Evanjalin is ruthless, passionate, and dedicated past the point of reason, which is just how I like my women.
Finnikin is blah, which is not how I like my men. I feel there's a big gap between how the author sees him and how I do, most notable near the end where someone remarks that people tell Finnikin things they won't tell other people, a trait which has been established nowhere in the preceding 300 pages. Also Finnikin's much-reported dedication to the rescue of a Lumateran refugees doesn't seem to come out much in his personal interactions with any refugees, most notably Evanjanlin and Froi (but even his memories aren't of other refugees, they're of courts and ambassadors and nobles).
The world-building felt very shallow -- there are mentions of a Skulderene (continental?) culture, but no one seems to have any notion of places outside
this land-mass. The local geography was often excellent (people have a passionate attachment to place), but the size of things seemed off. They crossed entire countries in a day. Maybe they are the size of tiny Italian city-states? There's no real consistency in the naming schemes and cultural backgrounds of the different countries the characters travel in aren't well or consistently differentiated, except for the languages being based on different European languages, even though the cultures don't seem to accord with the languages. Generic Eurofantasy.
Marchetta's usual themes: deeply attached biological families, unlikely found families, long-term effects of trauma and violence. A very deep focus on rape as a war crime and as a hate crime -- there are lots of books dealing with individual experience of rape and lots of books dealing with war crimes/hate crimes with rape as an example, but Marchetta makes rape central to social breakdown in a way that I haven't seen very often. (The other major example that's coming to mind, oddly enough, is Junot Diaz.) Based on this and The Piper's Son
, it seems very clear that Marchetta has either worked with refugees or done a lot of research. The focus on telling the stories of the trauma is very well-done, not particularly consistent with the generic Eurofantasy background, but I guess the background's vague enough that the ritual doesn't seem too out of place.
The longing of the refugees for their lost home is very compelling.
This is sounding a lot more negative than I feel. I suppose I am just not satisfied by any Marchetta novel that doesn't make me break down in tears at least once.