The Demon King (Seven Realms #1), by Cinda Williams Chima

Although The Demon King isn’t strictly Chima’s debut, it feels like it, as previous fantasy novels by Chima were set in our real world. This appeals to some, however the leap from the real-life set Heir series to the Seven Realms quartet feels like a first foray into a medieval-esque fantasy setting. The Demon King opens the quartet, followed by The Exiled Queen, The Gray Wolf Throne, and a fourth, currently unnamed novel.

The Demon King takes the reader to the Seven

Realms, and to Fellsmarch; a queendom long ruled by women, and up to the Clan-inhabited Spirit Mountains. The Clans with their gentle, subtle magic, are at constant odds with the Wizards of the realm, whose deft, dynamic power offends. This great power, in the hands of a dangerous and reckless wizard, almost broke the world.

Nonetheless a fragile peace exists in the Fells: the Wizards are banned from the Spirit Mountains, and the Wizards—advisors to the queen in the shape of the Wizard Council—loathe the intervention of the camps in queendom affairs.

Further afield, despite the neighbouring lands’ princes warring between themselves upon their father’s death, the peace stretches to Oden’s Ford, the military training school, and Mystwerk House, the magic school.

That is until machinations from within the palace and council spill across the realm, spreading to the Spirit Mountains and filtering into the city and beyond. But there is never only one selfish scheme at play in a story; the Clans too harbour secrets that could change the course of magic and power.

Amidst the chaos stand two people, worlds apart, distanced by more than just status.

Ragged “Cuffs”

Han “Cuffs” Alister is a streetlord gone good, or he would be, if his past would leave him in peace. At just sixteen, Han’s reputation precedes him; he’s feared throughout the city and despite quitting the Raggers, he knows neither his old friends nor enemies will let him leave the rough trade that easily. And to make matters worse, when members of a rival gang start turning up dead, who gets the blame? Something strange is going down in the city, and Han’ll be damned if he gets the swing for it.

With a mother and little sister to care for, Han is tempted to return to his old ways when money runs dry and Mari starts getting sick. If he could, he’d pawn the silver braces he’s worn since he can remember—but they won’t come off, and his mother refuses to speak of them.

Instead, making odd money here and there from jobs that trickle in, Han takes solace in the Spirit Mountains, favouring the company of his friends Fire Dancer and Digging Bird to the gritty existence awaiting him in the city.

Demonai Princess

Fathered from a Demonai Clan royal in an arranged marriage, Raisa ana’Marianna has always been different: she’s hot-headed, determined and not at all the blushing flower her mother—Queen Marianna, monarch of the Fells—is content to be.

Determined to be a good queen, Raisa accepts she has a lot to learn, but refuses to believe the palace, pampered and cushioned, is where this education will blossom. Raisa wants to live, to learn and to become a strong queen. However with the natural tensions between the Clans in the Spirit Mountains and the Council of Wizards, Raisa herself is a tool for continued peace, as well as an asset towards tipping the scales of power. Raisa will soon realise she is a very powerful piece in a very dangerous game of magic, power and lies.

A gentle introduction

Whilst the title and the blurb hint that there will be the appearance of a “demon king”, the manner of which once broke the world, this instalment of the Seven Realms series grossly disappoints. The “revelation” of the Demon King’s identity is too late in the book for it to feel as though it was given an introduction at all, and readers might feel as though the story progresses with little attention to that side of the plot. It’s easy to forget when reading through that there is a great power lurking, and a man with the potential to wield it. The story revolves entirely around Han and Raisa and the relationships they forge with the supporting cast on either side.

Han’s story is that of his struggle to escape his rough past, as he grows closer to his Clan friend, Dancer, whilst eluding blame for murder and dodging persistent wizards demanding the return of an item in his possession.

Raisa’s story sees her growing confidence in herself and her thirst for a real, worldly education. Disguised, she heads out into the city with her bodyguard and childhood friend, Amon. Trouble ensues when she and Han cross paths, and then proceeds to dissipate when they part ways.

A sleepy adventure

All said, not much actually happens in The Demon King: the world is explored, characters are built and machinations from all sides are set in motion by the end (some only at thevery end). There are murders, dangers and secrets and yet the plot seems very sleepily delivered. It feels very “young adult”. Not necessarily a negative point, but the YA-crossover style does the novel few favours in helping it deliver a gripping story.

The story is good, but not enough happens. Too little of the book is spent gripping the reader, and far too much spent literally following Han around from the city to the mountains. It feels like Kvothe’s (The Name of the Wind) time in Tarbean delivered badly: where Patrick Rothfuss had the skill to keep the reader entertained merely with his writing, Chima doesn’t quite pass the bar, and where Kvothe’s day-to-day struggle in the city is entertaining, Han’s simply isn’t.

Why should you read this book?

Readers who appreciate most fantasy should give this a try. The Demon King succeeds in drawing you into the lives of the characters, and if you like reading a good story with decent writing, and a “slice-of-life” approach as the world and writer find their feet, then give Han and Raisa a try.

4/5

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