Froi of the Exiles
by Melina Marchetta
Recommended Ages: 14+
I was going to tell you about all these problems, but after four paragraphs of explanation I still hadn't mentioned the name of the title character. So maybe you're better off finding out about it honestly. Let's just say there is more trouble with curses, sacrileges and mysterious prophecies, more danger involving would-be assassins of a royal family, more intrigue between neighboring kingdoms that (naturally) have their own interests at heart, more more issues relating to plagues and famines and refugees, more victims of sexual abuse, more lovers who wonder if their broken relationships will ever heal, more nightmarish images of people being cruel to people, and as always, beautiful young things right in the thick of it all.
One of the beautiful young things is Froi, the urchin found by Lumatere's Queen Isaboe when she and half her kingdom were still in exile. Now bound in allegiance to her, Froi has learned the arts of war and done a bit of farming, but he still hasn't found out where he really belongs. When Isaboe sends him to the neighboring land of Charyn to assassinate its King—partly as revenge for the role he played in Lumatere's tragedy, and partly as justice for his brutality against his own people—she inadvertently helps him find out where he really came from. Now Froi finds himself torn between his orders to kill an insane princess and his growing realization that he is the one destined to break the curse that hangs over Charyn—a country where no child has been born, not one, in almost eighteen years. The princess may be the last-born; she may be the one prophesied to break the curse; she may also be a complete wacko. But she doesn't deserve the horror and just plain nastiness that has been her life until now. And nor, Froi senses, does she deserve the death that menaces her if she doesn't get pregnant by her eighteenth birthday. We will draw a veil over the steps that have been taken to fulfill this prophecy. Let's just leave it at "nasty."
Froi comes to Charyn on a mission to kill, and stays on a desperate quest to save life. Meanwhile, back in Lumatere, some of the Charynites have moved into a valley that technically belongs to the Monts, led by Isaboe's cousin Lucian. His wife Phaedra, the other half of an arranged and estranged marriage with a Charynite provincaro's daughter, becomes the lever that will move Lucian to become the man, and the leader, that he wasn't ready to be when his father died. But as the pages of this book run out and the tension and danger of the situation do the opposite, it becomes clear that this story will remain unfinished until the third book, Quintana of Charyn.
It isn't all teen and tween romance. This book also includes a more mature love story, as well as some very unlovely goings on. Potentially tragic misunderstandings, selfishness, pride, betrayal, lust for power, the terror of anarchy, violence (sexual and otherwise), and a swarm of other vices and atrocities teem in a tale that will definitely leave you a little less complacent about human nature. At its heart are a husband and wife who do not realize that they love each other until it is perhaps too late, a family whose feelings for each other have been twisted out of recognition by the perils and intrigues at the center of a nation's politics, and a unique culture whose only hope of survival depends on the fate of a mysterious, mad princess and her unborn child. It's a hard book to take, at times. But there is something very moving about it, too.