Since finishing Quintana 4 days ago, I've been trying to think of a way to explain why this book resonates with me so well. Little did I know that Marchetta explains it herself in the back of the first book in the series, Finnikin of the Rock. She writes:
"I was told often that I couldn't write fantasy unless I had read all the greats and knew the conventions well, but I think the first step to writing good fantasy is knowing this world we live in well. I wanted to look closely at that world-- where loss of faith, loss of homeland and identity, displacement of spirit, and breakdown of community are common-- because these are the scenes in today's media that affect me the most."
Her words are spot on. The story told in the Lumatere chronicles feels so familiar and real because to a certain extent it is real. We only need to turn on the news to see it. But this story also has something which I think gets lost in real life. Hope. And heroism. Combining those two elements -- a real world reflection and heroic "feel good" fantasy elements-- are what make this series stand out for me.
Plotwise: With the second book in the series, it seemed as though some of the subplots were getting in the way of the main story. Not the case here. In the third book, Quintana, queen of Charyn, is in hiding and pregnant with Charyn's prophesized "little prince". Bestiano, the man after the crown, will execute her if he finds her. Meanwhile, Froi is also desperate to find Quintana. Worried for her safety, he's trying to find an army who will fight for her and bring her back to her homeland, knowing that even if he succeeds, he'll never be allowed to raise his son himself. Marchetta moves back and forth between Quintana's story and Froi's story with ease. But in addition, several subplots weave amongst these two points of view. Queen Isaboe can't let go of her hatred for the Charyn empire, and Lucien is embroiled in a complex love story as well. Somehow Marchetta manages to tie both subplots into the main plot so that by the end everything comes together. Seen as a whole, I'd say there wasn't much to the story that was unexpected. It followed a well laid and satisfying path. Individual scenes however were unique. There were definite moments when the reader is thinking, how is Froi (or insert name) going to get out of this one? The expectation is always there that he/she will, but seeing how they do it was always exciting.
Characters: By the third book we're well acquainted with most of them, but I think one of Marchetta's talents is that she lets us see "new" sides to these characters that we don't expect, like in the case of Queen Isaboe. It's hard to see Isaboe treating Quintana so unsympathetically -- we love both our heroines! But Marchetta makes a great effort to help us understand why, and then even more spectacularly, she lets Isaboe's character grow in such a way that she becomes a hero all over again (as said above, it was expected, but how it was done was truly masterful). Other characters are explored with more depth as well. With Froi, we see more of his tender side. With Finnikin, we see more of his insecurity. With Lucien, we see his stubbornness but also his willingness to admit he made a mistake. With all of them, we see a passion for life and love and kinship that endears them to us. Fifty pages into the book, I sat back and just thought, wow, to have such passion for the world, for country, for my kinsmen, for family, what would that be like? Not that I'm a cold and unfeeling person, but in modern society with friendships that come and go, a busy work life that doesn't leave much time for family, and moving around to other countries with relative ease, it's easy to feel disconnected. Marchetta's characters reminded me of how things ought to be, and how I want them to be.
Dialogue: I can't convey enough how the dialogue and humor in this story affected me. Reading along, I smiled to myself. I grinned. I even laughed out loud from time to time. My romantic bone was tickled and I sighed with contentment. So, so many good lines are present in this book, one only needs to open to any of the five hundred pages to find one. In many respects it reminded me of the movie Robin Hood in the way that the story combined high adventure with slapstick humor (in a medieval sort way of course). This series NEEDS to be made into a movie.
Overall verdict: 10 out of 5 stars. Even when I love a series, it is rare that I will finish the last book and eagerly grab for the first one again so that I can read it all over. With Quintana, I did. I actually finished Finnikin of the Rock two days ago and plan to move back through Froi in another week. And then, I think I'll do one more read of Quintana. There are a lot of characters in this series, and I admit that I lost track of who all of them were. A thorough read-through of the whole series is warranted. Then, maybe I'll have gotten enough. Maybe I'll be satisfied until some Hollywood movie producer gets off his butt and starts casting. Or... maybe I won't.
Final note: Special thanks to Erika Denn and Candlewick Press for providing me with an Advanced Reader Copy of this book!! :)