My rating: 4 of 5 stars
One of my librarians suggested I read this and after six years, I figure they know me well enough to know what I’d probably like. This was definitely it. This was one of the most realistic, gritty and well done fantasies I’ve read in ages. This is, in some ways, not a pretty story. The characters are often hard and they have every right to be. A decade before when Finnikin was a nine year old boy and the son of the Captain of the Guard. He used to play with Balthazar, the heir to the throne and Lucian Balthazar’s cousin and Isaboe the little princess. Finnikin wanted to be Captain of Balthazar’s guard some day. Then came the five days of the Unspeakable. The King’s whole family was slaughtered. Finnikin’s parents were taken away. The imposter King scapegoated the Forest Dwellers and their priestess put a curse on the kingdom.
Ten yeas later, Finnikin is apprentice to Sir Topher, the King’s First Man. He’s learned to speak the languages of all the surrounding kingdoms. Together they’ve tried to find the pockets of their people in exile. Finnikin is keeping a Book of Lumatere, a book of their people fearing that they will never again be a real kingdom then he is drawn to a cloister. There he meets Evanjalin and she is nothing what anyone expects. Together with Topher, Finnikin moved by the for of her will to try to retake and rebuild Lumatere first by finding his father then searching for the lost heir.
This story is much more about the people than the retaking of the kingdom. In fact, while that is the plot, the story revolves around the people most especially Finnikin, Evanjalin and later, to a lesser degree Froi and the assorted adults.
Finnikin is brave and stubborn and admittedly a little sexist. As his feelings for Evanjalin grow he does admit he’s not sure he likes having a woman in charge of him (even though she is most of the time).
Evanjalin is one of the strongest female characters I’ve seen in ages without being an outright bitch. Occasionally she is but it makes sense in context. As her many layers are revealed, her life has been one of many horrors. She is cold and dark and very capable of doing some really nasty things if she has to.
Froi is one of the more complicated (and unlikeable) of the characters. He is a monster when he first crosses their paths but again (and not as an excuse for the things he does, this isn’t unexpected. You raise a child like he was raised and a monster is exactly what you get). He’s a young (younger than Finnikin by four or five years) thief who is used to taking what he wants and that includes trying to rape Evanjalin (who promptly sells his butt to slavers even more monstrous than he is) but as the story goes, when the others give him a purpose, he finds something to believe in and becomes incredible protective of Evanjalin.
I could have read this in a day or two had I the time. It is dark. It contains cruelty but it’s about stolen kingdoms and destroyed lives. This is as real as fantasy is going to get. People generally do not deal with horror by becoming beacons of bubbling hope and light. Their hope is muted and they have an edge.
Not to say it’s not without a few issues. Finnikin, upon learning Evanjalin’s secrets (I guessed them), goes on a little too long in resisting what he knows he wants to the point I did want to slap him. Towards the end, Evanjalin was a bit too forgiving of what Froi did even though she says she will never forget it. Overall, for me, these things were minor. Better yet, (don’t get me wrong I love series), this is complete within itself. No cliffhanger. No nothing. It’s certain open to revisiting them down the road but it’s a complete story and I was glad of it.
View all my reviews