Thursday, November 17, 2011

Froi of the Exiles (Review)

4.5/5 stars (and now trying to figure out where it lost half a star...)
ACTUALLY let's say...
5/5 stars

Melina Marchetta. Honestly I don't think my love affair with her books will ever end. Somehow she just makes everything so much more real than any other author. No matter what the setting or story, she makes me believe.

I always find it difficult to review Melina Marchetta books. They are just so much better than pretty much everything else out there. I feel like I should be able to say "Melina Marchetta" and you should understand that means "You need to read this book now." But then there are unfortunate souls out there waiting to experience their first Marchetta book.

Froi of the Exiles. Sigh. I think I like this book more than Finnikan of the Rock. Maybe it's because Froi is just so damaged. My heart hurts for him. He's made bad choices in the past but that was when he didn't really have any good choices. Now he's trying so damn hard to be better, to prove himself worthy of the friendship of Isaboe and Finnikan. But even he doubts himself, his self worth is so twisted up in his past mistakes that he has trouble seeing his own potential. But as the reader I see it and love him, even if he doesn't understand that he's worthy of being loved.

He's so real and vibrant. Froi leaps off the page, smart and jaded, so real and broken. I just want to give him a hug (in fact I told my goodreads group that he needed a group hug). I continue to be dazzled by Marchetta's grasp of human nature and her ability to capture characters in a way that rings so true.

The honesty that Marchetta exhibits in her contemporary fiction is not lost when she switches to fantasy. She doesn't try to make it sound like a typical fantasy book. The language is genuine, at times funny, at times crass but with a poignancy that we've come to expect from her.
"The gods have not forsaken Charyn. The gods love Charyn. Where else can they shit, if not Charyn? It's the purpose of this kingdom. To be the place where the gods shit."
With Marchetta everything always comes back to the characters. She understands that's what makes a book believable. I still love the characters from the first book. Isaboe and Finnikan are adorable as a married couple. They make me smile in a book where smiles are few and far between. Then there are characters we get to know more, Lucian for example, and favorites that we've never met before like Phaedra, Lirah and most importantly Quintana aka Princess crazytrain.

Quintana fascinates Froi. She fascinates me, maybe more than any secondary character I've ever encountered. The next book is called Quintana of Charyn and I am excited. I know most people haven't met this princess. But know this: She is a survivor. Marchetta doesn't write flat boring characters. Quintana is no damsel in distress. In fact, please don't leave me alone in a room with her. At times she's terrifying, other times completely endearing and heartbreaking. But I can't stop watching and waiting for her to reappear throughout the book.

I love how Marchetta describes characters. Take Quintana, with her pointy nose, crazy hair and teeth that overlap. She is not cookie-cutter or even necessarily pretty. But the image is so crystal clear in my mind. Marchetta chooses the right details, strange and quirky, but that's what makes her descriptions memorable.

This book is beautiful and complicated. It's epic fantasy that's truly epic, not just the same-old-same-old elves versus humans versus dwarves versus mages versus fill-in-the-blank. You can't say "Charyn is evil and Lumatere is good" because that's way too simplistic. This book looks at the complicated relationships between two countries and the people who are sometimes unwittingly caught in the middle. Nobody is 100% good. All of the heroes have flaws and not even the villains (except maybe one) lack humanity. Countries don't just one day decide to invade their next door neighbors. There is always context and usually desperation driving these actions. Marchetta acknowledges that without taking away the horrors of what happened in Finnikan of the Rock.

This book is not always any easy novel to read. It's heart-wrenching. It grabs you roughly and drags you though the muck, pulling you through the sewers of Charyn, the madness of a princess and the dark past of a street kid we first met in Finnikan. It makes you ache, but it also makes you love and it never lets you forget how often those two are intertwined.

No comments: