This review contains SPOILERS of all other books in the 'Lumatere Chronicles'
`Quintana of Charyn' is the much-anticipated third and final novel in Melina Marchetta's `Lumatere Chronicles.'
I didn't want to read this book, because I didn't want to have it all come to an end. Melina Marchetta has taken readers on an epic and perilous journey that began with the assassination of a royal family, a Kingdom's curse and ten years of exile that separated families, and destroyed lives. She has written tangled webs and fractured hearts, and the types of classic, grandiose love stories that can only be found in fantasy. I've loved every page of `The Lumatere Chronicles', and though I was sad to read its end with `Quintana of Charyn', I found there was a lot to love in this goodbye. But, then again, maybe I shouldn't look at this as `the end'. A large focus of `Quintana' is hope; hope and family and how those two are sometimes irrevocably linked. So maybe it's more accurate to say that `Quintana' isn't about the destination, but the journey. You have to go there to come back, so to speak. Through the uncertainty of `Finnikin' and the darkness of `Froi', you had to go there to get to this point. To this book that's brimming with hope and family - maybe it's more like a homecoming than an ending?
`Quintana of Charyn' picks up where `Froi of the Exiles' left off, give or take a few weeks during Froi's recovery. When we revisit him, Froi is being tended to by his uncle Arjuro, but is restless and heartsick for Quintana, not knowing her whereabouts but knowing there will be a price on her head as King-killer and last Charyn royal. Not to mention, she carries their babe. So once Arjuro relents, Froi intends to go searching for his Quintana with his parents, Gargarin and Lirah, in tow.
Meanwhile, Isaboe and Finnikin are fighting - nobody has heard from Froi in weeks and rumours are swirling that his allegiance has shifted. Finnikin wonders if there is more to Isaboe's concern over Froi's whereabouts, and it becomes abundantly clear that he is still not quite resigned to his role as Consort. Though Isaboe is big with a baby on the way, Finnikin decides to leave their home and go travelling with his father, Trevanion and trusted soldier Perri, the three men still on the hunt of vengeance for Isaboe's slain family.
Trouble is brewing in the valley since a plague killed some of the Charynite women, including Lumatere leader, Lucian's, wife. Food is scarce for those seeking refuge, but Isaboe will not bring war to her valley by opening her home to those she has a dark past with. And while Lucian grieves for his deceased wife, Phaedra of Alonso is in fact hiding in a cave with other Charynite women; Cora, Florenza, Jorja and Ginny. These five women could not be more different, but it's keeping someone secret that binds them together and keeps them hidden.
And down in the same valley, a savage girl wanders.
`Quintana of Charyn' begins with many tangled webs and seemingly disconnected stories, spread across the Skuldenore land. But as the book progresses, stories overlap . . . connections are made and fate plays a deft hand in these character's lives and paths. And along with `family' and `hope', I do think that fate plays a big part in this book - and perhaps has been playing its part since `Finnikin of the Rock', as storylines transpire and show roots reaching back to that first book. I think Froi summarizes this beautifully, in one of my favourite scenes between him and Arjuro. `The Lumatere Chronicles' has been filled with characters transforming themselves and rising above their circumstances - Evanjalin to Queen Isaboe, and Froi from street urchin to Queen's trusted assassin being the biggest. With that in mind, it was humbling and touching to read Froi's thoughts on the hard life he's had, and that he wouldn't change any of it, because it bought him the people he loves most in his life: "And if the gods were to give me a choice between living a better life, having not met them, or a wretched life with the slightest chance of crossing their path, then I'd pick the wretched life over and over again."
One of my favourite aspects of this book is the poisoned history between Queen Isaboe and Princess Quintana. Quintana and Isaboe actually reminded me a little of Elizabeth `The Virgin Queen' and Mary `Queen of Scots' for the very complicated royal rivalry where one life hangs in the balance of another, and what's in each of their bellies could change the fate of Skuldenore forever. Throughout this book there's this tension pulling Isaboe and Quintana tighter and tighter, like an invisible rubber band that's about to snap and send them colliding into one another. I just loved that so much power and fate is bundled up in the wombs of these two very different, but very powerful women. They're also interesting for the people they have inadvertently come to share between them - like Froi, who is battling the love he has for his Queen, with the need he has for Quintana.
Speaking of the women of this book; they're simply wonderful. I hate to draw comparisons between any of the `Lumatere Chronicles' books and Melina's previous contemporary work, because they're very different beasts, but the Charynite women in the cave had powerful echoes of `Saving Francesca' for me. It was the fact that these women are thrown together for reasons beyond their control, and to begin with they can barely conceal their disgust at having to cohabitate ... but then something changes, something bigger and more important draws them together and by the end it seems they can't imagine their lives without one other. They would die for each other. Substitute the cave for St Sebastian's and you'll know where I got that connection from, and why I loved reading about the forming bond between these women.
Many of you will no doubt remember that `Froi of the Exiles' left fans reeling with many cliffhangers and revelations. Well, let me assure you that Marchetta pays tribute to all those loose-ends and pitfalls in a most satisfying way. This book is really about coming full-circle; and while some resolutions are quieter than others (like the subtle mentions Beatriss makes to Trevanion teaching his daughter, Vestie, to swim) others are far more complex - like Lucian and Phaedra's rather rocky relationship, or Tesadora and Perri's secretive one. The big players are the focus of this book - Froi, Quintana, Finnikin and Isaboe - but it's a mainstay of all Melina Marchetta's stories that she writes as interesting and complicated secondary characters as she does protagonists, and that's again true of `Quintana of Charyn'.
And as for whether or not `Quintana of Charyn' is a most satisfying conclusion to the epic `Lumatere Chronicles'? Of course it is. I can't wait until many people have read this book, and there's wide-open discussion about how beautifully tricky and gut-wrenching a certain plot point is towards the end. It's a scene that shows Queen Isaboe's mettle, and her compassion - and another one of those moments that seems to ring with destiny. So beautiful is this scene, this moment between two Queens, it has the makings of a legend - like a tale that will be passed down from generation to generation.
`Quintana of Charyn' is indeed the end of the epic `Lumatere Chronicles' (though I will have my fingers crossed for more Celie short stories). This has not been an easy trilogy, far from it - Marchetta wrote of a royal murder, heartbreaking curse, separated families, displacement and sad destinies. But this has also been a series with one of the most beautiful father/son relationships explored, between Trevanion and Finnikin. It has been a series based around strong women who were once broken, but never defeated. Marchetta wrote a foul street urchin in one book, and then built him up to admired assassin and kingdom saviour in another. She wrote of families being torn apart, only to make their finding one another that much sweeter. For three books now she has written a fine balance between darkness and light, hope and despair. Yes, you had to go there to get to this point, to this book . . . this book which takes us full-circle, to bring us home again. It's not the destination; it's the journey - and what a wonderful journey it has been.