From School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up-Before the "five days of the unspeakable," Finnikin's homeland of Lumatere was a peaceful and plentiful kingdom. Then the royal family was murdered and a puppet regime rose to power. The people were divided: some escaped into exile in the other kingdoms of Skuldenore, while the rest were trapped inside a curse shrouding the kingdom walls. A decade later, Finnikin and his guardian roam the land recording stories and trying to improve conditions for the exiles. A beguiling novice named Evanjalin, who shares the dreams of the people trapped inside Lumatere, joins their small party. She claims that Balthazar, the true heir to the throne, is alive. Rejuvenated by hope, the group embarks on a series of adventures in their quest to reunite the exiles and rebuild Lumatere under Balthazar's rule. With this novel (Candlewick, 2010), Melina Marchetta has crafted a world that is both fanciful and frighteningly real, with parallels to today's civil wars and refugee camps. It is a dense tale that builds to a stirring climax after Evanjalin's real identity is revealed. Jeffrey Cummings convincingly varies his voice to portray a range of ages, accents, and emotions in this impressive reading. Listeners may struggle to keep up with the book's many characters and to grasp the geography of Finnikin's travels (the print edition includes helpful maps). It takes patience to get acclimated to this mystical fantasy, but those who stick with it are in for a rare treat.-Amy V. Pickett, Ridley High School, Folsom, PA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
*Starred Review* In her latest title, Marchetta, author of the 2009 Michael L. Printz Award winner, Jellicoe Road, steps deftly into the fantasy genre. Ten years before the story’s start, assassins crept into the kingdom of Lumatere and murdered the royal family, with the possible exception of Balthazar, heir to the throne. As rumors circulated that Balthazar survived, a mystic cast a curse that created a magical barrier around the kingdom and prevented thousands who had fled from returning. Marchetta focuses her tale on 19-year-old Finnikin, the son of a former royal guard, who is serving in exile as an apprentice to Sir Topher, a former advisor to the murdered king. While aiding refugees, they meet a young novice who can enter others’ dreams and claims that Balthazar has chosen Finnikin to “take his people home.” As Finnikin gathers forces to return to the kingdom, intrigue and double-dealing ensue. The skillful world building includes just enough detail to create a vivid sense of place, and Marchetta maintains suspense with unexpected story arcs. It is the achingly real characters, though, and the relationships that emerge through the captivating dialogue that drive the story. Filled with questions about the impact of exile and the human need to belong, this standout fantasy quickly reveals that its real magic lies in its accomplished writing. Grades 6-10. --Lynn Rutan