The Journey Home: World Building in The Lumatere Chronicles

Today, as part of Paola and Charlene‘s celebration of Melina Marchetta’s The Lumatere Chronicles, I’ll be writing about world building in the first book, Finnikin of the Rock. I also recently reviewed the first book in the series.

I thought I would choose world building as my topic as I’m a big fan of many different fantasy series, each with their own worlds, cultures, peoples and religions. I’ve read about so many different kinds of fantasy lands, and believe that a big part of a successful fantasy novel is pulling off the world building. The author needs to create completely new concepts, yet still make them believable to the reader, and come up with new names that don’t sound ridiculous, yet sound different enough.

Skuldenore is the land in which The Lumatere Chronicles take place, split into eight different countries: Sorel, Charyn, Osteria, Sarnak, Sendecane, Belegonia, Yutland and Lumatere. Marchetta only really talks about a couple of the countries in Finnikin, and these are the impressions I got of them.

  • Yutland: a savage country, full of barbaric peoples, with a rather guttural language.
  • Belegonia: a cultured and much more civilised country, the capital has a very cosmopolitan air to it and the people seem to be highly educated.
  • Osteria: contains a mix of peoples – perhaps a common destination for refugees from Lumatere?
  • Charyn: a dry and rocky country to the east of Skuldenore.
  • Sarnak: a land to the north of Skuldenore, very poor – this is where Finnikin and Evanjalin find Froi.
  • Sorel: a very rough place, where the prison mine is located.

And of course, Lumatere. Lost to its people a decade or so before the beginning of Finnikin of the Rock.   The royal family are murdered, people attacked, the kingdom ruined. A curse is placed on Lumatere, trapping the people within who did not escape in time, and no-one knows what has actually happened to them. So the remaining people of Lumatere become refugees and exiles, spread out amongst the countries of Skuldenore. They are second-class citizens elsewhere, forbidden from speaking their native tongue and struggling on with life. Considering that Lumatere accepted people from all over, with no problems, it must have come as a shock to the Lumaterans.
Located in the centre of Skuldenore, its people vary in appearance apart from one feature – deep set eyes. The people are divided into five types, depending on where they are from within Lumatere: the mountains, river, flatlands, rocks or forest. Certain traits are also typically associated with people from the different areas, such as stubbornness. It is governed by a king or queen, and the large majority of the book is spent hunting for Balthazar, the rightful heir to the throne and believed to still be alive.

From the description of Lumatere in its hey-day, it sounds idyllic and seems to represent the ‘perfect’ kingdom: accepting of all, beautiful landscapes, bountiful harvests, a fair and good ruler, happy citizens.

“For a moment he allowed his memory to take him down a road lined with vineyards and olive trees. It was one he had travelled often with his father. Each time, he would climb the ridge overlooking the Valley of Tranquility and see the kingdom of Lumatere spread out before him. Villages of cobblestoned roads that rang with the sound of hooves, meadows lush with flowers, huts lined up along a river that snaked through the kingdom and pulsed with life… He could see his village in the Rock, his uncle’s smokehouse, where meat and fish hung from the ceiling, and the quarry where he would take Balthazar and Isaboe… And there, in the distance, the king’s palace, perched up high, overlooking their beloved people inside the kingdom walls and those outside in the Forest of Lumatere.” — page 49-50

There wasn’t a great emphasis on religion, but there is mention of two goddesses – Sagrami and Lagrami. As opposites, Sagrami appears to be a deity of darkness, worshipped by Seranonna who placed the curse upon Lumatere. Lagrami is the deity of light. The two opposite sides of the circle is a common feature in fantasy religions. It appears that the clergy of this particular religion are priests and priestesses, who live in cloisters – and that is where Finnikin and Topher find Evajalin at the beginning of the book. I did pick up one small feature of the religion – the priestesses shave off their hair on joining the cloister, and let it grow to signify their length of devotion to the goddess.

Unlike Tolkien, who built up a great back story and history for Middle-earth within his books, Marchetta tends to express Lumatere’s history through exposition. I actually really enjoyed these scenes, with various characters often explaining part of the country’s history to another, or favourite stories being retold to excited youngsters. I haven’t actually often encountered this method in fantasy writing – after all, isn’t it always said that you should show and not tell? – but with Marchetta’s wonderful prose it works. 
As for the culture of Skuldenore, it seems to be very varied. I did feel a little like some of the countries were a bit stereotyped – for example a dry and arid land, with savages and a guttural tongues (Yutland). Each country is very different, with various political systems and potential allies. It is not just men that hold the power – female power is also represented, there are plenty of ladies and mentions of queens. So despite being a quasi-medieval system, women can wield power and authority in Skuldenore. Slavery is also present, at least in Sarnak where Finnikin and Evajalin pick up Froi – however, it was not legal in Lumatere – evident by Finnikin’s shock – further emphasising its status as a ‘perfect’ kingdom, and making its downfall even harder to bear.

