After reading Froi of the Exiles I have the same feeling I had after reading Finnikin of the Rock, the same feeling I have after reading any wonderful book. It's that feeling where a part of you wants nothing more than to keep delving into the world you just read (or if there are no sequels, then any book that will give you this same "high"), but another part feels the need to just take a break and enjoy it, let it simmer. Ah, how I love these conflicting feelings.
You see, I read Finnikin of the Rock ten months ago, in July. I loved it so much that even though I wanted to find out more about the world I'd just left, I wasn't ready to leave Finnikin and Isaboe behind and move onto Froi. I couldn't imagine loving Froi as much as I loved Finnikin (the character, *or* the book), so I waited. Finally, ten months later, I finally got around to picking up Froi of the Exiles.
And oh. My. Lord.
I don't think there are adequate words for me to explain how Melina Marchetta is a complete master of her craft, but I will try.
Take a character like Quintana. Quintana has, well let's just say, been through a lot. In order to deal with the trauma, she pretty much became batshit crazy. And not in a "crazy/cool" way, just in a batshit crazy way. Her appearance doesn't help matters either - she's not pretty, has a tangled mess of hair, and wears ridiculous pink dresses.
Initially, the character of Quintana was really uncomfortable for me. I pitied her, but didn't really think I could ever come to really care for her, in the way that I feel I should care about a main character in books that I read. But slowly, ever so slowly, I found my opinion of Quintana starting to change. I think Froi describes her best when he says:
“Until three years ago, I couldn’t read and write, I couldn’t ride a horse or shoot an arrow and didn’t know the difference between a turnip seed and grain. The men who have taught me everything back home, they often say to me, ‘Froi, what if all your talents were left undiscovered?’” He looked up at them. “It’s the same with her. Imagine who she would be if we unleashed her onto the world. I think she would rip the breath from all of us.”
And that's exactly what happens in Froi of the Exiles. Marchetta slowly unleashes Quintana's character onto her readers, making us understand more and more who she is, who she can be, and who she will be as the series progresses.
Then, of course, there's Froi. I said before that I was hesitant to read this book, because I didn't think I could like Froi as much as Finnikan, especially after some of the things Froi did in Finnikin of the Rock. But, to my surprise, I found that I loved Froi's character so much more. You see, Froi is really complex, and he's as far from perfect as it gets. That's what makes him so great though. For one, he's never boring, and furthermore, his flaws and profound internal struggles just make him seem so much more real than Finnikin. And, despite his flaws, he has one of the most admirable traits you can find in a character - a fierce loyalty and need to protect the people he cares about.
There's a plethora of so many other wonderful characters in this book as well. Finnikin and Isaboe, of course, who are flawed in their own way, in that they are unable to see past their hatred for Charyn and its people (as understandable as it might be). Lucian and Phaedre, who were two of my favorites and kind of quietly stole the show. Trevanion, Gargarin, Arjuro, Lirah, who are strong secondary characters. The only character I couldn't find myself connecting with was Beatriss, and I felt the same lack of connection with her in Finnikin of the Rock. I can't explain why, so maybe it's just me.
So yes, Marchetta works her mastery on you, through the characters, and through an exciting story involving politics, intrigue, suspense, revenge, and a bit of romance. Marchetta's writing itself isn't especially adroit - her writing style is easy to read and yet mature, and is good enough to help her evoke a pleasurable reading experience, but she isn't one for flowery or impressive prose like Guy Gavriel Kay or Vladimir Nabokov. Yet, the writing serves as a more than sufficient vessel for the plot, characters, and events, which are her true strength.
As for the story itself, there were some moments when things felt a little slow, and the book did drag a bit here and there, but, overall, the plot was well-crafted and well-executed. After the events in Citavita, it was also a bit difficult to tell what else Marchetta was building up to - you just had to trust her that it was building up to something, and oh boy, did she ever deliver. Not just with the main story arc of Froi and Quintana, but in all of her character arcs.
My biggest issue with the book was that sometimes the world itself, all the locations and varying politics, felt a little overwhelming. I wish the book came with an appendix or something of that nature, to refresh myself on some of the kingdoms, provinces, and terminologies used in the book. There was a lot of information being thrown at you, and I think there was also a lot of details that I couldn't remember from Finnikin of the Rock.
But, these are just minor complaints. The truth is Froi of the Exiles dragged me in and never let me go, and rather than let it simmer for another 10 months before I delve back into Marchetta's world, I'm going to jump back in as soon as I can and let myself tear into the next book in the series.
(NOTE: Also, just a warning - I said this about Finnikin of the Rock, and I'm going to say it again about this book - I really don't think these fit into the "young adult" category. Just be careful if you're recommending this book to young readers, because a lot of dark and horrible things take place. I mean, I found this book really disturbing, and I'm 27.)