The Demon King

demonking By Cinda Williams Chima [LibraryThing]

Princess Raisa is the heir to the queendom of Fellsmarch, but all princess heirs seem to learn about is etiquette and flirting, when Raisa wants to know about politics, strategy, and the lives of her people. With war at the borders, unrest among the poor, and friction between the matriarchal clans and patriarchal wizards who make up the most powerful forces in Fellsmarch, she’d better learn fast. Meanwhile, ex-thief Han Alister just wants to put his past behind him and find his place in life, but when he comes into possession of an ancient, powerful amulet, he finds himself caught up in danger, court intrigue, and the part of his past even he doesn’t know.

I will say right off the bat that The Demon King is a terrible title. The demons in this book’s world don’t fit in at all with our popular conception of demons, and the character himself is a legend who doesn’t actually appear in the text (though it’s the first part of a trilogy, so who knows what the future holds?), so it’s a very misleading name that implies horror and the paranormal instead of high fantasy, and led me to put off reading my free copy until Tamora Pierce gave it a positive review on her blog. Since I always do what Tammy tells me to, I read it – and as usual, Tammy was right.

The great strength of The Demon King is its characters, and how wonderfully complex and well-rounded they are. Raisa is certainly your standard plucky princess, but she doesn’t want to go charging into battle just for the heck of it, or run off to marry for love. She is very practical about her role as the princess heir – her primary goal in the book is to learn more about the state of her queendom so that someday she can be a stronger queen than her rather vapid mother. Nor is she perfect – she’s woefully ignorant of the poverty in the city and the corruption in the Queen’s Guard, and she does tend to run headfirst into dangerous situations, as all good plucky protagonists do. She can be petulant and stubborn and very teenaged, and you like her even while you want to reach into the book and shake her.

Han, too, is likable yet flawed, and Amon, Raisa’s childhood BFF and bodyguard, is pretty much the best boy in the world, but what struck me the most was two supporting characters. Micah Bayar is a wizard who hates the clans; Reid Demonai is a clan warrior who hates the wizards. They are both wrong, and Micah (a more prominent character) certainly acts villainously – but their motivations are always understandable. They get a three-dimensional treatment that minor characters usually don’t, which is quite impressive.

I was also surprised – and pleased – by the fact that though Han and Raisa clearly have a romance in the works, they are both permitted to be interested in other people. Han has an ex-girlfriend from his thief days and a sort of nameless relationship with one of his good friends in the clans, while Raisa flirts with all the boys at court and particularly likes Micah and Amon. And why not? They’re sixteen! It’s rare to see a healthy, casual treatment of teenage sexuality like this, but I enjoyed it a lot.

My biggest problem with the book was that it was very, very slow, and very, very dense. Looking back over the plot, not a whole lot actually happens over the course of 500 pages, and it took me at least 150 of those pages to sort out the history of the country and all the warring factions. I still don’t have the neighboring countries straight. Chima has clearly put a lot of effort into worldbuilding (apparently this book exists in the same universe as her previous novels, but that doesn’t help me a lot, as I’ve never read anything else by her), and from what I can understand I like it, but I wish she’d simplify it a bit, or cut through some of the filler to give us more action (by which I mean things happening, not necessarily just fight scenes). Much of this book seems like it’s just setup for the rest of the trilogy.

On the whole, though, The Demon King earns a very solid four cupcakes, and I eagerly await the next installment.

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    7 Responses to “The Demon King”

    1. Nikki says:

      “It’s rare to see a healthy, casual treatment of teenage sexuality like this, but I enjoyed it a lot.” Um, that sounds a lot like you’re saying casual teenage sex is a good thing…I’m going to assume the best and assume you didn’t mean anything so horrible, but that’s how it sounds. And why not, you ask? Because it’s stupid, annoying, and shallow to flirt with EVERYBODY, as you say Raisa does. If I read this book, I’m fairly sure this issue would make me hate it. People SHOULD commit to just one person and restrict shows of affection to just that person. If you’re not old and mature enough to do that, you shouldn’t be involved in any kind of romance, however inconsequential. I’m not saying you must only have feelings for one person. It’s impossible to do that sometimes, having had past relationships, been divorced, widowed, etc. I AM saying you shouldn’t go around making physical and verbal displays of affection to multiple people. Call me old-fashioned or prudish or whatever, but I have strong beliefs about this.

