Dear Finnikin of the Rock, what happened? You and I were supposed to be enjoying the beginning of a beautiful friendship, walking into the sunset together.
Alas, no walking into the sunset was meant for us. Instead, our date ended with me awkwardly fumbling for keys and muttering, "Well, I'll call you sometime, I guess", knowing very well that you also acutely felt the absence of that proverbial chemistry, that necessary spark, and that none of us would be reaching for the phone any time soon.
Dear Finnikin of the Rock, you *do* understand why I thought it was going to work out, right? You seemed to have the whole package, after all.
(1) A medieval-ish fantasy setting with strong emphasis on the modern-day values of tolerance and political correctness (judge me all you want, but I believe in getting rid of any 'authenticity' when it comes to misogyny and other forms of intolerance in my pleasure reads).
(2) A strong-willed female protagonist who is NEVER in any need of rescuing.
(3) Melina Marchetta's prose which I have praised before on several occasions.
What's not to like, right? Right?? Right???
But just like in the aforementioned "Friends" episode, the delicious-seeming ingredients just did not produce a mind-blowing final product - to my utmost disappointment and sadness. Sadness, you hear that? Because I *wanted* it to work out between me and this book! (I mean, Catie liked it, and she's my go-to person for good books - so what's *wrong* with me???)
I think my first stumbling point was the puzzling childishness of this story - including the 'epic' bits and all the 'dangers' the characters faced. Never ever, not even for a moment, was there any sense of danger to our characters. Never ever was there a feeling that they are about to embark on a journey that could be painful and lead to losses. No, nothing like that - even if we are faced with prison mines, a battlefield, a refugee camp plagued by deathly illness. No, everything was presented in a bright and happy light simply as another adventure at the end of which Finnikin and friends would - of course! - come out victorious, with no lasting consequences, physically and mentally, with Finnikin perpetually acting like a lovable brat and inevitably earning some appreciation from one or more father figures. Yeah.
My second stumbling block was the characterization of Evanjalin. I think there is a difference between a strong female character who is able to be a tough leader - and a bratty liar who is worshiped, for no apparent reason, by everyone she comes in contact with. So many things would have been much easier (and much less frustrating) had Evanjalin at any time decided to just talk to her companions instead of manipulating them into doing what works for her.
And what does everyone do after learning about the aforementioned manipulation and lies? If you guessed that they treat her like gold, you're right. Because clearly she knows what's better for everyone, and is qualified to make choices for others.Thirdly, a question - how exactly does the nation of slightly over 6000 people develop several ethnic subgroups that are very distinct and apparently almost never intermix, all while living in close proximity? In a nation where it appears everyone knows each other and each other's business - and yet they manage to not intermix and lose their very distinct physical characteristics? It just does not appear possible, and felt quite grating throughout the story.
Fourthly, so many storylines and ideas seemed to be introduced just to be dismissed a few pages later. Froi attempting to rape Evanjalin? That could have been a source of quite a bit of a story development - but no, it's kinda there and then shrugged off. Evanjalin and the priest-king getting sick with the fever? Nevermind, all is behind-the-scenes fine without anything ever coming out of it. Being attacked by a seemingly brutal tribe? Nevermind, we'll tell them a story and they will instantly become our BFFs! An upset man whose beloved has a child with another man? Nevermind, it's all connected to the spirit of the dead child that they had before, so no problemo! Long discussions about being able to 'walk the sleep' only during menses or while bleeding for another reason? Never mind, here's a small child doing it without precocious puberty or signs of abuse.
Fifthly, there seemed to be more posturing between our male characters (namely, Finnikin and any other male he meets along the way) than I have seen since middle school. It was getting a bit ridiculous. The number of times Finnikin charges someone, has a fight (without any physical consequences EVER!) - just to become their BFF afterwards was getting too much to count.
Anyway, I was more than willing to overlook the flaws - I do that all the time, in the countless books that I love. But with this one, I just could not. In 11/22/63 (a perfect example of a book I loved enough to forgive all kinds of flaws), Stephen King quotes a Japanese proverb that apparently goes, "If there is love, smallpox scars are as pretty as dimples." Well, with no love all I see is smallpox scars.
Sorry, book, I will be walking into the sunset alone. Without you by my side. It was not meant to be, Finnikin.