The Mountains of Instead

Championing fiction as an escape from pandemics, politics and bad TV.

Sing What Was Lost and Dread What Was Won (Review: Froi of the Exiles by Melina Marchetta)

Froi of the Exiles          
Melina Marchetta
Candlewick Press 2011

Froi of the Exiles is the second title in The Chronicles of Lumatere. As such, this review contains spoilers for book one in the series, Finnikin of the Rock. You have been warned.

Three years have passed since the events of Finnikin of the Rock  Time is slowly healing the physical landscape but the people still suffer, struggling to overcome memories of unspeakable pain. Finnikin juggles family life with tenuous political alliances, Lucian struggles to lead his Monts and deal with a wife he doesn’t want while refugees from hated Charyn have started to flood into a Lumateran valley. In the midst of this turmoil works Froi, who has found a place for himself working for the land while training as a Guard. He’s happy to live quietly but when an assassin is required to infiltrate Charyn, Froi with his oddly un-Lumateran looks, is the first choice… and the people of Lumatere are rebuilding their homeland.

Froi has grown from a snarling thief, struggling with a new language to a clever young man.  While still rough around the edges and inclined to speak his mind rather too often, Froi’s desire to make himself useful has not left him as he tries to prove himself to his beloved friends and monarch. Once unleashed on Charyn, Froi has only his bond to guide him and as this becomes increasingly confused he worries about a darkness that he believes lies deep beneath him.  However, his interactions with others show that deep down, despite his inner savage, Froi has a good heart – he just doesn’t always know how to show it.

Much as Evanjalin stole the show in Finnikin of the Rock, Quintana of Charyn rather steals Froi of the Exiles. Quintana is not a pleasant character and in fact does not become one at any point.  Teetering on the brink of outright insanity she swings between childlike temper and icy cruelty, like a ragged Alice who has stepped through the looking glass into a land unimaginable in its sexual savagery and familial hopelessness. As the story progresses her character sharpens but never becomes softer. While the interactions between her and Froi highlight a gentleness in his character, they only highlight the savageness of hers. Yet she is entirely pitiable and also admirable in that her horrendous life has not broken her completely. 

Back in Lumatere, Lucian’s character is expanded upon beautifully.  As a young man, grieving his father and leading an impossibly stubborn people, he struggles believably. Through Lucian, we see the Charyn refugees and finally learn more about the country so hated by the Lumaterans. It is through Lucian that readers see how raw the Lumateran wounds still are, how frightened and suspicious the people remain and how grey the lines between Lumatere and Charyn are becoming.

The story of Froi of the Exiles is a harsh one. Lumatere and it’s people may have suffered horribly at the hands of Charyn and but it seems that the Charynites have been a cursed race for far longer and their Citavita, the royal city in which Froi finds himself, is a place of base violence and sexual depravity almost beyond imagining with a frightened king, insane princess and Machiavellian advisor at it’s heart.  It is not, to be frank, an easy read. Marchetta never backs away from the horrors of Charyn’s past and Charyn is a country with rape embedded, even sanctioned, in its skin. There are few characters who have not suffered horribly at the hands of other men. While both Lumatere and Charyn have been cursed in different ways, it is not these curses that have engendered such sorrow but the evil that men have done in their name.

Marchetta’s writing is, as always, impressive. In Froi of the Exiles she writes in perhaps a starker fashion than previously seen but this suits the story. As in Finnikin of the Rock she has the uncanny ability to conjure modern reality in high fantasy. The events in Charyn, and previously in Lumatere, are reminiscent of the hellish stories of systematic rape in Bosnia while the Charynites camping on the Lumateran border speak of refugees the world over. Many may find the subject matter of Froi of the Exiles difficult, perhaps even inappropriate, but that’s a hard argument to make when we live in a world where these things have been witnessed time and time again.  Marchetta is never gratuitous and, at the heart of her story, is a message of strength – that many are strong in the broken places and that all is not lost. Once again I highly recommend a Melina Marchetta title. Hell, I recommend ALL her titles.

Froi of the Exiles is available in the UK on 13th March, 2012. Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for providing The Mountains of Instead with this title to review.
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