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.


Review: Finnikin of the Rock (Lumatere Chronicles #1) by Melina Marchetta


5 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

The bar was certainly set high for this one. Not only have Paola and Charlene been recommending it for a while, but I’ve read some fantastic Young Adult fantasy lately (Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass series, Kristin Cashore’s Graceling series). So I was actually a little nervous that I wouldn’t enjoy it as much as my friends, and be able to join in with all the fangirling – but it honestly exceeded my expectations!

From the beginning I loved the tone and flow of the story, and immediately felt this new fantasy world built up around me – but that is something I will go into more detail about towards the end of the month. Fantasy can be a difficult genre, with all those made-up names it can sometimes seem a little cheesy; Marchetta however, pulls it off wonderfully, with some fantastic character and place names, as well as back stories. Whilst a lot of this was conveyed to the reader through exposition, and telling rather than showing, I don’t feel like it made the story any less enjoyable. In fact I enjoyed listening to Topher or Trevanion tell the stories, imagining myself sat around a campfire with them, entranced by Lumatere’s past.

Not only does Marchetta exceed at building a fantasy world, but also at creating fantasy characters. Evanjalin, at first appearances meek and shy, is far more than she looks and completely takes the reader by surprise – and that moment is just the first of many. She is strong emotionally, which becomes more amazing as more of her past is revealed. As well as this she is also passionate, head-strong and logical, a driving force for Finnikin even when he doesn’t realise it. And speaking of Finnikin – I’ve not read many YA books with male main characters, so it made a nice change. The initial distrust between Finnikin and Evanjalin makes the blossoming relationship all the more interesting. The reader only ever knows as much about Evanjalin as Finnikin does, which is both frustrating and wonderful, when things are slowly revealed. There were also a couple of chapters told by Froi, a thief that ends up joining on the journey. He does not speak the same language as the others, but slowly learns, and his chapters reflect his language ability. They are told with much simpler language, with Froi describing something if he does not now how to say it, and a lack of dialogue. I thought this worked really well to portray a little understood character more effectively.

The plot progresses naturally, at a good pace. Finnikin et al are trying to reclaim their homeland by enacting a prophecy, and on the way encounter many problems and interesting characters. Friends are made, refound, lost. Enemies encountered, family rediscovered.

There was a battle scene towards the end that really could have done with more added to it – it felt like it almost skipped over the best bits, and was over far too quickly. However, that is the only complaint I can think of right now!

Finnikin of the Rock is more of a ‘realistic’ fantasy story, which I think is why it will appeal to many. The world in which it is set is not too different from our own about six hundred years ago, there is a distinct lack of mystical beings or creatures, and only a small amount of magic. But not only that, it is wonderfully written and has a fantastic cast of characters, as well as a story that has you continually rooting for them.

A definite recommendation for anyone who loves fantasy or fantastical tales.

Also, my favourite quote from the book:

“…the realisation of the prophecy spoken to him in the forest alongside a doomed princess, rejoiced that if he were to be king, he would make her his queen.” — page 238, Finnikin of the Rock

I read and reviewed this book as part of ‘The Journey Home’, an event created to celebrate The Lumatere Chronicles, organised by Charlene and Paola. Thank you for recommending this wonderful read, ladies! I’ll also be posting on the world-building in the book on 24th October.