Book Review: Froi of The Exiles by Melina Marchetta

12154330Froi of the Exiles (The Lumatere Chronicles #2)
by Melina Marchetta
Candlewick Press
March 13, 2012
598 pages
Source: Purchased

   Three years after the curse on Lumatere was lifted, Froi has found his home . . . or so he believes. Fiercely loyal to the Queen and Finnikin, Froi has been taken roughly and lovingly in hand by the Guard sworn to protect the royal family, and has learned to control his quick temper with a warrior’s discipline. But when he is sent on a secretive mission to the kingdom of Charyn, nothing could have prepared him for what he finds in its surreal royal court. Soon he must unravel both the dark bonds of kinship and the mysteries of a half-mad princess in this barren and mysterious place. It is in Charyn that he will discover there is a song sleeping in his blood . . . and though Froi would rather not, the time has come to listen. (Taken from Goodreads.)

** Spoilers for Finnikin of the Rock, proceed at your own risk. You have been warned:)**

Opening Line

They call her Quintana the curse maker. The last female born to Charyn, eighteen years past. 

My Take On It

Love. Sex. Vengeance. Sex. Curses. Sex. Power. Sex. Family. Sex. Magic. Sex. These are just some of the themes in Melina Marchetta’s follow up to the epic fantasy masterpiece, Finnikin of the Rock (read my review.) Wait. You’re still thinking about sex, aren’t you? And no, that wasn’t a cheap ploy to get you to read my review. As I read Froi of the Exiles, my mind kept shouting: “This whole book is centered around sex!”  Now, let me explain. The truth is there is not an excessive amount of the actual activity written in, but sexual subjects like infertility and procreation, as well as sexual assault and rape, pervade the entire book. A curse made through birth that must be broken through sex, and subsequent birth, is at the core of this story. Love and betrayal. A kingdom bent on revenge. A barren people. A sinister ruler of a country living under a decades old curse. And one absolutely, bat shit crazy heroine that somehow, through all of her raving madness, made me (and a few others) fall in love with her. Guys, Melina Marchetta has raised the bar again and delivered a powerful tale that had me riveted the entire 598 pages of this book.

With those themes in mind it might be a good idea to talk just a bit more about the content of Froi of the Exiles in regards to the audience that this book is marketed for. Technically, this is, as all of Marchetta’s books are, a young adult book. But in this case that is nothing but a label. The main characters portrayed are teenagers (though at eighteen you could argue they are actually adults) but this book, in my opinion, feels more  like an adult read due to the mature and, at times, very dark subject matter. I personally think that all of Marchetta’s books can be enjoyed by young and old alike. But Froi of the Exiles, even more so than it’s predecessor, deals with issues that I think would be more appropriate for the older YA reader. I just wanted to get that out there because it’s something that I thought about while reading and enjoying this book. Now, on with the good stuff!

In Finnikin, the fallen country of Lumatere, which had been occupied by the neighboring kingdom of Charyn, had come under a curse.  Froi also brings to light a cursed country, a grim curse that is essentially killing off the Charynite people. No children have been born in Charyn in eighteen years. All the women and men are barren. The last child born, Princess Quintana, has self- prophesied that it will be she, along with one of the last born males of Charyn, to break the curse. Quintana sealed her own fate with this prophesy, for her father immediately set about “whoring” her out (a word that is used over and over throughout the course of this book) to every last born son in the kingdom, hoping to end the country’s plight. To survive the trauma that her life has become, Quintana has essentially escaped inside herself, seemingly splitting her personality in two.

After removing nearly all of the Charynites that remain in the borders of Lumatere, Queen Isaboe and her husband Finnikin, are approached by an exiled Charynite with a plan to assassinate the King of Charyn. It seems that most, if not all of that country, despise the events that occurred in Lumatere by the hands of their countrymen  years before. Isaboe agrees to send Froi, who speaks Charyn’s language well and could pass for one of the last born’s, into enemy lands to attempt the assassination and hopefully restore peace between the two countries.

When we last left Froi in Finnikin three years earlier, he has sworn allegiance to Isaboe, Finnikin and Lumatere. In the interim period between the two books, Froi has been taken in and raised by the Queen’s Royal Guard and has become a loyal soldier. Froi still lives day to day with the guilt of his attempted rape of Evanjalin, and as a consequence wishes only to make it up to the Queen. When he is asked to impersonate a Lumateran and infiltrate the Charyn palace in order to kill the king (and possibly the princess) he jumps at the opportunity to prove himself. It was interesting for me to witness this “new” Froi. Gone is the incoherent thief of Sarnak, who seemed more animal than human at the start of Finnikin,  and in it’s place is a young man who battles his own personal demons on a daily basis, trying to control his quick temper and push down the dark parts of himself that he feels make him more or less a monster. Froi is no Finnikin, the two are different in nearly every way, but they do have some similarities. Both are honorable and compassionate. And both have a deep love for the country of Lumatere and the concept of home. But I wondered, would I, or any reader be able to get past the fact that Froi tried to rape Evanjalin? Granted, Froi’s circumstances growing up no doubt led to his actions, but does that excuse them? The answer is, of course, no.  After reading Froi, I read an interview Marchetta gave in which she responded to that very question. She stated that the only way to devote a book to someone like Froi, who starts out with such a heavy strike against him, was to never allow herself as a writer to forget what Froi tried to do, never let the character of Froi forget what he himself had tried to do, and  to never let the reader forget what Froi tried to do. In other words: don’t sweep it under the rug. Own up to it and show how Froi must work every day to redeem himself in the eyes of the Queen, himself and the reader. And you know, amazingly enough, Marchetta accomplishes just that. I never would have thought it possible, but I fell for Froi, flaws and all.

