As I’ve mentioned before, I am a huge Melina Marchetta fan, and her fantasy debut Finnikin of the Rock cemented my love for her writing. Yet despite how wrapped up I got in Finnikin, I did find it to be rather slow going at times. Marchetta doesn’t skimp on the details of the worlds she creates, and becoming acquainted with the various lands and peoples of fantasy fiction often proves one of my primary challenges while reading the genre.
At twice the length of its predecessor, Froi of the Exiles is a hefty book. To be blunt, it’s
Froi of the Exiles by Melina Marchetta
bloated. Six-hundred pages are devoted to political intrigue, deception, and foretold prophecy, yet the substance could have been conveyed easily and more successfully in half the space. Yet, Froi‘s excessive length serves a purpose beyond mere disinclination to edit. To cut out the pages where tensions drag and emotions recirculate to the same conclusions would be to diminish the desperation that serves as Froi’s core.
I had high expectations going into Froi, and to be honest I’m not sure they were entirely met. I remain invested in the story despite being detached from the characters. In Finnikin, while I didn’t adore either Isaboe or Finnikin, I understood what made them tick, and so I threw them my support. While I found some interesting characters introduced in Froi, they failed to earn my love as have the characters of most series that I anticipate with the fervor that I do The Lumatére Chronicles. By all accounts, Quintana should be one of my favorite characters of the series, and she might yet fulfill that role. For now, I’m keeping a cautious distance, because while I might not love the characters from Lumatére that we first met in Finnikin, I do like them, and I sense that Quintana could wreak some havoc on their happiness before events are finished. Still, Quintana holds my interest in a way that Isaboe never has; her lot in life has been equally as destructive, if in a different fashion, yet I suspect that Isaboe’s pride would not have allowed her to cope in the way that Quintana necessarily has. Both women are survivors, but their methods are so strikingly different. Both are fierce, with Isaboe displaying that ferocity with noble strength while Quintana adopts a feral, instinctive manner.
Unfortunately, while I’m intrigued by Quintana, I wasn’t sold on her desire or capacity to form a relationship with Froi, let alone the intimate one that they forge. I have no doubt that Quintana is capable of moving past the emotional damage that she has had to bear. I find it safe to say that she isn’t there yet, though, and likely won’t be at least until she is able to control her urge to snarl at threats and annoyances. Perhaps Froi’s seduction was a necessary step toward her ultimate healing, but my emotions weren’t swept up in the act the way I felt Marchetta hoped for them to be.
In contrast to Quintana’s layers, Froi came across as regrettably flat. He held the weight of the book, indeed, perhaps the entire series, upon his shoulders, yet he never emerges as his own man. When we first met Froi in Finnikin, I couldn’t wait to see how Marchetta would set about redeeming this seemingly reprehensible boy. Based on the one chapter we were granted through Froi’s eyes, I thought I understood Marchetta’s plans for Froi, allowing the readers to witness his slow transformation from misled boy to man. Instead, Marchetta chose to begin Froi three years after Finnikin‘s conclusion, thereby robbing readers of the opportunity to journey with Froi through his confused emotional development. When we meet up with Froi again, he has already processed the feelings with which he was just beginning to grapple at Finnikin‘s end. We are told of his loyalty to Isaboe and Finnikin, of his understanding that his past was reproachful, yet in the gap between youth and manhood I sense little of the old Froi whose narration I was looking forward to. While he was an adequate conduit to tell the story, I didn’t miss his perspective when Marchetta switched to stories on the sidelines. Marchetta’s trademark humor could well have found a place in Froi’s thoughts, and its omission wasn’t necessary to lend gravity to an already grim narrative.
Some might feel that Isaboe and Finnikin’s scenes were unnecessary filler, but I rather enjoyed the glimpses into their married life as queen and her king. In contrast to the dire events occurring in Charyn, Isaboe and Finnikin’s banter was a welcome reprieve. Where off-page passage of time hurt Froi’s development, it worked well here, as witnessing the couple’s happily-ever-after in real time would have come across as maudlin. Instead, it feels as if we are simply given a peek into the life of a well-adjusted couple, a life with flaws and joys, one that isn’t demeaned by contrived strife or artificial obstacles.
Many readers lament the amount of sex and violence in this volume. While Finnikin wasn’t altogether innocent on this front, there’s no doubt that Froi turns up the volume on both counts, yet it doesn’t feel gratuitous. This series is no fairy tale, and Marchetta clearly trusts her readers to grasp the significance behind the events that unfold. This series is an excellent example of narrow-minded genre labeling, because I’m not sure exactly what is young adult about this story apart from the characters’ ages. Had the publisher swapped the colorful, character-based covers for ones in subdued tones focusing on setting, the books could easily be shelved in the fantasy section, and adult readers would be none the wiser. Many of the story’s nuances will likely go over younger readers’ heads, and even so there is abundant material here that requires a mature temperament to appreciate its significance.
Overall, the tale that Marchetta is slowly weaving has my attention captured even if my sympathies have yet to be drawn to any character in particular. It’s a rare feat that an author so enthralls me without similarly endearing me to her characters, yet Marchetta is no common author. Even at her worst, her writing soars above the rest.