Quintana of Charyn: A Review

“We could look at the side of wonder.”

Quintana of Charyn by Melina MarcherraFroi was left for dead on the mountaintops of Charyn, taken to his uncle–a gifted physician. He has lost Quintana. He has lost Gargarin and Lirah.

Quintana of Charyn is alone and in hiding. She might be the curse breaker, but first she will have to survive long enough to give birth to the new heir.

In Lumatere, the Charyn threat is growing. Lucian of the Monts is uncertain of how to deal with his unwanted neighbors across the valley. Isaboe wants to erase the royal line responsible for the days of the unspeakable and the murders of her family. Finnikin wants to find Froi before it’s too late. But in their months apart, both young men have changed.

Two countries torn apart by grief and rage will have to find common ground if either of them hopes to heal in Quintana of Charyn (2013) by Melina Marchetta.

Find it on Bookshop.

Quintana of Charyn is the final book in Melina Marchetta’s Chronicles of Lumatere which begins with Finninkin of the Rock and Froi of the Exiles.

Quintana of Charyn picks up soon after the brutal events of Froi of the Exiles. Everything is still a mess. The characters are all separated. The outlook is bleak.

It’s difficult to talk about too much of the plot but suffice to say that Quintana of Charyn gives these characters the space and the ending that they deserve. Through careful writing and artful plotting, Marchetta subtly shifts her characters and tone. After the harrowing experiences of book two, this conclusion to her epic fantasy trilogy reads like a soothing balm.

It’s a testament to the strength of the writing and the intricacy of this series that absolutely everything comes together here. Marchetta uses the fantasy setting to explore larger issues of forgiveness and love as well as grieving and rebirth in this powerful novel.

Quintana of Charyn is a must read for fans of the first two books in the series. Readers looking for their next sweeping fantasy series should definitely start this series at the beginning. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon, Exquisite Captive by Heather Demetrios, Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin, The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows, The Tower at Stony Wood by Patricia A. McKillip, The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley, Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch, Dreams Lie Beneath by Rebecca Ross, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift, The Last of the High Kings by Kate Thompson, Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien, The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

Froi of the Exiles: A Review

Froi of the Exiles by Melina MarchettaIt has been three years since the curse on Lumatere was lifted. Three years since the Lumaterans trapped inside the kingdom for ten long years and those exiled during the siege reclaimed their land and tried to make it whole. But memories are long and recovery is slow as the country come to terms with what was lost during the time of the unspeakable and what has changed forever.

During his years as an exile, Froi never imagined he would find a home in Lumatere much less a position in the Queen’s Guard. He could not have guessed that he would one day count Queen Isaboe and her consort, Finnikin among his dearest friends. Even with so much changed, Froi is haunted by who he was during the exile. He has sworn a bond to the queen, and to Lumatere, that he might make up for his past and never stray again.

That bond is sorely tested when Froi is sent to a neighboring kingdom on a secret mission. In Charyn’s royal court Froi finds a princess who may speak prophecy or madness and twins who can offer two halves of the story behind Charyn’s own curse–and secrets of Froi’s past–if only they can learn to speak to each other again. In a barren kingdom where brutality has become more valuable than compassion for most, Froi will have to decide if he can stay true to his bond to Lumatere while also doing what is right in Froi of the Exiles (2012) by Melina Marchetta.

Find it on Bookshop.

Froi of the Exiles is the second book in Marchetta’s Chronicles of Lumatere which begins with Finnikin of the Rock.

Froi of the Exiles is a sweeping novel that blows the world of the Chronicles of Lumatere open as Froi and readers are introduced to new countries and cultures. This novel brings the strangely barren land of Charyn to life with stark, vivid descriptions. The dangers found in much of Charyn are expertly contrasted with moments of wondrous beauty and tempered by the sharp wit of these characters.

Marchetta offers a thoughtful meditation on forgiveness and recovery in Froi of the Exiles. Every character here has been broken in some way–sometimes by looming curses and other times by the casual cruelty of other people–that damage and those scars are givens. But it never defines them. Each character, but especially Froi, strives throughout the novel to move past that hurt and to take the damaged pieces and make himself into something stronger and better.

Froi of the Exiles is a masterful and well-executed novel where every word matters and the story will completely enthrall readers. Highly recommended. Part of a must-read series for fans of high fantasy.

