lot of other reviewers have ooed and aaahed about how there’s so much more of all the things that made Finnikin so great – political intrigue, magic, violence, explorations of the deepest recesses of people’s souls, etc. etc. etc. I guess that’s one of the things that I had a problem with. I think that Melina attacked so much material with this book that it didn’t feel entirely cohesive to me; it read more like a six-hundred page setup for the conclusion to the trilogy, Quintana of Charyn, rather than a book that could stand on its own two legs. This isn’t necessarily a terrible thing; it’s a hinge book, and hinges in series or trilogies often feel disconnected because they serve as connective tissue to tell the reader which direction the story arc is going, which makes it difficult to gauge this book on its own. I mean, the first time I read The Subtle Knife I remember feeling similarly unsure of it, but low and behold, several readings of the entire trilogy later it’s my favorite of the three. So, I guess I’ll just have to see.

Hinge issues aside, I also had a serious problem with the relationship between Quintana and Froi. Quintana basically has a magical version of a split personality, and so spends most of her page time growling and acting like the nut that she is. That’s not to say that I don’t like her, but she is mentally unwell thanks to being systematically raped for her entire young adult life among other things, and so when Froi decides to follow his boner and sleep with her I felt a little nauseous. I know that Froi, as a character, wrestles with his own inner darkness, and so perhaps his first sexual experience (aside from his attempted rape of Isaboe, which he still dwells on fairly constantly) being pretty immoral was fitting. I don’t know. To be honest, Marchetta lost me a bit with that plot point and I had a hard time getting past it.

Beyond those negative issues, this is still a damn fine book. I loved that Marchetta, after painting the Lumaterans with such golden brushstrokes in Finnikin, showed them being hypocritical shits to the Charynite refugees. She depicted the different characters with an eye for the light and dark within them all; it made the characters and the nations they came from feel real, rather than the cliched absolute good and evil that is all too common in epic fantasy.

Overall this was a solid follow-up to Finnikin that explored the ethical nuances of political intrigue, the importance of family, biological or otherwise, and redemption. Marchetta took Froi into territory about a million times darker than that of Finnikin, to the point where I would actually call this a crossover book rather than straight-up teen. There is a LOT  of rape in this book, and a LOT of exploration of the emotional trauma that results from it, to the point that I think it would only be appropriate for a more mature teen reader.

For music I am going back to Sleater-Kinney, this time with “Little Mouth.” I guess that their Call the Doctor Album perfectly suits the heroines of this series for me.

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