Friday, 3 May 2013

Review: The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima

The Demon King
Picture source: Goodreads
Title: The Demon King
Author: Cinda Williams Chima
Series: The Seven Realms Trilogy #1
Published: 2009
Where I got the book from: the library

Synopsis from Goodreads


Times are hard in the mountain city of Fellsmarch, and reformed thief Han Alister must rely on all his skills to provide for his mother and his sister.

While out hunting one day, Han and his Clan friend, Dancer, discover three young wizards using a magical amulet to set fire to the sacred mountain of Hanalea. Han wrestles it from them, but without realising that his heroism has put him and his family in great danger. For the young arsonist is Micah Bayar, son of the High Wizard, and the amulet a treasure with immense power; it once belonged to the Demon King, the legendary wizard who nearly destroyed the world a millennium ago. The Bayars will stop at nothing to get it back.

Meanwhile, Raisa ana’Marianna, Princess Heir of the Fells, has just returned to the city after spending three years with her father’s Clan in the mountains. She aspires to be like Hanalea, the legendary warrior-queen who vanquished the Demon King and saved the world, but her mother has other plans for her – plans that will put both the queendom and Raisa’s future in great danger. The Seven Realms will tremble when the adventures of Han and Raisa collide in this stunning new page-turner from bestselling author Cinda Williams Chima.

My thoughts

What I expect from all high fantasy novels is a blend of monarchy, magic, mystery and memorable characters set in a richly described realm alive with lurking dangers and deadly secrets. Cinda Williams Chima’s The Demon King, the first book in the Seven Realms, fulfilled my expectations very well but not quite perfectly.
I was very anxious to like The Demon King – partly because I really wanted to immerse myself in a fantastical world of the favourite genre of my childhood, and partly because I had tried to start a few books before that and they hadn’t resonated with my mood enough for me to bother to finish them at the time. However, my worry of not liking this book faded very quickly when Chima cut right to the quick in the story and one of the main characters, Han Alister, former no-good streetlord, runs into an unusual conflict with a few wizards. Han and his friend Fire Dancer are left with a powerful-looking magical amulet and many questions that eventually lead Han into a dangerous mess involving Princess Heir of the Fells, Raisa.
Han’s and Raisa’s stories run parallel, partially intertwining, in third-person narratives, building up tension effectively as the reader waits for the imminent collision of their worlds. Han is burdened with earning a living for his family and the dangerous secret of the amulet, whilst Raisa suffers from being Princess, confined to the castle and to frilly many-layered gowns. Meanwhile, under the blind eyes of Queen Marianna, a devious plot is hatched against the realm and its millennium-old traditions. With dreaded excitement and anticipation, the plot goes into action, with fairly obvious hints that lead to its contents, and finally is revealed – unfortunately to be almost exactly as I guessed. However, despite the general predictability of the plot, Chima executes it successfully, and I was shocked or surprised at least a couple of times.

I became immediately fond of Han and Raisa because of being able to relate to or connect with their thoughts and feelings. Han was lovable in his determinedness to take care of his family and Raisa was adorably stubborn and very kick-ass in her own way. What I especially enjoyed about The Demon King was the fact that secondary characters were also fascinating and fleshed out nicely. Amongst others I liked the honesty and good-naturedness of Speaker Jemson and the fierce and protective personalities of Amon and Captain Byrne. I was a little disappointed by Fire Dancer, Han’s friend, as it was continuously mentioned that he usually was cheerful but through the entire book he was angry and depressed and we never saw the “better” side of him. I hope Dancer will get more attention in the second instalment of the series because he has potential to be a more central character.
The relationships in The Demon King satisfied me with their complexity. There’s on one hand Han and his mother who clearly love each other but don’t show it the right way. Then again there’s Raisa and her childhood friend Amon who haven’t seen each other for a few years but are now developing a new kind of connection. Of course there’s also Micah Bayar, the High Wizard’s son, who has romantic interests in Raisa which are returned.
Chima’s writing was, I think, just right for this novel. The prose was not overly descriptive or tedious but instead smooth and vivid. Her words called out clear images in my head: “gargoyles launched themselves from every side of the building”, “the torchlight bled through the cage door” and “the firelight deepened the lines on her face, the map of her long life” are only a few examples of the author’s mastery at crafting sentences.
Perhaps this is only a problem in the copy of the book I read, but there was no map of the realms! I think this is practically a must in all high fantasy novels because I feel it’s important to have a clear visual of a newly introduced,  imaginary world.
The Demon King was a great start to the Seven Realms Trilogy and a tense, exciting read. The characters were relatable and though the plot was a little predictable, I enjoyed the novel as a whole. Especially the Chima’s writing deserves praise with its simple yet elegant description.


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