Quintana of Charyn by Melina Marchetta, Candlewick Press, 2013. Reviewed from the Australia edition (Viking, an imprint of Penguin Group (Australia), 2012), a gift from a friend. will be published April 2013.
Background: This is the final of three books (and one short story) that make up the The Lumatere Chronicles. It began with Finnikin of the Rock (Candlewick Press, 2010); the second book was Froi of the Exiles (Candlewick Press, 2012). Finnikin is a standalone and creates the world and characters of Lumatere; Froi and Quintana combine to make one story told in two volumes. (A short story, Ferragost, takes place during the same time as the events in the beginning of Quintana). Because of the way the story unfolds, ideally Froi needs to be read before Quintana.
So, I’m doing spoilers from here on out for both Finnikin and Froi, under the assumption that if you’re interested in reading Quintana you have already both of those books. If you have not, go read my reviews of Finnikin and Froi; read those books; then come back.
About ten years before the events in Finnikin, the country of Lumatere was invaded, the royal family murdered, and the country cursed; half the population are trapped outside in exile, half trapped inside with an impostor king. Finnikin is the teenage son of the head of the royal guard, one of the many exiles. Finnikin, despite his youth, manages to bring together the shattered and fragmented exiles, along with the help of a young woman who has visions of the lost heir of Lumatere. Together, they manage to break the curse and recover their country.
Froi takes place a handful of years later; Finnikin is now married to the Queen of Lumatere. Together, they have been working to restore peace and prosperity to their land as well as heal the harm done to it by half of their population being exiles, and half trapped in a country with an evil, sadistic ruler. Froi was introduced in Finnikin as a young orphan, raised on the streets, who was befriended by Finnikin and Finnikin’s friends. Froi was angry, hurt, violent, suspicious, needy, distrustful, hurt. He manages to find a place with Finnikin and the others, in part because he represents the lost generation of Lumaterans.
The Queen of Lumatere, the sole survivor of the massacre, wants those who orchestrated the murder of her family punished. Their country isn’t strong enough to start a war; is recovering from the harm inflicted to it to such an extent that they cannot proceed by normal channels. Froi may now be trusted, but he still has a violent, ruthless streak from childhood. He is selected to go into Charyn and assassinate their King.
Massive spoilers, now, for what happens in Froi. So in case that all sounds good, full of adventure, fights, politics, and all the sorts of things that make a great fantasy, which, yes, it is, so you want to read, go now. I’m warning you. Spoilers.
The King of Charyn is a nasty piece of business, and his fellow countrymen are either a, as nasty as he is, b, have hidden themselves away from him, or c, are trying to survive. The Charynites are hardly the evil enemy Froi was expecting. And, the King has a daughter, Quintana. Remember Lumatere’s curse? Well, Charyn has one, also. Following the birth of Quintana, every pregnant Charynite woman miscarried and none have been pregnant since. Those girls and boys born that last year before her birth are called “last-borns.” Prophecy states that the curse of no children will end when Quintana gets pregnant by a last-born. After she turned thirteen, forced coupling has taken place in the hopes of ending the curse. I KNOW. This is the weird, twisted world where Froi finds himself, impersonating a “last-born” Charyn in order to kill the king. Instead, Froi finds himself falling for Quintana: proud, hurt, intelligent, damaged Quintana. He finds himself connecting with other people in Charyn, people like himself in that they are good people put in impossible situations.
Froi ends with Froi discovering that his family’s roots lie in Charyn, the King is dead, political instability leads to violence and armed vigilantes, a pregnant Quintana escapes, and Froi is left for dead as he tries to save her.
That leads us to
The Plot: Quintana knows that she is only a piece in a game being fought over control over Charyn. The child she carries has value, as a future king and as the curse-breaker, but she herself? Can be gotten rid of as soon as that baby is born. Quintana realizes she has to “disappear” to save both the baby and herself, and she does.
Meanwhile, Froi is recovering from the wounds he sustained in assisting Quintana’s escape. He has no idea where she is and he is desperate to find her. He is also trying to keep his newly-discovered family safe and figuring out how, with all this going on, he can remain true and loyal to his Lumaterean friends and Charynite family.
The Good: So many hurt people! Froi, Quintana, and the family he discovers are all people who have been hurt by life. Froi is about those people who, when something terrible happens, instead of being broken, they try, each day, each moment, to not become the evil that was done to them. There is comfort going on, yes; but for a good part of this book Froi and Quintana are separated in part so that they can each become more of a whole person on their own. They both save each other, and save themselves, and the big question — after, will they be reunited? — is can they stay together? Should Quintana manage to survive (remember, there are people who want her dead as soon as her child is born), she still remains the daughter of the king of Charyn and mother of the heir. Should the “best” happen and the people of Charyn get their act together and put Quintana on the throne, she’ll need to marry for political purposes, and Froi as a former street teen turner soldier is hardly someone who can remain in her life once that happens.
Meanwhile, there is the Queen of Lumatere, Isaboe, and her husband, Finnikin, who are two of Froi’s friends who still think Froi is on a mission to kill a king and then come home. They have no idea that he is growing closer to the enemy each day; and frankly, Isaboe could care less if Quintana lives or dies because, well, Isaboe’s mother, father, brother, and sisters were all killed because of Quintana’s father.
I want to quickly mention there is a ton of action going on here, fights and battles and scheming, and also a lot of politics, because countries are made not just from battles won or lost but also from the people who have to govern after the violence and blood. There is also humor! Because these are real people, and real people can be funny, at times I laughed over things done or said. It is not all angst and feelings. I feel I need to mention these other things before repeating why I personally loved this book: the hurt, the anger, the damaged people who refuse to be shaped by their histories. This is not about revenge, but about reconciliation and peace and forgiveness that comes after blood has been spilled. It is forgiveness that happens because “forgiveness has to start somewhere.”
Here is a quote, said by one of the characters who should hate the world: “we could look at the side of wonder. Let’s look at the side of wonder as opposed to the disastrous.” Yes, an army is coming to kill you: but a son, a mother, and a father who were separated eighteen years before are now together. That togetherness, not the army, not the separation — look on that. See the wonder.
As I got to the end of Quintana, I began to worry — how was Marchetta going to pull this together? How was she going to give her cast of characters a happy, or at least hopeful, ending? Is it enough to look for the wonder?
All I can say is, I immediately reread it because I didn’t want to say good-bye to these people. And it’s a Favorite Book Read in 2013.