A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this epic fantasy has mature themes and depictions of violence in a war-torn dystopia that make it better for more mature teen fantasy readers. And the complexity of the fantastic story -- multiple kingdoms, politics, a large cast of characters -- will turn away less experienced readers, as well. Despite the undercurrent of darkness, with killings, wartime rapes (somewhat graphic without being explicit), burnings at the stake, and graphic battle scenes, the compassion and strength of the young main characters shine through, as do themes of hope, redemption, and forgiveness.
What's the story?
At the age of 9, Finnikin has a prophetic dream that leads him to make a pledge with his two best friends; one of them a prince, the other the prince's cousin. Then the entire royal family is brutally slaughtered by a new king who also burns those who worship a different goddess, eliciting a curse that raises a wall and imprisons the new king and those left behind in Lumatere, and plunges the other half into refugee camps and despair. At 19, Finnikin is still searching for a new homeland for those exiles. Led to a young mystic called Evanjalin, she convinces Finn and his mentor that the true heir of Lumatere still lives. Their quest to restore the rightful heir and thus defeat the curse separating them from their homeland leads to unexpected reunions and many dangerous battles for Finn as they raise troops. Evanjalin is a Joan of Arc-type heroine whose lies are as troubling as her powers, and as Finn falls in love with her he finds himself forced to choose between the country he fled and his own future.
Is it any good?
Political intrigue, epic adventures, and characters who sometimes struggle to do the right thing but who long to live up to their ideals and those of their families are brilliantly realised. Marchetta eloquently articulates the damage caused by violence to those who experience it, and the necessity of recognizing and repairing that damage with compassion and hope. Mystery, young love, great family relationships, unusual cultures, and compelling characters combine to create an epic that will be read repeatedly by fantasy lovers and will hook other readers with its interplay of darkness and light. Rich and complicated, with humor, wisdom, and surprising plot turns, this story also raises provocative moral issues, just as the best epic fantasies have always done.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what drives Finnikin and his mentor to travel the world for 10 years. What keeps them from giving up the search for a new homeland for the other exiles?
What inspired the pledge that Finnikin made with his two best friends at the age of 9? What inspired their culture to raise their children to hold such devotion to their country? Was it religion? Or cultural values? What were those values?
As Finnikin and Evanjalin travel back to Lumatere they are reunited with many loved ones. Which revelation was the most surprising? Evanjalin has hidden many things about herself. What was the source of her strength, do you think?
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