Possible Pairings: Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon, Exquisite Captive by Heather Demetrios, Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin, The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows, The Tower at Stony Wood by Patricia A. McKillip, The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley, Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch, Dreams Lie Beneath by Rebecca Ross, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift, The Last of the High Kings by Kate Thompson, Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien, The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

The Piper’s Son: A(n excited!) Review

The Piper's Son by Melina MarchettaThomas Finch Mackee is many things to many people. Musician, friend, and most recently complete jerk.

Five years ago his world seemed certain. He was friends with the girls from school. He wanted to be something more to Tara Finke. He would follow his charming father anywhere–most people would, Dom has always been a pied piper. That was before London.

That was before his family had to bury another empty coffin, this time for Tom’s uncle lost in the London bombing.

After London nothing is quite so sure. Tom’s father is gone. His mother and sister are in another city. He’s lost touch with his friends. Tom’s life is falling apart.

When Tom moves in with his pregnant aunt and finds a job working with the friends he abandoned he might also find a way back to himself. Everything is broken. But with a little time, and a lot of forgiveness, some of it can probably be fixed in The Piper’s Son (2011) by Melina Marchetta.

Find it on Bookshop.

What a beautiful book. I’ve cried because books are funny, because they are sad, but this is the first time I ever felt teary at the end of the book because everything is so perfect and so beautiful.

The Piper’s Son is Marchetta’s fifth book. It is also a sequel to Saving Francesca–a book that has a permanent place in my top five all time favorite books. Interestingly you can see hints of Marchetta’s earlier works in this novel. You can see nods to Jellicoe Road in the snappy beginning*, Finnikin of the Rock in the things not overtly said, and of course nods to Saving Francesca (and even Looking for Alibrandi in terms of family dynamics). Much as I love Marchetta’s earlier books, especially Saving Francesca, this one might surpass them all.

Set five years after Saving Francesca this is an interesting book that is being marketed as Young Adult but where all of the characters are, technically, adults (Tom and his group are in their early twenties). The story also alternates between Tom’s view and his aunt Georgie who is 42 and pregnant. The alternating voices work to flesh out the story and make sense of Tom’s complex family. Their stories in tandem also work to highlight how much both characters change from the beginning of The Piper’s Son to the end.

Although The Piper’s Son is a sequel you can almost read it before Saving Francesca** because Marchetta has so masterfully built in Tom and his friends’ backstories into Tom’s story has readers learn what happened between the two novels. Everyone reader’s loved from Saving Francesca (Francesca and the girls and even Will Trombal) returns in this novel along with a lot of great new characters (Ned, Anabel). This book truly made me love Francesca and her group even more than I did before.

As always Marchetta has left me completely floored and truly enchanted. The Piper’s Son is a wonderful story that is both optimistic and utterly enthralling.

*And in a certain violin player named Ben! Thanks to the inimitable Karyn Silverman for pointing out Ben’s cameo to me!

**Don’t do this because part of the charm of Saving Francesca is meeting these characters for the first time. But if you feel you must ignore my advice, know that you could.

Possible Pairings: A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley, Entwined by Heather Dixon, Enchanted Ivy by Sarah Beth Durst, Reuinted by Hilary Weisman Graham, Stealing Henry by Carolyn MacCullough, Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta, Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins, Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altedbrando, Rayne and Delilah’s Midnite Matinee by Jeff Zentner

Exclusive Bonus Content: I also want to say that I love the cover which is very different from the covers found on Saving Francesca but also in a way very Tom. It also ties in well with the scenes of the prologue. I also wanted to mention that Tom’s email is “anabelsbrother” and Anabel’s email is “tomssister” and it’s the cutest thing I’ve ever seen in a novel. I’m glad I’m an only child because I’d be crushed if I had a sibling and they didn’t want to do that kind of email with me.

Finnikin of the Rock: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Finnikin of the Rock by Melina MarchettaA long time ago, before the five days of the unspeakable, Finnikin of the Rock dreamed he was to sacrifice a pound of flesh to save the royal house of Lumatere. Though only nine, Finnikin knew the dream was not to be ignored.

Frightened for his kingdom, Finnikin convinced his friends Prince Balthazar and Lucian of the Mont to make a pledge with him. They climbed to the rock of three wonders and sacrificed flesh from their bodies and a hair from the head of a weeping princess Isaboe. Balthazar swore to die defending his royal house of Lumatere. Finnikin swore to be their protector and guide for as long as he lived.  Lucian vowed he would be the light whom they traveled toward in times of need.

