The Demon King
by Cinda Williams Chima
Series: Seven Realms #1
Published: 6 October, 2009
Hyperion Books, Hardcover, 506 pages
Times are hard in the mountain city of Fellsmarch. Reformed thief Han Alister will do almost anything to eke out a living for his family. The only thing of value he has is something he can’t sell—the thick silver cuffs he’s worn since birth. They’re clearly magicked—as he grows, they grow, and he’s never been able to get them off.
One day, Han and his clan friend, Dancer, confront three young wizards setting fire to the sacred mountain of Hanalea. Han takes an amulet from Micah Bayar, son of the High Wizard, to keep him from using it against them. Soon Han learns that the amulet has an evil history—it once belonged to the Demon King, the wizard who nearly destroyed the world a millennium ago. With a magical piece that powerful at stake, Han knows that the Bayars will stop at nothing to get it back.
Meanwhile, Raisa ana‘Marianna, princess heir of the Fells, has her own battles to fight. She’s just returned to court after three years of freedom in the mountains—riding, hunting, and working the famous clan markets. Raisa wants to be more than an ornament in a glittering cage. She aspires to be like Hanalea—the legendary warrior queen who killed the Demon King and saved the world. But her mother has other plans for her—including marriage to a suitor who goes against everything the queendom stands for.
The Seven Realms tremble when the lives of Hans and Raisa collide, fanning the flames of the smoldering war between clans and wizards.
The Demon King had been one of the older high fantasy YA novels I recently discovered on Goodreads and had a sudden frenzy for (along with Tamora Pierce’s first few series, the Lumatere Chronicles by Melina Marchetta, and the Abhorsen series by Garth Nix). My definition of ‘older’ series are those that debuted before 2010 since that was the year I officially started reading YA. With such a gorgeous map and numerous positive reviews on Goodreads, I definitely had my hopes set on this book.
My favorite aspect of The Demon King had been its world-building and character development. The world had such rich culture and diversity among its people—mainly the Clan people, Wizards, and Valefolk (what I inferred were normal people with no sort of supernatural abilities whatsoever). The conflicts that existed between the Clans and wizards were spectacularly believable and even though I’m usually one who falls asleep when it comes to talks of politics, those portrayed in The Demon King, mixed in with a richly fabricated history and wondrous magic, had me utterly entranced.
The characters, too, refuse to be outshone by the stunning world-building. Raisa had been an amazing and entertaining protagonist that was both stubborn and kind-hearted. I loved how so far, she only has the potential to be a great queen one day, and was not automatically one by birthright. The fact that Chima allowed Raisa to have faults such as her headstrong personality and lack of worldly experience and street smartness made her a much more relatable and human character, despite being a royal.
Han was also an immensely interesting character. In spite of his natural charm and good instincts, his inability to find a place he truly belonged was something that would reach out to many readers since we’ve probably all felt that way at some point in life. Furthermore, his love for his family was—at least in my opinion—one of the most heartwarming parts in the book and the horrifying events he had went through one of the most harrowing parts. Han is the sort of character who seems like he could turn out either good or evil but deep down, all readers know he is good to the core. I’m really looking forward to seeing how Han’s experiences in The Demon King will affect him in the subsequent books!
And while we are on the topic of characters dancing on the line between good and evil, Micah Bayar unquestionably wins the prize of Most Unpredictable Character. Due to his combination of a weak character mixed in with conflicting beliefs of morality, Micah was someone whose actions and choices I had no way of foretelling. The son of the High Wizard, he has a ton of expectations dumped upon him by his father (whom I hate with a burning passion) and tries to hide his stress from the pressure with his flippant and Lothario attitude. I quite like Micha’s way of hiding his problems from the rest of the world because it seemed extremely suitable for a prideful young wizard like him.
I know I’ve already spent the last three paragraphs going on and on about the characters in The Demon King but it honestly seem like there’s a never-ending list of them! Even the secondary characters like Speaker Jemson, all the parents of the teenage characters (I know this sounds weird but trust me), the Matriarchs of the clans and…really, I couldn’t name them all if I’d tried!
Although I have just dumped a load of praise on The Demon King, there’s still a niggling annoyance I just cannot shake off—how it felt quite like a filler novel without anything huge really happening. What happened to adventure and epicness? I understand the need for strong character development and world-building but in the midst of working on those two facets of the story, Chima slightly neglected the pacing of the plot. Towards the end, I was still awaiting the enormous and explosive climax that ultimately did not happen. It was instead replaced by a revelation of the meaning behind Han’s cuffs which I can’t say was a very good substitute.
However, being the debut of a series, I guess it’s pretty forgivable. Especially since the ending promised a lot more adventure including every single one of the beloved characters. The Demon King is one book that you won’t regret reading, even if it’s for the characters and fantastical fictional world alone. You know how sometimes you simply know a series is going to turn out awesome? Well, that is exactly how I feel about the Seven Realms series.