I recently came to a realisation about my book and film tastes that, while obvious in hindsight, was a bit of a 'Eureka!’ moment for me. It happened while watching some action movie with a friend, and by watching I mean spending two hours scratching my nail polish off because I was bored to tears. It hit me that no amount of blowing things up or chasing things on screen or on the page will hold my interest if the characterisation isn’t there. For me, stories are about the characters, above all. The first time I read Finnikin of the Rock I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. I wasn’t a big reader of fantasy and I had a sort of deep, emotional attachment to Marchetta’s contemporary novels. I grew up reading Looking for Alibrandi in the school library. I found comfort and empathy for my own experiences in Saving Francesca. I cried ugly tears over On The Jellicoe Road (and I do mean ugly). Then I read Finnikin and I felt as if someone had pulled that nice, comfortable, contemporary carpet out from under me. I’m probably a classic example of something Marchetta has spoken about openly: the way the US audience initially embraced her fantasy novels more readily, while her Australian readers were more reticent, clutching their copies of Alibrandi and giving Finnikin the side-eye for a while. On reading Finnikin of the Rock for the second time, however, it finally clicked for me that rather than just writing “contemporary” and “fantasy” novels, Marchetta writes about people. Whether her setting is Sydney’s western suburbs or the imagined Land of Skuldenore, whether her plot incorporates bridesmaid dress shopping or a blood curse, the stories are first and foremost about the characters: who they are, what they want, what drives them. For that reason, I think this subsequent reading really solidified in my mind what a strong novel Finnikin is. Because all of these characters feel like real people. They are fully formed and vital on the page. They are engaging and relatable. And their stories resonate. Fantasy setting aside, the conflicts and relationships with which Marchetta fleshes out the novel are relevant and familiar, and they transcend the parameters of a single genre. This time around I felt I had a better handle on the world, and it was the relationships that struck me, the bonds between the characters that Marchetta carefully constructs and grows as the story progresses. Without discrediting the intricacies of the plot and world building, which are considerable, if I could reduce my summary of the novel down to a few words, it would be that this is a book about displacement and hope. A people removed from their homeland and families, subjected to atrocities at the hands of enemies and prolonged exile – and how this affects them both collectively and individually. How they respond when they are broken down, scattered, compelled to live as fugitives or refugees. How language and culture unite a people. And how the struggle between hope and fear plays out in a people divided, dispersed and grieving. It’s probably fair to say that my appreciation of this novel has increased on rereading it. Whether that’s because I just paid more attention this time, or I’m simply more used to the concept of “Marchetta-fantasy” now, I don’t really know. But I do understand now what a strong, complex book it is, and why its widespread love is deserved. * * * * * This is actually a re-read, but I removed it from my "Read" shelf so I count it in 2012. It is not cheating!