Review: Quintana of Charyn, Melina Marchetta

I actually forgot this book was happening, even though I read and loved Finnikin of the Rock and Froi of the Exiles just last summer. I saw this one mentioned on Romance Novels for Feminists and immediately emailed Candlewick for a review copy. Which I now have! And it is up for grabs if anyone wants it, so ask in the comments if you’re interested. I’ll do a draw if I have more than one request. I beg you will not enter if you plan to try and read this book without reading the first two books first. You are only hurting yourself if you do that. [ETA: I’ve posted the book away now but you should still buy a copy because it’s good.] The series is kiiiiiind of like a much darker Queen’s Thief series. Speaking of that, when will Megan Whalen Turner have another book? I WANT ONE SO MUCH.

Since I reviewed neither Finnikin of the Rock nor Froi of the Exiles at the time, I will quickly run through the premise of the series. The premise is that many years ago, the country of Charyn invaded the country of Lumatere. The Lumateran royal family were brutally murdered, as were thousands of other residents of Lumatere, and a Charynite imposter took the throne. Furious at the slaughter of her people, a witch of Lumatere called down a terrible curse that prevented anyone from getting in or out of Lumatere, and stopped any Charynite women from having babies from that day forward. So that is the backstory, and then the series itself is about the aftermath of all this — how the Lumaterans and the Charynites have struggled to put themselves back together since the time of these horrors.

You know what I love, my dears? Conflicts about values! And also I love the Scouring of the Shire and Among Others. Which is why this series — and Melina Marchetta generally — is pleasing to me in spite of being (the lovely Julia might pull for the inclusion of a modifier like “cartoonishly” or “over the top” here) dark and full of sadness and pain. Marchetta’s books are not typically about The Event (whatever it might have been; in this case the war and its aftermath), but rather the fallout from The Event.

Marchetta is good at making you love characters who at first seem rotten through and through. At the end of Finnikin of the Rock, you may just about be willing to admit the possibility of Froi’s redemption, but you know you still hate all of Charyn. At the end of Froi of the Exiles, you adore Froi and totally understand why Finn and Isabel are so devoted to him, and you think Charyn might not be so bad after all but there definitely isn’t any way for it to ever have peace with Lumatere because it’s still mostly hateful. And, er, I won’t spoil the end of Quintana of Charyn, but I will say again that Melina Marchetta is wonderful and makes her characters act with painful, but believable, grace.

Like many Melina Marchetta books, there’s some barrier to entry with Quintana of Charyn. Marchetta jumps straight back into the action without a lot of “previously on” to assist you (which is why you should read it right after reading the first two! in a glorious binge, Ana!). She eventually does provide some background — like, this is who this guy is to Froi, this is what happened with Lucian and Phaedra, and so on — and I was able to jump back in the swing of things without too much difficulty. In the beginning our characters are much divided, by emotional and physical distance. Early in the book, Finnikin said Froi was dead to him, and I was just spiraling into premise denial when this happened:

“You returned for me, Finn. After everything you said…I’m surprised you were able to convince Perri and your father to return.”

Finnikin laughed. “All I had to do was stop the horse and say, ‘I think…’ and they were racing back into the woods to you.”

So then I was back in. I just hate it when people I love are in a fight. I do not read Melina Marchetta books for people to hate each other. I read them because people in Melina Marchetta books are — once they’ve bestowed their love — unswervingly loyal. My fave!

In a way, I enjoyed this third book less than the first two, maybe because a few things felt like a retread of emotional territory that was already covered in Froi of the Exiles and even in Finnikin of the Rock. But that’s okay. It’s been a while since those two books came out, and I had forgotten a lot of the stuff that happened in them.

As in the first two books, I loved watching the development of a cautious respect, then an intense love and loyalty, between the characters — in this case, between Quintana and the women who were guarding her. It’s great that Marchetta doesn’t feel the need to soften Quintana’s nastiness and weirdness, but just shows you that there are other sides to this damaged woman that make other characters’ devotion to her understandable.

And, of course, as with all Melina Marchetta books, I loved it that the thrust of the book seemed like it was going to be toward revenge and war, but instead it was toward forgiveness. (In the words of the super great Tony Kushner, forgiveness is where love and justice finally meet. Oh Tony Kushner you glorious genius.) And that is why I like Melina Marchetta even though many sad things (perhaps too many? one might argue?) occur in her books.

Disclosure: I received this book for review from the publisher.

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