    2. Jessica says:

      @Nikki: No, I said the treatment of sexuality is casual, which may have been a misleading word. What I mean is that Chima accepts that teenagers possess sexuality, and that it’s natural and nothing to be ashamed of or uncomfortable about (and, incidentally, that Raisa and the other girls own their sexuality just as much as the boys do). And while I agree with you that if you are in a committed relationship you shouldn’t be flirting with other people, Raisa isn’t, and in fact can’t be, because showing too much favor to one suitor would be, essentially, making a political statement and perhaps tying herself to marrying that suitor, which she is not ready to do. That said, she does enjoy chatting up, dancing with, and even kissing multiple boys, and quite frankly, as long as everyone involved knows what’s going on and is okay with it, I don’t see such innocent behavior as a problem. I like that this book suggests that it’s okay to like a boy, or several boys, when you’re only 16, and that it’s okay to enjoy physical expressions of that like. Everything doesn’t have to be life-or-death, true-love, Twilight-style serious.

    3. Nikki says:

      Well, that’s basically what you said before and I don’t have much to say except what I said before. But I’ll restate it anyway. If you’re not in a committed relationship, you shouldn’t be flirting with ANYONE, whereas if you are, you could flirt with your significant other. If you just toss around displays of affection, they lose all meaning and it won’t be special anymore when you display affection to someone you actually like/love. If Raisa can’t be in a committed relationship with someone she loves, she shouldn’t treat anyone as if she loves them, tossing out acts of love. It’s not innocent behavior at all. I find it horrible. And it doesn’t make it ok if everyone knows what’s happening and is ok with it. In polygamous marriages, everyone knows what’s happening and is ok with it. It’s still wrong though. And it doesn’t matter how old you are or what gender. Polygamy and “physical expressions of the like” to multiple people, are wrong. Twilight might not be my favorite book, but compared to THIS BOOK’S shallow treatment of love and affection, “life-or-death, true-love, Twilight-style serious” sounds pretty good.

    4. Jessica says:

      Nikki: While not flirting with anyone but your significant other may be what makes you comfortable and happy, it doesn’t work for everyone, and it’s not fair to declare your way is the way it should be across the board. Regardless of whether you are flirting with multiple people or have made a decision to live a polyamorous lifestyle (which, by the way, are such different things as to not really be comparable), if you and your partner(s) are happy, safe, and consensual, it is not anyone else’s place to judge. Unless you’re hurting someone, no one gets to tell you your expression of your sexuality is wrong.

    5. Nikki says:

      I have to disagree. I know what’s right and wrong, and it’s my right to say my opinion.

      I get the same arguments you gave from people who smoke pot. It makes them happy and they’re not hurting anyone, they say, so what’s the big deal? It’s just wrong. I know it and I’m gonna keep saying so.

      It’s the same here. A polyamorous lifestyle is wrong, even if the people involved are happy. You, in a sense, got after Twilight’s Edward for being so controlling of Bella, and I agreed it was wrong. But one could argue that it’s not your place to say he was wrong since he wasn’t hurting her (at least, she didn’t seem to mind or even notice it) and they were happy. But I think you were right to say Edward was too controlling.

      I’m guessing you also think homosexuality is ok. Well, I think it’s wrong, just like polygamy. Jesus Christ said that a husband and wife are one flesh. From that, I see that God considers marriage to be one person with another ONE person of the OPPOSITE sex FOREVER. And being young is no excuse not to take these things seriously. So kids should refrain from flirting with everyone, refrain from having sex before they’re married, etc.

      Usually, when people say things like I’ve just said, they get interpreted as hateful or whatever, but I don’t hate homosexuals or polygamists or potheads, and I don’t want anything bad to happen to them. I just think what they’re doing is wrong.

      I think it’s important to let people like me know that it’s ok to think this way. People get really sensitive about this kind of stuff, so thanks for being civil so far.

    6. Jessica says:

      I also appreciate that you have been civil; however, there is no way I can continue to be civil if we continue this conversation, so I am withdrawing now. For future reference, Active Voice is a gay-friendly site, so further comments about homosexuality being wrong will not be tolerated.

    7. […] Every time I review one of Cinda Williams Chima’s books, I wind up mentioning that they are overly long and super dense. Guess what? This one is too! So it’s supposed to be about Han and Raisa and their adventures at this school, right? It takes 192 pages to get them both to school. That’s an entire book! They bump into each other two pages later, but then don’t encounter each other again until page 384. That’s another entire book! I just. Like. Chima’s writing is compelling and I really enjoy the characters and the world-building, but Jiminy Cricket there is no reason it should be that long. Someone needs to edit these down to 400 pages. […]

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