Quintana, the heroine of Froi, could not be more different than Evanjalin, the heroine of Finnikin. I have to admit, in the beginning I had a hard time relating to Quintana. Let’s just say the ‘Crazy’ kept me at bay for a while. Quintana is like a broken doll one minute and the next she is lashing out like an abused and cornered animal. She is all of those things, but she is also so much more. Like Evanjalin she is dedicated to her cause, she is adamant that she will be the one to break the curse, that she is the “chosen vessel”, destined to give birth to the new King of Charyn. Like Evanjalin she recognizes the greater good, and will go to any length to achieve it. But while I admire those attributes (as I did with Evanjalin) I still think it would have been difficult for me to feel much for her had it not been for the love story between she and Froi.

As the two get to know and trust each other, we begin to see moments of clarity in Quintana. Charyn is such a dismal and ominous place. A sense of foreboding pervades each and every thing about it. The people of the country blame Quintana for everything. To them she is not only the daughter of the King’s whore, but a whore herself. She is ridiculed and dismissed as inconsequential and she is abused over and over again by the people closest to her. That she manages to survive at all is amazing. When looked at from that angle it’s easier to see how someone equally damaged like Froi can fall for her like he does. Romance fans be warned, because of the subject matter in the book this is not a traditional or conventional romance. This is the story of two broken people,  in a land filled to the brim with broken people, that slowly and gingerly grow to trust each other and in the end form a bond just as strong, if not stronger than the one Isaboe and Finnikin share.  It’s those moments that allowed me to feel hope in what is really a sordid, dark and nearly hopeless book.

The story of Froi and the mad princess would be weighty enough to carry this book alone, but Marchetta, true to fashion, instead adds even more multiple and complex layers to Froi of the Exiles. Charyn is a bleak place, and Froi, who thinks his mission is merely to kill a murderous and depraved king, instead discovers a nation of people who have suffered just as much as the Lumaterans in their own way. Froi learns that all is not black and white. And while the leaders of Charyn can be blamed for it’s atrocities (against not only the Lumaterans but their own people as well), the people of the country cannot. The characters of Gargarin, Arturo and Lirah are all introduced and through them Froi begins to uncover things about his own past that he never could have imagined. I can’t give too many details without spoiling but I absolutely loved that dynamic between Froi and these characters. Hands down my favorite was Gargarin, he is brilliant and cunning all wrapped up in a prickly persona, and I just adored him. Like Finnikin, there is a lot of journeying from place to place in Froi and the interactions between Froi, Gargarin, Lirah, Arjuro, and Quintana are some of my favorite parts of the book. There is an abundant amount of sarcasm and wit interspersed with heartbreaking revelations. It’s Melina Marchetta at her very best, depicting all the parts, good and bad and ugly, that comprise a family.
In addition to the developing story in Charyn, Marchetta keeps us up to date with what is happening in Lumatere at the same time and we are reunited with some of my favorite characters from book one.  Isaboe and Finnikin are back, trying to help the long suffering people of Lumatere get back on their feet while also acknowledging that war may loom on the horizon. Their story arc also adds some comic relief as they are faced with the challenges of raising their headstrong two year old daughter. Trevanion and Beatriss, who were sort of left hanging at the end of Finnikin, are also included and we learn more about what happened to Beatriss during the Charyn occupation of Lumatere. Lucian of the Monts returns and we witness his struggle to lead his community in his fallen father’s place. Tesadora, Perri and Lady Abian return in smaller roles as well. But new characters are introduced too. One of my favorites would be Phaedra, Lucian’s estranged Charynite wife, who he grudgingly agreed to marry as a way to help broker peace between the two countries. Phaedra’s role is not large, but I fell for her character immediately. She becomes representative of the plight of the Charynite people and for people living in wartime as a whole.  I had such a desire to see her happy after all she and her people had suffered living under their dark curse.

This book was a bit of a process to read, and I didn’t speed through it. But I’m glad that I took the time I did with it. I have become so invested and involved with all of these incredible characters Marchetta has created, so when this book ended (and on the mother of all cliffhangers by the way!) I knew I held something very, very special in my hands. And while I waited until Froi was published in the US before I bought it, I can tell you that just as soon as I can pre-order the last book in the trilogy from Fishpond, I am on it! Entitled Quintana of Charyn, and due to release in Australia in October of 2012, this book will wrap up the trilogy and I cannot wait to see how all the stories of these incredible people play out in the end. I’m excited and nervous as hell to learn the fates of  Froi, Finnikin, Quintana, Isaboe, Trevanion and all the rest.  I think that it’s going to be a very long six months.

In conclusion, this is my third hardcover of Melina Marchetta’s works and I have noticed that she always provides thoughts on the book on the back cover flap. I have grown to love these and I try to never read them until I have finished the book. Here is Froi’s: 
“It explores nature versus nurture and blood bonds versus friendships, but ultimately it’s a love story between a whole lot of people who should have given up on each other long ago yet still find it in themselves to hope again.”

Froi of the Exiles is a very different book than Finnikin of the Rock. I think it’s grim subject matter and tone may not be as appealing to some readers when compared to the more uplifting message found in Finnikin. Froi is not an easy book. But it is a powerful book in it’s own right.  It’s complex and has so many intricate plot devices at play that it can be hard to wrap your head around. Yet Marchetta somehow manages to interweave all the complicated branches of this story into one coherent and beautiful piece of work that shows that even in the face of  utter hopelessness,  hope can survive.

4.5/ 5 Stars