"Wolves were said to appear to the blooded queens at turning points: times of danger and opportunity."
The Demon King is the first book in the Seven Realms series by Cinda Williams Chima, of which there are presently four installments. This Young Adult fantasy novel utilizes many tropes familiar to the genre, at times rendering it very predictable. However, it also boasts several unique, world-building features that make it stand out amongst the masses, and the story’s simplicity does not prevent it from being entertaining.
The book centers chiefly around the lives of two characters: reformed thief Hans Alister and princess heir Raisa ana’Marianna. The two spend most of the novel without interacting with one another, although their paths cross through a series of circumstances and the novel ends on the note that the two will most certainly be drawn together again. The book opens with Hans and his friend Fire Dancer collecting rare plants to sell at market. Before returning home, they decided to try their hand at hunting but are quickly met with a wall of magically fueled fire. Their subsequent confrontation with the young wizards in training responsible for the flame and the capture of a peculiar, seemingly cursed amulet set Hans’s seemingly placid life into a frenzy that carries him through the rest of the story, plaguing him with personal loss and revealing his unsettling destiny.
Meanwhile, princess Raisa’s world also begins to unravel as her name day—the book’s version of a birthday—quickly approaches and her hand will officially be available to suitors looking to secure a place in the royal family. Along the way however, Raisa is forced to face some unsettling truths, including her ignorance of the true going-ons around her. Little by little she’s lured into a trap and made victim to a political game that could set the entire kingdom aflame with war, and threaten to revive the legendary conflict known as the Breaking—a time in the kingdom’s past where a legendary figure known as the Demon King wielded a magic so powerful that he almost broke apart the world. Not all of the old tales are as they seem however, and as the story progresses both Raisa and Hans begin to learn terrible truths about their pasts and their present.
One of the things I enjoyed most about this story was the intriguing world that was built around it. The ruling structure is matriarchal in nature, so much so that the land is called a queendom instead of a kingdom. Furthermore, the people known as the Clan—who are based on First Nations—provide the story with both cultural and racial diversity. The princess herself is part Clan, and the line of queens descends from Clan blood. It’s always refreshing to see novels representing different groups of people, and the representation of women is also very refreshing. More than anything, I’m intrigued by the world that Chima has created.
The story itself is, as I said, rather predictable. The heritage of a certain character was all too obvious, as was the deception of another. The plot itself was fairly straight-forward, with no real surprises or unexpected twist. Overall, it was interesting enough to keep me wanting more but not so much that I couldn’t put it down. As this is the first entry in a series, it isn’t really surprising that The Demon King would be spent going through the motions and laying down the groundwork for the rest of the series. I do wish that there had been a little more content, maybe delving into the history of the world. I also found that the characters could be a little flat at times, and I found myself wanting them to do more or to at least be privy to more of their thoughts. Part of the problem lies in the fact that Chima sometimes does a bit to much telling and not enough showing.However, as this is the first in an on-going series and as the book was an enjoyable read I'm definitely interested enough to buy the next installment.
Buy, Borrow, or Bypass: I'd recommend this book to most YA fantasy fans, especially those looking for a world with a lot of strong female characters and racial diversity. It's widely available in paperback and isn't too expensive, and I've seen plenty of used books floating around for those on a tighter budget.