That evening they slept easy knowing the land of Lumatere was truly blessed.

Until the five days of the unspeakable when the king and queen and their children are brutally murdered in the palace. An impostor seizes the throne and a curse binds all who remain inside the kingdom walls while those who escape are left to roam the land as exiles, dying by the thousands in fever camps.

But there might be hope.

A young novice named Evanjalin claims the true heir, Balthazar, is alive and that she can lead Finnikin to the prince. But Evanjalin’s machinations soon turn a journey to find the lost heir into a quest to break the curse and free Lumatere. It all begins ten years after the five days of the unspeakable, when Finnikin of Lumatere climbs another rock in Finnikin of the Rock (2010*) by Melina Marchetta.

Find it on Bookshop.

Finnikin of the Rock is Marchetta’s first foray into the wide and wonderful world of fantasy, after writing three other critically acclaimed realistic fiction novels. In her author bio at the back of the book, Marchetta notes that for her the first step to writing this fantasy was knowing our own world well and finding a way to reflect that world–something Marchetta does expertly.

Marchetta’s world of Skuldenore is a place apart that still manages to feel very close to home throughout the story. There is something very natural in reading about this strange land of kings and magic. As always, the writing here is exceptional. The story blends humor, twists, romance, action and intrigue all with ease–sometimes even at the same time.

Fantasies are often the realm of strong women and brave men but this novel truly provides shining examples of both. Finnikin and Evanjalin are as powerful and brave a set of characters as any readers are likely to meet this year. Every single one of the characters, even the minor ones, that Marchetta conjures are truly original and memorable–even the dead ones.

English classes often mention Apostrophe as a literary device used to directly address an absent (or sometimes imagined) character, this book conjures the absent characters in their entirety. Finnikin of the Rock is a haunting novel about a cursed land and its pages are filled with ghosts and a palpable sense of what the Lumaterans have truly lost. All the same, Finnikin of the Rock is essentially a story about hope and rebuilding–with a nice dose of romance, action and intrigue thrown in (of course).

Marchetta won the 2009 Printz Award for her novel Jellicoe Road. It seems likely that this book is another Printz contender. One of the best fantasies I’ve read recently and one of the best books of any genre that I’ve read so far this year.

*Like Marchetta’s other novels this one was originally published in her native Australia. The original publication was 2008, 2010 marks the arrival of the first US edition. The cover shown here is the American version which I prefer to the Australian version.

Possible Pairings: Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon, Exquisite Captive by Heather Demetrios, Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, The Lost Sun by Tessa Gratton, Princess of Thorns by Stacey Jay, The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin, The Orphan Queen by Jodi Meadows, The Tower at Stony Wood by Patricia A. McKillip , The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley, Snow Like Ashes by Sara Raasch, Dreams Lie Beneath by Rebecca Ross, The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski, Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift, Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor, The Last of the High Kings by Kate Thompson, Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien, The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

Jellicoe Road: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Jellicoe Road by Melina MarchettaMelina Marchetta’s Jellicoe Road* (2008**) won the 2009 Printz Award for excellence in young adult literature. Find it on Bookshop.

Jellicoe Road is not a novel with one protagonist. Rather, it is one with many. The story starts on the Jellicoe Road with a tragic accident that will have far reaching repercussions for each character in the novel. Then, abruptly, the story starts again twenty-two years later at the Jellicoe School–the boarding school located farther down the same road–when Taylor Markham is chosen to lead the school’s faction in a secret territory war that has spanned a generation between the school boarders, the Townies, and the Cadets.

The Jellicoe School is the only real home Taylor has ever known. She has been at the school since she was eleven, when her mother abandoned her on Jellicoe Road and Hannah drove by to pick Taylor up and take her to the school. Now seventeen, Taylor is in many ways still a young girl afraid of being abandoned by those she loves. Which is why, at the start of the story, Taylor balks at the authority thrust upon her and the relationships it will necessitate. Leading the Jellicoe School through the territory wars is bad enough, but being in charge of an entire dorm of students seems truly unbearable. Taylor’s resolve to live a life apart is tested, and in many ways broken, with the efforts of well-meaning friends and the appearance of Jonah Griggs–the one person Taylor never expected to see, or need, ever again.