For a fantasy world, there are few mystical beings or creatures, and little use of magic. There is, of course, the curse which Seranonna places upon Lumatere, and the prophecy that speaks of its revival, but that is all in the past as regards to the story. Evajalin’s dream walking could be classed as magic, but there isn’t much in-depth discussion about it. However, since the ‘Unspeakable’ – the slaughter of the royal family and curse on Lumatere – it is possible that the people of Skuldenore have become very paranoid about magic.
Also, I do wonder whether Marchetta had some inspiration from Shakespeare, particularly The Merchant of Venice. As children, Finnikin, Balthazar and Lucian made a pledge, sacrificing flesh to seal it.


Tarry a little; there is something else.
This bond doth give thee here no jot of blood;
The words expressly are ‘a pound of flesh’
Take then thy bond, take thou thy pound of flesh;
But, in the cutting it, if thou dost shed
One drop of Christian blood, thy lands and goods
Are, by the laws of Venice, confiscate
Unto the state of Venice.

The Merchant of Venice, Act IV, Scene I

Both feature a character who may be hiding secrets, and a character called Balthazar.

Marchetta manages to pull off the fantasy world very well. It can be a struggle, making places believable, and I often find with fantasy that sometimes the names can sound down right cheesy. Many of the names in the book are altered versions of real life names, to give them a more fantastical feel, and this works well. Although there are not many descriptions of landscapes, nor a massive history bear that which is relevant to the main story, for a fantasy that is more about the characters and their personal journey than the world in which they live, Skuldenore is wonderfully built.

This post is part of The Journey Home, a celebration of the Lumatere Chronicles hosted by Bookish Whimsy and A Novel Idea.


6 thoughts on “The Journey Home: World Building in The Lumatere Chronicles”

  1. Ahh! I love the changes you did to your blog design for Sci-Fi November! I totally think you should keep it this way, even after the event. 😉 But since you’re moving to WP, you might come up with something even fancier. I’ll be keeping an eye out for it! Anyway, I really do need to get to FINNIKIN as soon as possible. Yes, I’m one of the very few who hasn’t read it yet, and I’ve been telling myself and everyone else that I’ll read it soon, but I’ve just never found the time to do so. Even though the book only focuses on a couple of the countries out of all those you mentioned, I still think it’s amazing how deep the world building goes into. Especially with these expectations in mind: “The author needs to create completely new concepts, yet still make them believable to the reader, and come up with new names that don’t sound ridiculous, yet sound different enough.” — It’s tough work, so it’s great to hear that Melina pulls it off brilliantly. I also think that the religion bit adds more to the development of the world. I don’t see much made-up religion in fantasy YA books, which is a shame, because authors should do everything they can, without making the book boring, to build up their setting, no matter how big it may be. And hah, Tolkien. His world building is great, but it gets so tedious to read after a while. It’s such a relief that that wasn’t the case here. You’re not the only one who finds fantasy names weird! I always thought that it would be a piece of cake to come up with them — after all, they don’t need to make much sense and the reader wouldn’t mind — but now I realize that it’s actually quite difficult. Who knows, maybe Melina Marchetta might feel the urge to write a book solely about the history and setting of the Lumatere Chronicles. I’m sure that would be nice! Great post, Rinn! World building in fantasy reads is an absolute must for me, because it is one of the bigger aspects that gets me invested into the book and helps me enjoy it. Otherwise… the fantasy is more of like a contemporary with no setting. It makes it very hard to visualize.

    1. I’m planning on it, I also have a logo without the Sci-Fi Month bit =D Glad you like it! That was the plan, improve upon the theme with WP, I just hope the move goes okay. I’m going to read up on it, but if I’m unsure I think I’ll ask Ashley @ NoseGraze. She really does. Sometimes in fantasy (or sci fi too actually) the names make me giggle. They either sound like someone just sneezed on the page or they just sound totally ridiculous. But these really don’t. They sound real, and it works. Certainly, religion adds so much to a fantasy world – I mean it’s something that’s always existed in our world in so many different ways, it seems hard to believe that other peoples would not have some sort of similar system at least. Oh, that’s a shame you feel that way about Tolkien! I love all the little details about Middle-earth, haha.Thanks Megan =) It’s a very important factor and I think perhaps sometimes some authors don’t think about it enough. I love to see diversity within these lands and Skuldenore seems pretty diverse!

  2. This is a really great post Rinn! When I first read Finnikin, I kinda skimmed over the details about the countries and the differences between them, but with the second re-read I noticed more how Melina differentiates the people and cultures of the different lands. A history of Skuldenore would be very interesting to read I think, but I am curious as to why these lands are so different from each other. So I really love your post for making all of the world-building clearer. There’s going to be more to learn about Charyn in the next book so you can look forward to updating this post! 🙂 Really interesting points you made on The Merchant of Venice! Maybe one day Melina will do a book tour in the UK and you can ask her! Or if she comes here, I would love to ask her for you! (cause it’s an intelligent question and hopefully it will keep me from falling apart. :D)

    1. Ooh yes, I know the third (?) book is about Charyn so that’ll be interesting to learn. I did wish that I took more notes when reading but sometimes it ruins the experience.Haha, I’m so bad around authors! I get all shaky and have nooooo idea what to say.

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