“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.