As the territory wars escalate, Taylor’s life is thrown into disarray with the sudden disappearance of Hannah–the only adult Taylor would come close to calling family. With Hannah gone, Taylor begins reading Hannah’s unfinished novel for lack of anything else to cling to. Marchetta weaves Taylor’s story and the events of Hannah’s novel and even the histories of other characters together to create one haunting narrative where, the more Taylor reads, the more it feels like she is looking not at fictitious characters but at people she has known her entire life.

While trying to understand Hannah’s sudden absence, Taylor also starts to understand herself. Eventually she realizes that living life at a distance offers no protection from abandonment and provides even fewer options to heal scars from past betrayals.

The novel starts with rapid fire narration as Taylor throws out events and names at the reader without any frame of reference. Later in the story the importance of the Cadet, the Hermit, and the Brigadier becomes painfully obvious. But in the first pages the narrative comes closer to painfully confusing and unwieldy. By the end of my reading I had a marker at almost every page to indicated important points and favorite passages. However, if you can roll with the uncertainty, you will be rewarded. At a little over four hundred pages, Marchetta still creates a page-turner that moves quickly and weaves together every single narrative thread by the final page.

Because Taylor is not forthcoming with explanations, the novel reads like a mystery (fitting since my two Printz Award predictions were also mysteries of sorts). However a good portion of the story is also simply about friendship and love. Taylor expects neither from her time on the Jellicoe Road even though they might be exactly what she was supposed to find there all along. Marchetta blends moments of humor and gravitas in her unique prose style to create another really great read.

* Jellicoe Road was actually originally published, I assume in Marchetta’s native Australia, with the title On the Jellicoe Road. For various reasons, upon finishing the novel, I feel that this title is superior to the American edition’s shortened version.

** The book was originally published, again I assume in Australia, in 2006.

Possible Pairings: What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell, Heist Society by Ally Carter, The Midnight Dress by Karen Foxlee, Paper Towns by John Green, The Last Time We Were Us by Leah Konen, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart, The Disappearances by Emily Bain Murphy, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, The Summer of Chasing Mermaids by Sarah Ockler, Every Hidden Thing by Kenneth Oppel, The Wessex Papers by Daniel Parker, Past Perfect by Leila Sales, The Caged Graves by Dianne K. Salerni, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin

Looking for Alibrandi: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Looking for Alibrandi (1992) by Melina Marchetta (find it on Bookshop)

Looking for Alibrandi by Melina MarchettaMelina Marchetta is Australian. According to the backflap copy for this book, she lives in Sydney where she teaches English at an all-boys high school. After the 1992 debut of her first novel Marchetta found herself in an interesting position. Looking for Alibrandi won every major literary award for young adult literature in Australia so that Marchetta subsequently had to teach her own book to her students. All told, not a bad problem to have.

Ten years later Saving Francesca came out and also garnered a lot of praise and awards (as well as regularly being in my Top Five). In short, Melina Marchetta is a pretty big deal. I enjoy her books because they feel like her characters are living lives that I might have had were things different.

Apparently, and I’m embarassed to say I only found this out yesterday, Looking for Alibrandi was also adapted into a movie in Australia in 2000 with Marchetta writing the screenplay. I wish I could find the DVD.

Set in Australia, this novel deals with a sub-community that I didn’t even know Australia had: Italians. Narrator, Josie, comes from an Italian family that immigrated to Australia. At a Catholic school she doesn’t like, surrounded by people who don’t understand the Italian part of her culture, seventeen-year-old Josie feels adrift.

Josie has a lot of women in her life. She lives with her mother and (much to her frustration) spends afternoons with her grandmother until her mom can pick her up. Josie’s father isn’t a part of the picture. He never has been. And what I like about this novel, is that it isn’t a big deal–it’s just life. No complex explanation, no pang of longing for the father she never met, he’s just no around.

Or is he?

Things get more complicated for Josie and her mom when Josie’s long-absent father suddenly reappears. After living without him for so long, Josie isn’t sure he’s worth her time now. In this thread of the novel, Marchetta does an excellent job exploring how Josie can acquaint herself with one of the people she should know better than anyone else.

Amidst this family confusion, Josie finds herself caught between two very different young men. Josie has always been attracted to John Barton, and with good reason. His life seems to have been handed to him on a silver platter. From a rich family, bound for law school, and good-looking, John seems to have everything going for him. Still, as John finally notices Josie and open up to her, Josie is shocked to find that John isn’t nearly as content as she would have guessed.

