Plot: Life is hard for reformed thief Han Alister. Honest money is harder to come by and the silver cuffs he has worn his whole life – and which he cannot remove – will always tie him with his life on the street. But things get worse after he confronts a young wizard and takes his amulet. People start dying and his life spirals out of control. He begins to believe that the amulet is cursed. Meanwhile Princess Raisa, heir to the queendom, has her own problems: she is being pressured into marriage and shielded from the real problems in the realm. When their lives cross, the Seven Realms will be forever changed.
The Demon King is a solid, entertaining fantasy adventure. I thoroughly enjoyed it and grew very fond of its characters, in particular the flirty, strong-willed princess Raisa and her bashful, upright guard Amon.
I do not think Chima’s book is flawless as one of the blurbs on the back claims: The story is a bit exposition heavy and the characters lay out their way of thinking so plainly and frequently that I was occasionally tempted to shake them. I understood that Raisa had no interest in early marriage the first time she thought it, thank you very much. I’m hard on books that tell instead of show but it’s a pet peeve of mine.
Chima also follows pretty standard epic fantasy tropes. Nothing that happened in the book surprised me, not even the huge dramatic revelations of the end (though I will grant that a younger, less well-read self may have been occasionally surprised). But I think it says something of Chima’s skill as a storyteller that I was engaged and eager to read on for all 500 pages in spite of the slightly predictable plot.
But no one can fault Chima’s world-building. The Seven Realms are fascinating, complex and real. Through them Chima manages to address native cultures, imperialism, class struggle, war, royal duty and much else. The whole rests upon a fascinating moment in history, that like all histories, is colored by the needs and beliefs of its culture. She has also laid the foundation for a much broader world to be explored in the books to come.
The Demon King is the first in a four part (recently completed) series. The story continues in The Exiled Queen.