Published October 2009.
Times are hard in the mountain city of Fellsmarch. Reformed thief Han Alister will do almost anything to eke out a living for himself, his mother, and his sister, Mari. Ironically, the only thing of value he has is something he can't sell. For as long as Han can remember, he's worn thick silver cuffs engraved with runes. They're clearly magicked - as he grows, they grow, and he's never been able to get them off.
While out hunting one day, Han and his clan friend Dancer catch three young wizards setting fire to the sacred mountain of Hanalea. After a confrontation, Han takes an amulet from Micah Bayar, son of the High Wizard, to ensure the boy won't use it against them. Too soon, Han learns that the amulet has an evil history - it once belonged to the Demon King, the wizard who nearly destroyed the world a millennium ago. With a magical piece so powerful at stake, Han knows that the Bayars will stop at nothing to get it back.
Meanwhile, Raisa ana'Marianna, princess heir of the Fells, has her own battles to fight. She's just returned to court after three years of relative freedom with her family at Demonai camp - riding, hunting, and working the famous clan markets. Although Raisa will become eligible for marriage after her sixteenth name day, she isn't looking forward to trading in her common sense and new skills for etiquette tutors and stuffy parties.
Raisa wants to be more than an ornament in a glittering cage. She aspires to be like Hanalea - the legendary warrior queen who killed the Demon King and saved the world. But it seems that her mother has other plans for her - plans that include a suitor who goes against everything the queendom stands for. (book back blurb)
I've always been a little hesitant about reading high fantasy because of the detachment I tend to feel while reading. The books that I've read seemed to be more concerned about dumping every little piece of the world the author created onto the reader instead of focusing on the plot. Things that functioned like normal pieces of our world were renamed and lacked context so I spent more of the book trying to figure out what was what instead of what was going on.
Not so with The Demon King. At first the entrance into this new world was a little jarring. New terminology and things can do that to a person. But after about a chapter and a half, I zoomed right into the plot and I didn't want to stop. I didn't want to stop so bad that I plowed into the next book in the series, The Exiled Queen, because I just had to know what happened next. Which only means I'm going to have to wait extra long for the next book. At least I have The Warrior Heir in my TBR pile to tide me over.
The realms that Chima created is both wholly fantastic in its new self and at the same time grounded enough in our reality that I could stay connected to the story while reading it. The bits and pieces of the world that made it unique to itself blended seamlessly with the story. There wasn't any lingering on a single piece of anything to infodump. Anything that needed to be known about anything was woven into the story itself. Everything was a part of everything else and no single piece stood out any more than the rest. There was just enough newness to the world that I felt immersed in a whole different place as I was reading but the characters, their actions, their circumstances and their surroundings held me in place for how real they were. I felt that despite the fantasy land, it could have existed.
Raisa is probably one of my favorite YA heroines I've read yet. She's so strong-willed and opinionated but not obnoxiously so. She knows her place and yet at the same time somewhat (and not-so-somewhat) works quietly to fight against that. She strives to better herself. As much as she loves her mother, she doesn't want to be an ignorant or weak queen. She pushes people to push her because it'll make her that much stronger.
And I love just how blatant her sexuality is. Usually when you end up with any kind of king/queendom type of setting, there's an air of propriety attached. While she's not allowed to have boys in her room or anything, she speaks of kissing a multitude of boys as if it were nothing. She's not a slut but she's certainly not prudish, either. She has her limits, she knows them and she sticks to them. I love it.
And one can't help but love Han. Man, did he get the shit end of the stick in life. And while his and Raisa's paths cross pretty briefly in the overall length of the story, they remain with each other. Except Han doesn't know who's crossed his path. He's not matching the girl he's thinking about to the girl he loathes in the high tower. I'm anxiously awaiting the point when he finds out the two are one and the same.
I loved the history of this world that skimmed just under the surface of the plot and subplots. It made me want to know more. There's a political divide there; treason, treachery, hatred. I'd love to grab one of Speaker Jemson's history books and just sit and read for a while. Or even listen to old Lucius since he knows the real history of the Breaking. I also love how the revolt from on high is taking place so underhandedly. Sneaky bastards, those wizards!
I just can't say enough good about The Demon King. I really can't. The world is so vivid that I could dive right into it. The characters are so real I could almost touch them. The story pulled at me so strongly that at points I wanted to yell out to help the characters and I even got misty-eyed at a few other moments. Most importantly, The Demon King has me so excited for high fantasy that I'm totally jazzed to keep working on my own manuscript and dear god, I hope it can be at least a tenth as good as this is. Even if high fantasy isn't your thing, you need to read this one. The plot alone will suck you in. The world is just a gorgeous added bonus.