The Demon King (Seven Realms #1)
While out hunting one day, Han and his Clan friend, Dancer catch three young wizards setting fire to the sacred mountain of Hanalea. After a confrontation, Han takes an amulet from Micah Bayar, son of the High Wizard, to ensure the boy won't use it against them. Han soon 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 relative freedom with her father’s family at Demonai camp – riding, hunting, and working the famous Clan markets. Although Raisa will become eligible for marriage after her sixteenth name-day, she isn't looking forward to trading in her common sense and new skills for etiquette tutors and stuffy parties.
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 it seems like her mother has other plans for her--plans that include a suitor who goes against everything the Queendom stands for.
The Seven Realms will tremble when the lives of Han and Raisa collide in this stunning new page-turner from bestselling author Cinda Williams Chima.
The Demon King (and the whole series) follows Raisa and Han Alister through their journey. The first half of the book, like I mentioned first off, was terrible. Right in the first chapter, Chima introduces five or more characters. Then in the second chapter, we're introduced to six or more characters. The chapter after that, a few more characters. I wanted to scream while reading it because I literally could not keep up with everyone and there's no real plot advancement by this point, so we have no idea who we really need to remember and who isn't going to be mentioned again. As frustrating as this is, just do yourself the favor and try to get through it.
By the end of the book I'd fallen in love with both Raisa and Han. They are two of the best characters I've ever read about. Their struggle, story and romance captivate me from start to finish.
Of course, if you DO get to the end of this one and still aren't interested in the sequel, perhaps it isn't for you after all. But romance! Thieves! Wizards! Magic! Warriors! A princess! What isn't there to love?
The first thing to talk about is obviously the plot/world-building. Basically there are three people in the Queendom of Fells. The mountain clans, those who live in the flatlands, and the wizards, who conquered the land but were later defeated and forced to serve the Line of Queens. All three groups have a sort of tentative peace, with the flatlanders acting as a buffer between the clans and wizards, who seriously hate each other. Princess Raisa has the blood of both flatlanders and clan folk in her, while the other protagonist, ex-thief Han, is a flatlander who has strong connections to the clans. The wizards, then, form the main antagonist group—a bunch of greedy, manipulative, and sly men who control the queen and attempt to use Princess Raisa for their own gain. The backdrop of this struggle has to do with a cataclysmic event a thousand years ago, where the Demon King (the last ruling wizard) and Hanalea (the first queen of the Gray Wolf lineage) had an epic battle and ended up creating the modern Queendom, where the story takes place. All of that was, in my opinion, very interesting, mostly well-done, and certainly well thought-out. Info-dumping was an issue, but I think it was kept to a minimum.
After that, I started running into issues.
First, characterization. Cinda Williams Chima relied heavily on popular archetypes for everyone involved, but especially Princess Raisa and Han. As a result, I found everyone in this book to be stiff, static, and difficult to connect with. Raisa is the tomboy princess who hates pretty clothes, rides as well as any trained warrior, is demure but witty, kind-hearted, naïve when it suits the author’s purposes, stubborn when that trait is called for. On the other hand, Han is a reformed thief, devoted to his family, has a secret heritage that means he’s The Chosen One, charismatic, cocky, but is also conveniently blind to the obvious in order to suit the author’s story.
Both characters, by the way, are entwined in a tangle of love geometry. Raisa has three love interests (yes, three): the wizard Micah, the soldier Amon, and the ex-thief Han. For himself, Han has two love interests: the princess heir Raisa and the clan warrior Digging Bird. Look, in some cases I think love triangles are okay—Han’s triangle wasn’t very annoying, just a little silly. But with Raisa, the fact that three different boys wanted to kiss her was ridiculous, and just cemented that she was characterized as the Perfect Princess/love magnet throughout the novel.
Chima also relied on really stereotypical descriptors and phrases throughout The Demon King. For instance, when Han meets Raisa, the very first thing he notices is that he could “wrap his hands around her waist”. That line threw me so hard, I had to vent on Twitter for a while, because WHAT? Seriously. Nobody has a waist that small, and if they do, they’re probably walking around like a zombie due to malnutrition. Why do authors use this description and intend it as a compliment? It’s not! Wraith-thin women are not attractive, and I really don’t think it’s an image we should promote. Especially since it’s just about impossible to achieve anyway. (For the record, I’m not saying that “curvy” is better than “skinny” or whatever. But there’s healthy skinny and then there’s almost-dead skinny, which is gross.)
Okay, anyway. I probably shouldn’t let that one sentence bug me so much, but seriously, how disgusting. Really, I think it’s a fair example of the overused and obvious phrases peppered throughout the novel.
Moving more toward the positive side of things, I think the plot was engaging, if slow-moving. The first 175 pages or so covered less than 24 hours of a book that spans about 2 weeks. Personally, I think The Demon King could have been a lot snappier and fast-paced, either by losing some of its 500 pages or just adding more content, since a lot of this book was just waiting around and talking about things. But either way, I did enjoy the story itself almost all the time, even if I was rolling my eyes in places.
The conclusion, while painfully predictable, saw a definite improvement in the novel as a whole. I appreciated the paths Chima led Princess Raisa and Han down, and hopefully in the sequel they’ll spend more than 50 pages in each other’s company, and maybe without excessive love geometry? Either way, I think the final 50 pages of The Demon King were rounded off quite nicely—this book is obviously laying the groundwork for real action to come in future installments, and in that capacity, I think it worked quite well. For a book that’s a stepping-stone to other books, this isn’t half bad.