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Froi of the Exiles

Froi of the Exiles - Melina Marchetta I cannot write an adequate review of this book without spoiling major plot points. Proceed with caution.Also, I doubt anyone reading this review has skipped the first book in the Lumatere Chronicles, but if you have, it is an absolute requirement to have read it prior to reading Froi of the Exiles. Marchetta spends little time rehashing the spellbinding story told in FoTR. The characters introduced and the amount of time spent world-building in FoTR leads effortlessly into Froi of the Exiles.Froi of the Exiles, the second book in the Lumatere Chronicles, exceeded every expectation I had for it. I’m a fan of all of Melina Marchetta’s novels, but I have a special affinity for the characters she introduced in Finnikin of the Rock. I expected to get a solid novel with quirky characters, strong dialog, and awing descriptions of the lands. I expected to revisit old friends and see them interact with new characters. What I didn’t expect was to get a book that manages to surpass its predecessor. I fell further in love with Finnikin, Isaboe, and their family. My fondness for the Froi we met in FoTR has exploded into respect and understanding. His tale has managed to bind me further to those from the land of Skuldenore. I didn’t think that was possible.Marchetta uses a third-person narrative throughout this novel and we wind our way through the perspectives of Froi, Lady Beatriss, Finnikin, and Lucian and his wife Phaedra. The main story belongs to Froi as he travels across the mountains on an assassin’s mission in Charyn. Interwoven in this plotline are the goings-on back in Lumatere. Right off the bat, I’m reminded that at its core, the Lumatere Chronicles are a family history. We’re taken back into the lives of Finnikin and Froi and quickly thrown into violence. This just happens to be violence of their choosing: a training session. These two men have no common blood but their relationship teeters between brother and friend. Knowing how much Finnikin, Isaboe, and Trevanion love Froi and consider him their own, I was fretful when he was chosen to venture into the hated country of Charyn. BeatrissThe grief that slowly pervades Beatriss as she watches her village erode and feels the love of Trevanion slipping away again was harder to take than I had anticipated. It’s as though Beatriss is losing her piece of Lumatere much like those that were kept out all those years did. She stayed – at a horrible cost – the first go-round but she’s losing her land now. Coupled with the knowledge that some of her countrymen judge her for acts they do not fully understand, she slips into a depression. One of the most rewarding parts of the book – for me – was when she is reunited with those she loves and Travanion encourages Vestie to ‘Say it louder!’ even if what she is saying has always been true.Lucian and PhaedraLucian, Lucian, Lucian…the Mont boy turned leader because of the death of his father is struggling to establish his own style of leadership, mourning the loss of the most important man in his life, and shirking away from a pre-arranged marriage to – of all people – a weak-willed and perpetually sad Charyn woman named Phaedra (from the Greek word meaning ‘bright’). Let me tell you right now that Phaedra became one of my favorite characters. Her brilliant handling of the bull and the cow – trust me – showcased everything we needed to know about her: intelligence, strength, and love for her reluctant husband. Marchetta managed to take a seemingly tertiary character and elevate her to be a model of the potential of those in Charyn. When she is assumed dead and Lucian sleeps in her cot with her shawl for comfort, I cried. How could I not? Finnikin and IsaboeThe Finnikin and Isaboe we meet again here have a two-year-old daughter who rules their lives absolutely. I felt their passage into adulthood was portrayed brilliantly. Hidden trysts in closets, doubts about their parenting skills, and a fierce love for their daughter all set the tone for who they have become. Finnikin has become a Consort worthy of his Queen. He handles the responsibilities admirably. Queen Isaboe has remained the smart, strong woman who will do what she must for the good of her kingdom. Her barely suppressed rage at the endless parenting tips made me grin while her softly spoken words to a hurting Beatriss let me understand that the Queen will always see to those dear to her. This exchange between the two is an example of their beautiful bond: “Don't ever ask me again if I hate living anywhere with you and Jasmina. This Rock reminds me of the boy I was and being with you in the palace reminds me of the man I want to be.' 'Not just any man,' she whispered. 'A King. Mine.'FroiNow to Froi and those he meets in Charyn. Froi is sent into enemy land with a specific bond: kill the King and return home. His cover story is a somewhat risky venture involving masquerading as a lastborn from a remote part of Charyn. As a lastborn in disguise, Froi’s job is to make his way to the kingdom’s Princess and bed her in hopes of breaking the curse that has crippled the kingdom. No child has been born to anyone in the kingdom in nearly eighteen years. Right off the bat, Froi is forced to put trust in those who do not seem to warrant it. Gargarin, a man of great intellect whose mangled body prevents him from easily capitalizing on it, is as unlikeable as they come. The crazed Princess Quintana, with her splintered mind and ragamuffin appearance, isn’t much better. Even the Priestling (also known as one who is godstouched in Charyn) is a drunken recluse who offers little in the way of solace. The mysteries that each of these characters present and the secrets they’ve hidden for years stopped me in my tracks more than once. The family tree that is woven among them – and others – is as gnarled and knotted as they come. I wept for Froi when he finally realized that he was among family. Not any family he’d imaged or hoped for and not any family who was impressed with the life he’d lead, but family. For this exile from Sarnek to have found his kin and discovered so much about who he was…exquisitely sad and yet somehow a vein of hope runs through that sadness.I stopped reading at one point to research the mythology of twins. I knew the tales of Castor and Pollux as well as Heracles and Iphicles. I wanted to see what else Marchetta was trying to tell me when she presented us with the twins Gargarin and Arjuro. She presents us with another set of multiples but I won’t ruin that. Suffice it to say that you want to know more about what twins represent and I’m not just talking about appearances. There is so much more I want to say about Quintana but how to do it? This ruined and wronged girl has endured endless suffering and ridicule at the hands of her mother, her father, his advisors, and the people of Charyn. Written off as an idiot girl with a single use – to break the curse – she is ignored and left to rot. Her unkempt appearance, her maniacal ramblings, and her tendency to violence keep everyone away. Froi – no stranger to any of those traits – doesn’t take Quintana seriously but refuses to abuse or violate her. He grows to realize that there’s a method to Quintana’s madness and a deep intellect that he should never discount. As their relationship evolves, Froi tries to keep his feelings for Quintana neutral. He fails. His love for her and the eventual breaking of the curse moved me. When the end comes for the King of Charyn, it isn’t at the hands of Lumatere’s assassin. The resulting madness in the city allows for Froi’s rag-tag family to escape back to the caves. It isn’t smooth sailing and Froi breaks away to return to Lumatere more than once. I begged him to return home and it never worked. He was pulled back to Quintana and the others. Pulled back by his own bond and his own blood. The heroism displayed by Froi at the end of this book…more tears. When Quintana screams, ‘I’m counting, Froi. I’m counting in my head!’, I had to put the book down. I haven’t touched on some of the other brilliant plot points. The band of Lastborns, Tariq, Rafuel, De Lancey, Lirah…Marchetta’s ability to effectively use small roles to expand the story and bind us to her characters should be studied by her peers. There are no wasted exchanges, no extraneous details. Everything is important. Every last word.The betrayals that take place in this book - betraying a country, betraying kinsmen, betraying a lover, a brother, a friend - all stand to remind the reader that living extracts a price. I know this review is rambling and it’s long past any reasonable word count, but I can’t seem to do justice to the book and my feelings about it. A book like this demands to be read over and over, shared, discussed, and praised. Melina Marchetta is a supremely gifted author whose words move me more than nearly any author out there.