Jacob Coote, on the other hand, is completely comfortable in his own skin. From a working class family, Jacob is confident about his own bright future (and his ability to get there by sheer force of will). Drawn to Jacob’s radical ideas and striking personality, it’s hard to tell if Josie and Jacob are perfect for each other or too similar to ever really last.

Looking for Alibrandi is a novel with many facets and many plots. All of the characters are dimensional, adding their own stories to the larger narrative of the novel. In addition to an excellent dissection of family relations, Looking for Alibrandi is one of the best novels about the immigrant experience I have ever read. Yes, Josie is probably third generation if not later, and true these characters are immigrants to Australia and not the USA. Still, the novel offers admirable commentary to anyone interested in immigration (and assimilation) in America and elsewhere.

Possible Pairings: The Secret Side of Empty by Maria E. Andreu, Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, The Secret Life of Prince Charming by Deb Caletti, Last Night at the Circle Cinema by Emily Franklin, Looking for Alaska by John Green, The After Girls by Leah Konen, Vibes by Amy Kathleen Ryan, The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth Laban, Boy Toy by Barry Lyga, This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider
Sound good? Find it on Amazon: Looking for Alibrandi

Saving Francesca: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Saving Francesca by Melina MarchettaSaving Francesca (2005) is Melina Marchetta’s second novel. Find it on Bookshop.

Marchetta lives in Australia and, as her name might suggest, belongs to the community of Italian immigrants who now call Australia home. Marchetta’s first novel, Looking for Alibrandi was greeted with widespread critical acclaim and is now a standard part of Australian school curricula (meaning that Marchetta, a teacher, has to often teach her own novel to students). I feel that Saving Francesca is even better than Looking for Alibrandi, which might give some idea to how very good I think it is.

This novel, like Looking for Alibrandi, focuses on a family of Australian Italians. Sixteen-year-old Francesca Spinelli has a lot of limitations on her life. The worst might be her forced transfer to St. Sebastian’s, a former boy’s school that’s trying to turn co-ed. As Francesca explains “What a dream come true, right? Seven hundred and fifty boys and thirty girls? But the reality is that it’s either like living in a fish bowl or like you don’t exist.” Adding insult to injury, all of Francesca’s friends stayed at her old school, leaving Francesca with Siobhan the “slut of St. Stella’s”, Tara the “fanatic”, and Justine the “loser” as her only companions. Things only get worse when Francesca locks horns with the infuriating Will Trombal and Francesca’s mother, the usually vibrant and free-spirited Mia, refuses to get out of bed as she grapples with a depression that cripples not only Mia but Francesca and the rest of the family as well.

There is so much I want to say about this book. I love the story, I love the characters, I love the cover art for every edition I have seen. I love that Francesca’s voice is so unique and can appeal to just about everyone.

More important than any of that, the story is good. Marchetta tackles the issue of depression in a way that is new and effective. She never gets bogged down in presenting information that doesn’t relate to the story or the characters. At the same time, even though the depression plays a necessarily prevalent role in the novel, the story is about more than that.

While Francesca tries to make sense of her home life being turned inside out, she also starts to make sense of her own identity–something she never bothered to examine too closely at St. Stella’s when it became clear that her friends didn’t care about the “real” Francesca. Being thrown together with the other misfits from St. Stella’s, Francesca begins to find her own voice and her own place in the world. She also slowly begins to make sense of the boys at St. Sebastian’s. One of the best threads in the novel follows the evolving relations between the St. Stella’s transplants and their new, male, classmates.

Marchetta’s prose is vivid and to the point. The novel stays close to its main focus, Francesca and her family, to create a tight narrative that expertly traces the evolution of the characters in the novel. The story, narrative, and characters come together here to create one of those rare, arresting novels, that will grab readers attention from the first page through the last and still remain a satisfying read upon future perusals. Saving Francesca comes ten years after Looking for Alibrandi and, in this reviewer’s humble opinion, Marchetta spent the intervening years honing her craft to a rarely seen level of mastery.

Possible Pairings: Love and Other Perishable Items by Laura Buzo, The Accident Season by Moïra Fowley-Doyle, Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating by Adiba Jaigirdar, The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder, The Start of Me and You by Emery Lord, Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu, Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson, Even in Paradise by Chelsey Philpot, The Square Root of Summer by Harriet Reuter Hapgood, This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales, A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell, The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin