My review notes for Finnikin, begun as I waited to depart on a drowsy flight home from Chicago, start with the line "not my thing, but I bet it's going to catch on and catch fire." By the time the plane landed in Toronto and I'd gotten a little bit further into the story, I crossed out that first line, and above it, in tiny letters, I just wrote, "I can't figure out why I love this so much."
And really, I still can't, not quite. It's a questing-destiny story, and questing-destiny stories aren't usually my thing. There's only one speaking female character throughout most of the book, which is another mark against it, and for a significant portion of it, she's also non-speaking, which is yet another.
The rest of this review contains only those plot elements that can be assumed based on published cover and descriptive synopses.
And yet, as the story fleshes itself out and begins to explore the characters and their backgrounds, I found most of that reluctance fading away. At many points, a story that appears on the surface to be about avenging deaths throws itself directly in the face of that trope and comes out kicking. Deeply flawed characters seek redemption, and some of them find it, and the story deals with some very complicated questions about family, nationality, and what it means for different sorts of people to return home (or attempt to rebuild home) after home is irreparably changed by the consequences of conquest. Nothing ends up being quite what it looks like at first, and yet none of the 'reveals' feel contrived.
Even in retrospect, though, and even as I work my way through the companion novels, I'm having a hard time pinning down just what makes this book One of Mine. It is, though, reason or no.
Reading level: Upper YA, both for complex narrative and moderate violent content.
Read-alike: Finnikin of the Rock is a fantasy story with a strong theme of seeking one's destiny. Books with similar stories and similar reading level include J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, Patrick Rothfuss' The Name of the Wind, Kristin Cashore's Graceling, and Malinda Lo's Huntress. Finnikin is also a story in which young people face dangerous situations, often without the help of or with minimal help from adults, as you might find in Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games or later books in JK Rowling's Harry Potter series. Another book with similar theme and tone is KD McEntire's Lightbringer, which may have a slightly more approachable reading level and a more relatable setting for some readers.