Also, if you haven't read Froi and Finnikin, go back. Read them. Then come join us. This is going to get spoiler-ific.
We met Quintana in the last book, and she is perhaps the most bizarre fictional princesses I have ever encountered--but tragically, with good reason. She manages to escape at the end of Froi, but she's all alone and has no idea if Froi is alive. So she heads towards the one place she knows Froi will eventually go to, if he is alive: Lumatere.
Froi is alive--but barely. He recovers slowly and, accompanied by his newfound relatives, begins traveling across the land to find Quintana and raise an army to fight against the old king's men. If Charyn has any chance at a future, then Quintana's unborn child needs to be free to rule. But as tensions rise and conspiracies escalate, Charyn and Lumatere are in danger of going to war with each other, and their neighbors. It's up to Froi to use his connections and love for both countries to bring them together--but their future depends on what Isaboe and Quintana decide to do when they finally meet.
I love this novel because it has all of the action and intensity of the first novel, and the emotional heft of the second novel. Like with Froi of the Exiles, perspectives shift quickly between characters and countries as the consequences of decades-long injustices come to light and play out. Characters experience heartbreak, and connections are drawn between countries that span across the years as the characters slowly uncover some of the best-kept secrets of the land. And there is heartbreak--lots and lots of heartbreak as the characters push through to the final struggle between Lumatere and Charyn.
The ending is impossible to guess at because there are so many threads. I found myself clenching the book when I got down to less than one hundred pages because I was so worried--these are characters I've come to adore, and I wanted every single one of them to get a happily ever after, even if that was improbable. Silly me. I should have known that I can trust Marchetta to wrap things up in a beautiful, believable, satisfying, but not perfect manner. No one is forgotten, and the ending is not storybook, but it is right. The final words made me cry and gave me a new motto to live by--we should all live on the side of wonder.
These books left me in a stupor. I read them more slowly than I needed to, just to savor the storytelling. And I couldn't pick up another novel for a few days after I finished, either--it wouldn't have been fair to the other book. The Lumatere Chronicles are the types of books that lodge themselves in your brain and just never leave. I'm looking forward to re-reading them already, many times. And pushing them on many others. That's love.
Look on the side of wonder, friends.