For the past three years, Froi has made his home in Lumatere, as part of the Queen’s Guard. He lives with a family in the Flatlands, working the fields. He trains and has a bond with the captains of the guard. He struggles with his past — as a slave boy and thief — but for the most part he’s happy.
Then, a Charynite makes his way across the Lumatere border (you have to understand that the Charynites invaded Lumatere and that prompted the events of Finnikin — so, yes, you kind of need that one first — and to say that they don’t like each other is an understatement.) and offers a chance for the Lumaterians — specifically Froi — to assassinate the king.
See, over there in Charyn, things aren’t all rosy. Eighteen years ago, someone assassinated their top religious leader, the oracle, and razed a province to the ground. Since then, the Charynites haven’t been able to have babies. The only salvation is in the princess Quintana, who has been prophesied to bear the first child. Because of this, she is kept prisoner in the castle, and is half-insane.
Froi heads to the castle, with the intentions of killing the king, but discovers that his role in Charyn, and his life, is so much greater than he thought it would be.
That summary doesn’t do this enormous, involved, intricate, intense book justice. Let’s just say that my offhand comment in my Finnikin review –“Sure there are some missteps: I wasn’t quite sure what Marchetta meant to do with the slave boy, Froi; he just seemed to lurk around in the background, never fully part of the story.” — is brought to fruition. Froi is the star of this show. Even though Finnikin and Isaboe play roles (and are quite delightful), as do a myriad of other minor characters, the real story here is Froi’s. And he’s quite a character to get to know: tortured, conflicted, with definite anger management problems, full of longing and desire but without the emotional resources to handle it.
It makes for a different kind of read than Finnikin: it’s still dark (there’s rampant rape, and lots of corruption), but there is a hope in this one that I don’t quite remember from Finnikin. That somehow, maybe Froi will figure things out, and that Charyn, contemptible though it is, maybe is worth saving.
And now, to wait for the ending. I’m sure it will be just as excellent as the other two.