Title: Froi of the Exiles
Author: Melina Marchetta
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Pub Date: March 13, 2012
Category: Supposedly young adult fantasy /action & adventure, but I don’t recommend it for teens.
Melina Marchetta is a master wordsmith who expresses her stories with elegance and clarity, but there is more to an enjoyable novel than a skilful use of words. It’s the content of Marchetta’s writing that I have difficulty with in this series.
In the first book, ‘Finnikin of the Rock’, Marchetta introduced us to a damaged world and the characters of Finnkin, Isaboe and the orphan Froi. These and other equally vibrant characters leapt off the page, their feelings and motivations clear and convincing. At the end of that book, the land of Lumatere’s curse was lifted and its people were on the path to a brighter future, but we had to grind our way through a lot of misery to get there.
This book starts three years later. Froi feels he has found his home in Lumatere. He is part of the Guard sworn to protect the royal family and has learned to control his quick temper with a warrior’s discipline. His Queen sends him on a secret mission to the kingdom of Charyn, the main perpetrator of the crimes against the Lumaterians in the first book of the series. There he finds the ultimate dysfunctional kingdom full of twisted people who hate their half-mad princess, and even more shockingly, he discovers bonds of kinship that he would rather not acknowledge.
I had hoped that this book would have a lighter tone than Finnikin of the Rock, but no; once again, we find ourselves plunged into a world of misery. At least in this book, we have Isaboe and Finnikin as beacons of sanity and love in an otherwise cast of tortured souls. The people of both kingdoms have a lot to recover from, but some of them are taking a long time to do it. I found myself irritated with the stubbornness of Trevanion and Lucian. I wanted to yell at them to just get over it already.
My reaction to this book was the same as my reaction to Hunger Games. I can see that it’s an excellent book, but it’s just not an enjoyable read for me. I don’t want to spend my time in a world where cruelty and suffering are the defining characteristics. I kept reading not because I enjoyed it, but because I was hoping that things would get better for the characters. They didn’t. Just when I thought things were improving, there comes a betrayal that leads to a mass slaughter, and it’s not the first or the last betrayal in the book. Had the story ended on a note of comfort, I would have felt better about the book, but I didn’t even get that much. At least the epilogue assured me that Froi was not dead, but I put the book down wondering why the author wrote it and why I kept reading it.
I realised that there were valid themes in the book, the idea of compassion arising through seeing the suffering of others, and enemies coming to see each other as other people who, like them, simply did their best in difficult circumstances. The trouble was that these themes took too long to develop and got lost amongst what seemed to be (at least in a YA book) gratuitous misery. Does more angst make a better book? No, it just makes it more painful to read.
The best thing about the book, apart from the wisdom of Isaboe, Finnikin and Tessadora was the developing character of the Princess. The changes that come about in her, due to Froi’s friendship and a change in her circumstances, are extremely well done and probably the most hopeful thing in the book. I give it 3 stars. If you don’t mind your stories dark, you’ll probably give it more, and though it’s not Dystopian, I think that if you enjoyed Hunger Games, you will probably enjoy this one.