Review: The Demon King

Review by Cass

  • Rating: 5 out of 5 cats
  • Recommended for: Fantasy Nerds

Warning: Spoilers and Novel Summary Ahead

This fantastical world created by Cinda Williams Chima is full of magic, unpredictable twists, and scheming politics. This book 1 (of 4) takes place in the Seven Realms with the 2 main characters of Hanson Alister and Raisa ana’Marianna. While these two could not be more different, you soon discover their destinies are intertwined in a dangerous yet captivating way.

Han is a nobody, former Street Lord in the slums (aka Ragmarket) of Fellsmarch who seems to attract trouble wherever he goes. He’s infamous for his determination to achieve any of his goals (currently to live an honest(ish) life and provide for his young sister and mother), his rugged good-looks and personality, his ruthlessness in a fight, and the mysterious magical cuffs that Han is unable to remove by any means. Raisa is the princess heir to the Queendom of Fellsmarch. She is known as a beacon of hope among many as she is a half-blood; her Queen mother is from the Vale (as is normal among the Gray Wolf Line in recent history) while her father (the Royal Consort) is Clan-born (a trader-warrior from the Demonai Camp). Raisa’s ideals about how she should run the queendom when the time comes are torn between her mothers (who is susceptible to the allure of the wizards/mage of the country) and her fathers (who sides with his tribes people).

The rift between the Clan folk and Wizards originated a thousand years ago when (supposedly) an all powerful Wizard known as the Demon King kidnapped the then Queen Hanalea. Hanalea refused to succumb to the Demon King and fought back, defeating him. In his dying breath, the Demon King launched a series of curses that threw the world in turmoil of earthquakes, fires, storms, and inevitable destruction. The only way to overcome these curses was for the Clans to work with the Wizards. They were successful but a new treaty was created as a result; the Gray Wolf Queen must never marry a wizard, the High Wizard (basically boss of all wizards) is magically bound to the Queen (so is unable to go against her wishes), and the Clan regulates the amulets (the tools used by wizards in order to perform spells). This has breed distrust and malignancy between the two cultures.

Han and his best friend Fire Dancer (a Clansman) while on a hunt, are confronted by young wizards in the Spirit Mountains (which are forbidden to charmcasters). These arrogant wizards include the High Wizards son, Micah who is in (stolen) possession of an extremely powerful serpent shaped amulet. Since “arrows are faster than jinxes”, Han retrieves the amulet from Micah, who will never forget Han’s face and vows for vengeance. This amulet seems to come with even worse luck though as Han is framed for multiple murders and now hunted by the Guards.

Raisa starts out as a stubborn yet strong young woman who isn’t ready to give up her freedom in sacrifice to the throne. She enjoys learning about her queendom, honing her fighting and riding skills, flirting with the young suitors trailing around (including forbidden wizard Micah), and despises the mundane. The story (and character development) really picks up when Raisa realizes she doesn’t truly know what is going on in her Queendom. With her childhood friend (Amon) returned from military training camp, she sets out in disguise to see the truth. Realizing how terrible the conditions are in the slums, Raisa begins to sell off her suitors/admirers gifts in order to form a ministry for the poor. Our main characters collide though when Han (on the run from the law) kidnaps Raisa (not realizing her true identity) in order to make an escape from Amon and the guards. While their interaction isn’t exactly cordial, the two find themselves immensely intrigued by the other. The two go their separate ways when Han releases Raisa (who then still incognito, proceeds to free Han’s former gang members who have been unlawfully locked up and tortured).

Han’s struggles continue as the murders he’s being framed for are actually done in an attempt to find him. Then before he can flee from Fellsmarch, his young sister comes down with an awful disease (that is treatable but only with money to pay for a healer). In desperation, Han attempts to sell the notorious serpent amulet. The High Wizard (who hired the murderers) catches Han during the transaction. The High Wizard attempts to kill Han but is unsuccessful. Unfortunately, a direct attack wasn’t the only thing planned by the High Wizard; during this face-off with Han, he hired others (corrupt Guardsmen) to burn down Han’s home with his mother and sister inside. Han is unable to save his family and is now alone in the world; he takes shelter with the Clans people.

While Raisa may be of marrying age, her willful personality and her Queen mother’s young age keep her from considering the prospects seriously. She has more to learn and explore before she becomes a married woman. Her mother and the High Wizard have other plans though. They attempt to forcefully (with magic manipulation) marry Raisa off to Micah; a marriage that would cause war to erupt between the Valesfolk and Clans. Raisa barely escapes and now plans to run away to the military training academy (Oden’s Ford) with her best friend Amon. Raisa’s story is left off along the road heading towards temporary freedom away from Fellsmarch and forced marriages, and to see the world to better understand how to rule her future Queendom.

While Han is grieving among the Clans folk, the environment changes; the Clans have learned of the attempted forced marriage between the Princess Heir and a wizard. The Clans feel they need better weapons for the inevitable war against the wizards and to protect the Gray Wolf Line. Their secret weapon is Han. They remove the silver cuffs that they placed on him to suppress his wizard gifts. They did this because Han is the secret descendant of the historic Demon King and Hanalea. The historical stories aren’t true; the Demon King (aka Alger Waterlow) and Queen Hanalea were in love and to be married in secret. A betrayal by the Bayars tore them apart but not before twins were born; the female Gray Wolf Line (heir to Fellsmarch) and the male (disregarded and a secret to everyone except the leaders of the Clans). Han finds out his history and comes into his immense wizardry powers. The Clans send him off to the wizard academy (also Oden’s Ford) with his best friend Fire Dancer (who is the unknown bastard child of the High Wizard and the Matriarch of one of the Clans, and a wizard himself) in order to learn their wizard skills and to fight for the Clans.

This series is everything a fantasy lover could want and desire: suspense, magic, intrigue, political schemes, unsuspecting twists, love, and strong, interesting characters. This review doesn’t do justice to how well written and immersing this novel is. I 5/5 cats recommend this series; grab some coffee and cuddle up because you won’t be able to put this book down.

The story continues in the 2nd book: The Exiled Queen.

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