In Review: The Finisher
Published by Scholastic Press, March 4, 2014. Hardcover of 497 pages at $17.99. Intended for ages 10 – 14, grades 5 – 9.
Note: I read a preview copy and anything could be changed by the final edition.
The cover: In the top quarter of the cover a man is running on a plain to a distant forest. He is being pursued by several Doberman-like dogs who are barely noticeable even under the light of a full moon. Going down, the title next appears with the tag line “They Don’t Want You to Know the Truth” underneath it. The main image is next. A crimson background full of connecting lines and circles that seem to be following a mystical pattern serve as the background to three flaming blades that appear to be a throwing star. Within those blades is a girl wearing jeans and a long sleeved shirt. Around the girl’s waist is a chain. To her right is a dog that resembles a German Shepherd. To her left is a boy, wearing jeans held up by suspenders and a long sleeved shirt whose sleeves have been rolled. Below is author David Baldacci’s name. I’m always impressed by a well known author who has the title of their novel above their name, so this pleased me immensely. The book design is credited to Sharismar Rodriguez and nothing is specified as to who did the cover, so I’ll assume it was Rodriguez. The image at the top is right out of the first chapter, so it spoils nothing. The primary visuals are good, hint at the story’s protagonists, and, again, nothing is spoiled. This is the perfect tease without ruining anything. Overall grade: A
The story: From the back cover: “Vega Jane has never left the village of Wormwood. But this isn’t unusual–nobody has ever left the village of Wormwood. At least not until Quentin Herms vanishes into the unknown. Vega knows Quentin didn’t just leave–he was chased. And he’s left behind a very dangerous trial of clues that only she can decode. The Quag is a dark forest filled with terrifying beasts and bloodthirsty Outliers. But just as deadly are the threats that exist within the walls of Wormwood. It is a place built on lies, where influential people are willing to kill to keep their secrets. Vega is determined to uncover the truth–but the close she gets, the more she risks her life. With The Finisher, master storyteller David Baldacci conjures a thrilling, imaginative world where things are as wrong as wrong can be–and introduces us to an unforgettable heroine who must think fast, look close, and defy all odds in her fight to do what’s right.” So, based on this, I’m guessing that Vega will find some truths and head into the Quag. Once she goes in the action should begin. Overall grade: A
The characters: Forget Katniss Everdeen, Vega Jane has stolen my heart. I’ve read several novels in the last few years with female protagonists and none of them are as amazing as Vega. She’s fourteen years old and lives in a slum of a room with her younger brother John. Her parents are still alive, barely; they are in the equivalent of an old folks’ home waiting to die. She is a Finisher, a craftsperson who finishes the work of another; her mentor, Quentin Herms. She wants to do what’s right, but she slowly begins to realize that everything she’s assumed to be true is not. She finds herself in a series of situations where her choices will not only effect her but her family, friends, and fellow Wugs (citizens of Wormwood). She was as real as a character can be; I felt her pain and triumphs and thrilled to her escaping injury, well…most of them. I wanted this character to succeed and the obstacles she faced were never easy or forged; I believed in them as much as I believed in her. Her brother John is “short, skinny and looked far younger than his age.” He is a gifted learner in a town that does not treasure such a skill. I thought he would be a throw away character to bind Vega to the town. This was not the case. He has a journey as well, and his growth in the novel goes in a wildly different direction than that of his sister. Daniel “Delph” Delphia is Vega’s best friend. He’s sixteen, six and half feet tall, and speaks with a stutter due to an incident in his past. He is practically the strongest man in town and he is devoted to Vega. Again, I thought he would be the traditional boy, who’s a friend, who helps her out with his strength at some point. Thankfully, again, Baldacci didn’t do this. He was another character I rooted for and whose pain I felt. He grows incredibly in this book, and his heartbreak in the final quarter of the book was mine as well. Who are the antagonists? That’s a good question. Much is made of the Outliers, who live in the Quag. They can assume the shape of any Wog and live to sabotage Wormwood. There are those on the Council whose motives seem questionable. Thansius, the head of the Council, is the first to approach Vega to ask if she knows anything about Quentin. Next is Morricone, the only woman on the Council. She is beautiful and more approachable than Thansius, but is that only to draw in her prey? Readers’ opinions of these characters will change as the book progresses, and that’s the sign of a writer who has total mastery of his characters and his story. Overall grade: A+
The settings: There is one setting: Wormwood. We go into several buildings, lower and upper class, and occasionally to the border where the Quag begins. I felt that this was a traditional Medieval-ish fantasy setting that was easy to picture and didn’t stray at all from what my initial expectations were. There are two locations that held secrets, but nothing was that stunning. They served their purpose but didn’t necessarily influence the plot. Overall grade: B
The action: This is a long book, so I expected any action to be spread out considerably. There are scenes of conflict with characters fighting other characters or beasts, but that’s not the primary action. This is a tale where a young girl feels as if she’s stumbled into some truths that are being kept from the town. She does not know whom she can trust with her assumptions. When there weren’t bad guys or monsters, there was an overwhelming feeling of secrecy that was being withheld for the most sinister of reasons. The nervousness Vega felt throughout the book was plenty of psychological action for me to continue reading. Overall grade: A
The conclusion: I knew how this book would end by Triginata Octo (If you don’t know what this means, you will by the first one hundred pages). Initially I was disappointed. Upon reflection, this was the best possible ending. This was how this book must end, and I’m glad Baldacci did it. Going into the book, I expected a certain ending, but this book is not predictable, and that’s just one of the things I enjoyed about it. Overall grade: A
The final line: For anyone who’s read Baldacci’s adult novels, I’m sorry to say he must stop doing those. Adults have had the joy of reading his novels for 18 years. You’ve had your turn, now he should turn his focus to Vega Jane. Her adventures must be continued. To not do so would be a crime. This is the female protagonist I want my daughters to read and emulate. Overall grade: A
Note: The film rights were optioned by Sony Pictures Entertainment in September of 2013. Read it before you see it.
Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer’s Guide for a few years with “It’s Bound to Happen!” and reviewed comics at TrekWeb for six years. He’s taught 8th graders English for 19 years and high school English for two years, and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars or Indiana Jones items online.