Monday, May 16, 2016
The Demon King - Cinda Williams Chima (Seven Realms #1)
I've read some Cinda Williams Chima before, primarily (maybe only?) her Heir series, which starts with The Warrior Heir and deals with warring guilds of people with fantastic abilities, but is set in modern Ohio. I liked her stories, but modern teenage fantasies aren't typically my thing, because they always seem to involve high school, and I hate high school as a setting. Settings can really influence stories and so having the series set in Cleveland, a city I have been to many times but don't really like (I don't dislike it either, but honestly, there are better places to set a book) and fictional Trinity, which doesn't exist but I could imagine perfectly, wasn't the best fit for me. So I was excited that The Demon King, the first book in her Seven Realms series, was a true-bred swords-and-sorcery fantasy set in a completely fantastic world.
I liked The Demon King better than I did the Heir series in general. The setting and I got along better, and there is some fantastic worldbuilding in here. For example, the Fells are a queendom (a queendom!) nestled at the foot of a range of mountains called the spirits, and legend has it that when each queen dies, she takes up one of the peaks as her spiritual home, and the peak becomes named after her. The world is also split up into the eponymous seven realms after an event called the Breaking, when the Demon King kidnapped Queen Hanalea. But as is typical, things are not all quite as they seem... The book is set a thousand years after this kidnapping, but the world is still dealing with the consequences, such as how the queen herself rules and the fracturing of one realm into seven in general.
There are two main characters here: Han and Raisa. Han is a poor commoner who has connections with the clans who inhabit the Spirits and control the production of the magical items that wizards need to work their magic. The book opens with Han and his friend Fire Dancer out hunting, and they run into a trio of young wizards who have set fire to part of the forest in order to drive deer down to a royal hunt occurring below. At the end of the conflict, Han ends up with the amulet one of the wizards was using--an amulet that destroys everyone who touches it except Han. Raisa, meanwhile, is the eldest princess of the Fells and the heir to the throne, though she expects not to rule until she old because her mother took the throne young. Raisa is fifteen going on sixteen, the age at which she will officially become eligible for marriage, and she's dealing with all manner of romantic entanglements, including with a wizard--whom she cannot marry by order of a covenant that halted the Breaking--and her childhood friend turned hawt soldier, Amon.
No, not that Amon.
There are a handful of supporting characters, of course, but Han and Raisa are the main ones. This is both a good thing, because we get both sides of a story that is unwinding in the Fells, and a bad thing, because I didn't care two cents about Han. What can I say? Poor boys bore me, and I had his story pinned from the beginning. I mean, I had Raisa pinned from the beginning, too, but her spunk and romantic intrigues were enough to keep me going when Han really had nothing to offer that actually interested me. Given that the last, long chapter of the book is primarily focused on Han, well... It didn't really end on a good note for me, especially because that last long chapter that focused on Han was a bunch of info-dumping of stuff I had already figured out. I would have much rather read about Raisa and where she was headed, and how that was going (which took up about two paragraphs) than boring Han. Fire Dancer might have made a more interesting character here, too--the tension between him and Digging Bird (and okay, I guess between Han and Digging Bird, too) will be interesting to see develop, but I'm not sure how prevalent that will be in the second book.
I'll definitely continue reading this series; the mythology in the background is beautiful and Raisa and Amon are too amazing to ditch. Hopefully Han will start to become someone a little more interesting now that he's off into the wide world, and on a collision course with Raisa and her allies... We'll see about that, but as long as Raisa continues to get large chunks of the books, I'll stick with it for her. She is just the type of heroine I like.
3.5 stars out of 5.