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Froi of the Exiles

Froi of the Exiles - Melina Marchetta (Scroll down if you'd prefer the tl;dr version)If Finnikin of the Rock was a story about a divided and displaced nation’s journey towards healing their collective psyche, Froi of the Exiles is about a people broken apart by hatred, the wound in their history left to fester, and seep suspicion and fear into the cracks between them. A faceless, malevolent presence in Finnikin of the Rock, this is Charyn’s unveiling as more than simply “the enemy” of Lumatere. It’s an insight into a land burdened by suffering and grief, and the darker side of human nature. While Finnikin of the Rock covered more ground in one sense of the word, with a quest that lead its characters into the far corners of Skuldenore, Froi of the Exiles is a novel on a vaster scale in several ways. This story is more complex, with an intricate web of a plot, and it unfolds new dimensions to Marchetta’s fantasy world and the resident characters. Froi of the Exiles plumbs depths of the world only hinted at in Finnikin of the Rock: the detail is richer, each small element is vital and serves a larger purpose in the whole. The themes are pushed further, and by extension the characters are more nuanced, forced to develop in often unexpected, yet organic, ways. Given the serpentine nature of the plot and the level of intrigue present, at times this is a difficult story to keep hold of. It twists sharply, resists being pinned down, turns in surprising directions. Yet it never feels loose or uncontrolled. There was always a sense, as I read, that Marchetta was driving this story exactly where it needed to go, regardless of how difficult a course she charted. The entire story is characterised by a sense of weight and momentum, that it’s being inexorably drawn to some powerful, inevitable conclusion. This is an extraordinarily strong book, and probably one I’ll have to read again to fully appreciate the intricacies of the plot, but I believe that its greatest power lies (as with Finnikin) in the characterisation and relationships. Marchetta does not go easy on her characters, providing them with convenient justifications for their actions or plot developments that open up handy loopholes. Instead, she forces them to wrestle their inner demons, with all the brutality and desperation that hand to hand combat entails. Which brings me to Froi. (Froi!) For those who have read Finnikin of the Rock, you’ll be aware of the fact that Froi attempts something abhorrent in the first book. So it speaks to Marchetta’s skill as a writer that she is able to develop this character - his shame, his humanity, his convictions - in such a way that makes him deeply compelling. There are plenty of easy roads Marchetta could have taken in bringing Froi back as a main character, effectively glossing over his backstory. But I think that would have taken away from the thematic power of the novel, and been disingenuous to the character himself. Instead, by exploring the darker side of Froi’s nature, she creates a character so conflicted, and so authentic, it actually makes me ache. ”Although a voice inside had chanted to stop that night, Froi would never know if he would have. And he wanted to know. He wanted to say the words, ‘I would not have gone through with it.’ But he’d never know and that was his punishment.” That passage punches me in the gut every time, and it’s small moments of crystallised thought such as this that make Froi’s growth throughout the novel, redefining the terms on which he lives his life, so real and heartbreaking. But it’s not only Froi that Marchetta is unafraid of putting into morally ambiguous and unsympathetic positions, flaws exposed. Almost every character in the novel has to fight for something, has some excruciating internal journey to travel. Lucian, Beatriss, Trevanion, Lirah, Gargarin, amongst others – all carry with them some kind of pain, and have been or must go through something that will alter them irrevocably. While not always (if at all) providing tidy resolutions, there’s something rewarding about accompanying these characters on their journeys. There is a redemptive nature to their growth, and an acknowledgement that people are rarely all good or all evil, and all are capable of both inflicting pain. And then, Quintana. Oh, Quintana. I’m not sure there is a character I’ve felt so fiercely about recently. She is my spirit animal. Neither clichéd fantasy princess or “kickass heroine” in a physical sense, Quintana is an alloy of contradictions: vulnerability, humour, grief, rage, intelligence, insanity. She’s tenacious and a little bit feral. She’s passionate and cold. And though this is largely Froi’s story, the chemistry of these two characters, the way they crash together on the page, is pretty captivating. I won’t brush off the fact that this isn’t a light book, in terms of the content. Be warned that there’s all manner of brutality in this story: rape, torture, infanticide – Marchetta takes Froi of the Exiles to some very dark places. Reader thresholds for this type of subject matter will vary, naturally, but I feel it’s worth mentioning that it didn’t read gratuitously to me. The inclusion felt purposeful, important to the story being told. On the other hand, it would remiss of me not to note that this book worthwhile things to say on the issues of religious tolerance, racism and cultural prejudice. Just as she does not flinch from showing both the repugnant and the admirable in her characters, Marchetta also shows the cruelty humans are capable of, along with their capacity for forgiveness and absolution. Underpinning this very involved and intense novel, however, is the very human desire to belong somewhere. To have a sense of home, of family, and connection. And that this can sometimes be found in the most unlikely of places. tl;dr: This book is a beautifully complex, emotional wrecking ball. It’s brilliant. P.S. Thank goodness I held off from reading this until now. I think a year long wait for Quintana of Charyn might have completely cracked me. * * * * *I can't even, people. I just finished and everything hurts.::SHOULDERS::Readalong with the delightful Emily :)