The Plot: Froi has spent the last three years making Lumatere his home. He is loyal to those who have befriended him: the royal family, the guards, the returned exiles. Froi may have been raised by thieves and street scum, but his recent years and friends have shown him there is a better way. All Froi has to do is keep his darkness in check, count to ten instead of lashing out with his fists, remember his loyalties.
Froi trains with the royal guards, learns farming, studies. He does what is asked, grateful for what they have given him: a life. A chance. A future. He’ll do anything for them, for Lumatere.
Anything includes helping to track down the Charynites responsible for the invasion of Lumatere and the murder of the royal family years ago. Anything includes accepting the most dangerous assignment of all: sneaking into Charyn, pretending to be a Charynite, and assassinating the King of Charyn. Lumatere will have justice for their murdered ones; better this one death, of the man who engineered it all, then a war that will kill thousands.
Froi goes, with one job to do. Kill a king.
Simple, right? Except it turns out, nothing is simple. Froi finds himself drawn to Charyn and their people. Secrets lurk in shadows and dungeons, and he will be faced with choices that will make him question his loyalties and his actions.
The Good: Let me get this out of my system. Oh, my, God, Froi. Fro, Froi, Froi. New book boyfriend Froi. Love him. And Quintana! Mad, smart, crazy, vulnerable, strong Quintana. The twists! The shades of gray! I WANTS THE NEXT BOOK AND I WANTS IT NOW.
OK, now that I got that out of my system.
This is a companion book, so it’s best to first read Finnikin of the Rock. However, it’s not a straight sequel, in that Finnikin’s journey was told in his book. This is all about Froi. And, needless to say, spoilers for Finnikin of the Rock.
You know Lord of the Rings? Well, imagine if for the companion books, Tolkien set it in Mordor with a Mordor princess and suddenly the reader realized . . . hey, things aren’t quite so simple as good guys / bad guys / let’s kill all the baddies.
As you may recall from Finnikin, the Lumatere royal family was murdered and an impostor king set on the throne with the backing of Charyn; accusations, infighting, and other violent acts resulted in a curse being placed on Lumatere, with half the inhabitants (including Finnikin) trapped outside living in exile and half the inhabitants trapped inside with the impostor king and his Charyn soldiers. It wasn’t pretty for anyone, and Finnikin of the Rock is about how Finnikin ended the curse and freed the country.
Froi was a young teen, a thief, “street scum,” who joined Finnikin’s travels during the course of Finnikin of the Rock. Many believe Froi is from Lumatere, a child orphaned and abandoned when the curse was placed on the country. All Froi knows is he was nothing, and now he is something. Someone. Without Finnikin and the others caring, without Finnikin and the others as role models, Froi would be, at best, a street thug and, at worst, a slave.
Froi of the Exiles is set three years after Finnikin; just long enough for some things to have settled down in Lumatere. Just long enough for Froi’s bonds with those who have taken him in to strengthen. Even with these friends, Froi has to fight the darkness in himself, the darkness that is the result of being raised on the streets by brutal people. Froi is not a story of happy, witty thieves with a code of conduct. His is a story where if a child is weak and without power, as any child is, he will be used. This, then, is the young man who is sent to Charyn to kill a king. A young man who has the skills and brutality to carry out such an order; a young man who yearns for a place and acceptance so will do this, will kill, because it’s asked of him by those who love him and whom he loves.
Froi enters Charyn expecting monsters, as does the reader. Instead, he finds a fractured country with plenty of its own problems, with infighting, with its own history of abuses and massacres, of loss and desperate acts. He finds the mad princess Quintana, who — because of a curse eighteen years old — is whored out to young men who hope to break it. In a dark twist on fairy tales, kissing a princess doesn’t free her; sleeping with her, though, willing or not, could break a curse that threatens to destroy the kingdom and its people. A young woman, as used and broken as Froi? Of course these two people are going to find each other.
If Finnikin was about two good, decent people who remain that way no matter what, Froi is about two people who refuse to be broken by what has been done to them. It is about people who pick up the pieces and refuse to give in to the darkness that pain, hurt, loss and abandonment cause.
I’m hesitant to say much more, because there are twists and turns. Some, I guessed; some, I did not. The strength of Froi is not any “gotcha” moment, but, rather, the detailed and complex and sympathetic world of Charyn, a world that in Finnikin the reader was told was dark and now turns out to be — not light, but, rather, one with shades of gray. This is an ugly story, beautifully written; a story of both the harm that people can inflict, and the healing. It is about need and forgiveness. It is about hope, but the hope that is earned by blood and tears, the hope that is willed into being because of a desire that life should be better than what it is.
Lest this sound too emotional, too romantic, rest assured it is also action packed. It is, after all, about war; about killing a king; about rebellion. Froi is someone who prefers to uses his fists.
Froi is also funny, in the type of real-world way that people are, a bit sarcastic and flip. Sometimes the humor is dark, the type of humor used in tough situations.
This is, no doubt about i, one of my Favorite Books Read in 2012. Because I fell in love with Froi, and Quintana, and the Charynites Froi meets on the way. Because like Froi, I began to forget the task he had to do and what his new friendships would mean to those left back in Lumatere.
One other thing — there will be a sequel, Quintana of Charyn. I just want to get into my TARDIS, go forward a year, and read it now. Instead, I’ll reread, for the third time, Froi.