-The wonderful, intricate plot. Finnikin of the Rock tells the story of the the curse on Lumatere, which has caused half of its population to be trapped within the walls of the kingdom, with the other half caught outside. Finnikin is a young exile who believes his people's best chance of survival is to create a second Lumatere – until he meets the novice Evanjalin, who walks in the dreams of those trapped in the city and whispers of the survival of a royal heir, believed to be dead, who could break the curse. Because it was originally intended to be a standalone, the plot of Finnikin is largely wrapped up in the first novel, and Froi of the Exiles and Quintana of Charyn both focus on a different curse – the one on Charyn that means no child has been born there for 18 years.
I adored Finnikin and when I started reading Froi I was a bit skepitcal about there being another curse, but the way it eventually unravelled made a lot of sense – and was brilliant to read, of course. Marchetta skillfully laid the foundations of each mystery, revealing clues at key points before masterfully bringing everything together at the end of each book (although Froi and Quintana go hand in hand, there are still some great revelations in the end of the former).
-The fantastic world-building. I don't read a lot of fantasy, but I really enjoyed the world of Lumatere and thought it was well fleshed-out and believable. The history, cultures, landscape and languages of the various kingdoms were all rich and strongly developed.
-Marchetta's beautiful writing. It's so easy to read but so incredibly lovely, creating a number of powerful moments and images that give you goosebumps and stick in your mind long after you've finished reading. (SPOILERS: Two of my faves involved Froi and a baby – the moment at the end of Finnikin, when he holds the baby high and the “future of Lumatere” is in his hands, and the scene at the end of Froi, when he sees Quintana with his baby and falls to his knees embracing them. Siiigh).
-The awesome heroes. There's one to warm your heart: Finnikin, a smart, skilled and sexy ginger (no, that is not an oxymoron), who is haunted by the past but plans for a brighter future. There's one who'll tug at your heart: Lucian, Finnikin's childhood friend, who is stubborn and somewhat cocky; his charm and sensitivity buried under a deep grief and sense of failure. Then there's one who'll obliterate your heart: Froi, who comes from nothing and becomes everything. I have to admit, after reading Finnikin I was a bit concerned about Froi as the main character in the rest of the series. He's only secondary in the first book and actually does something quite reprehensible. I knew Marchetta would redeem him, but I think that's what my problem was – I was afraid to like him after what he'd done. But Marchetta addresses it almost immediately in Froi, and makes it very clear that Froi is deeply repentant. As his past is slowly revealed, it becomes clearer why he did what he did. Not that that excuses it, of course – but Froi himself nor any part of the narrative ever does try to do that, which is important. He knows what he did was wrong, he hates himself for it, and he does everything he can to make up for it. The reader, like the characters, never fully forgets what he did – it is consistently brought up throughout the novels – but Froi's many other heroic actions make you begin to love him all the same. In the end, Froi was the character who most got under my skin. He's deeply flawed – like all of the characters – but therein lies his brilliance.
-The amazing heroines. If you think the heroes sound good, just wait till you meet the heroines. They're each strong and compelling in their own way. Evanjalin is strong-willed, intelligent, independent, and manipulative, doing whatever needs to be done for her people to heal – even if it means people hate her for it (and there are times I kinda did, even though I loved her overall). Phaedra, oh Phaedra – at first she seems quite weak, but she's quick-thinking, caring and much, much stronger than she, and the other characters, think she is. But as with the boys, it was the most messed up character who really got under my skin when it came to the heroines: Quintana. She's got dirty hair, odd facial expressions, multiple personalities and a savageness bordering on crazy. But underneath all the apparent madness is a deeply hurting girl who has been through so much, but still cares about others more than she cares about herself. She's resilient and cunning and just a little bit charming. She's a survivor.
-The sensational secondary characters. Although I use the term “secondary” very loosely – they are anything but. There's a large cast of characters across the series, and each one is richly developed, with a story to tell and a connection to be made. It's hard not to fall for them all (or love to hate them, as the case may be).
-The strong narrative voice. While Finnikin is told primarily from the title character's perspective, the subsequent novels switch viewpoints regularly. But no matter who is the focus of the story at a particular time, the voice is always relevant to each character. The most distinct were Froi in the first novel (before his language skills are more developed, as they are in the later books) and Quintana in the third. Her anxiety and confusion shine through in her first person, present tense narrative voice that contrasts sharply with the third person, past tense narrative given to the other characters. It's fantastic to read.
-The authentic and powerful relationships. Whether it's lovers, fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, siblings or friends, the relationships in this series are all amazingly written and realistic. Between them all there's love, hate, hurt, healing, joy, sorrow, yearning, desire, fear, jealousy, acceptance and incredibly deep connections. As you can probably tell, they will make you feel ALL THE FEELS.
-They're page-turners. The Lumatere Chronicles are completely addictive; despite their massive size I read them in a matter of days. They're the kind of books that you need to clear your schedule for, because once you start reading you literally won't be able to stop. I had more than one late night and unproductive day thanks to these books. I regret nothing.
-It's Melina Freaking Marchetta. 'Nuff said.