Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta
Finnikin was only a child during the five days of the unspeakable, when the royal family of Lumatere were brutally murdered, and an imposter seized the throne. Now a curse binds all who remain inside Lumatere’s walls, and those who escaped roam the surrounding lands as exiles, persecuted and despairing, dying by the thousands in fever camps. In a narrative crackling with the tension of an imminent storm, Finnikin, now on the cusp of manhood, is compelled to join forces with an arrogant and enigmatic young novice named Evanjalin, who claims that her dark dreams will lead the exiles to a surviving royal child and a way to pierce the cursed barrier and regain the land of Lumatere. But Evanjalin’s unpredictable behavior suggests that she 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 is a young man who has wandered the land, learning languages and apprenticing under a leader of the old army. His people have been scattered and living in exile for the past ten years. Evanjalin claims that the prince, Finnikin’s childhood friend is still alive – and can lead their people back to Lumatere and restore their place.
Marketed as young adult fantasy, this reads more like adult epic fantasy. With an impressive cast of characters, there is plenty of drama, political intrigue, adventure, and a bit of romance. My only complaint was that some of the story jumped around a bit, and found it hard to follow. At times, I had to go back and re-read passages when I realized it was a flashback or had jumped forward in time. Otherwise, it was even-paced for an epic fantasy where most of the story is part of the journey. The characters are engaging and the story is full of suspense and adventure. There are several surprises along the way that build to grand and satisfying finale. Finnikin of the Rock is the first in a trilogy, but certainly works well as a standalone story.