The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima (Hyperion, 2009)
I'd actually read the sequel, The Exiled Queen, before I dived into The Demon King, so I worried a little that this story might seem predictable.
You always risk that with prequels, but I loved The Exiled Queen so much that I couldn't resist heading back to where it all began. I was glad I did and have since gone to read all four books in the series.
Princess Raisa, who is nearing her sixteenth name day, expects to be married off to a suitor of the queen's choosing in order to build an international alliance in unsettled times of war. That's pretty much how it works with royalty, and her own preferences probably won't come into it.
Hot kisses with dangerous young wizard Micah Bayar give way to the deeper, more painful, but not yet fully understood love for her childhood friend and now bodyguard, Corporal Amon Byrne. The monarchic line extends via women in this fictional universe, so Raisa will take the throne after her mother. She's a real catch in the marriage market, even though she wishes to defer that sort of commitment until she's properly into adulthood.
Meanwhile, former street lord Han 'Cuffs' Allister has very different challenges of his own to meet, including where to find enough money to feed his mother and younger sister and how to escape from the gangs who love nothing better than to shake him down and snatch the coppers he has in his purse. Almost as soon as he manages to get ahead by snatching a powerful amulet from Micah Bayar, he's weighed down with cares again.
The Demon King is sword-and-sorcery fantasy, but there is more magic than swordplay at work here. Cinda William Chima's target audience is in the teen-to-young-adult range, something that remains true of the sequel, but even as a mature adult I really enjoyed the characterisation, world building detail and action.
I particularly enjoy fantasy with a side helping of romance, so this was right up my street. In a fantasy universe young people grow up fast, so it actually felt that the main characters were grown adults. Han Allister is wise beyond his years after growing up in a rough part of town, and Raisa's life, while almost entirely different to his, has always been one of duty and responsibility.
Both the main characters were intensely likeable. The pacing was excellent, both within the book itself and across what would turn out to be a four-book series. The plot device that saw Han and Raisa cross paths, at least temporarily, was smoothly delivered. It is essential to the path of subsequent books that they meet early, but in mysterious circumstances.
It wasn't easy, even in a fluid fantasy universe, to find a credible way for two such different people to come into contact with each other for long enough to make a genuine emotional connection, but the way it was achieved here really spurred on my enjoyment of the novel.
The Demon King was quite a long book as fantasy romance novels go, but I liked that about it because there was plenty of space of character development alongside detailed world building. The latter is essential to good fantasy writing, the former essential to romance, and it was lovely to enjoy the characters getting to know each other before spinning off into different social environments again by the end.
Raisa's dilemma was very real and made her an intensely sympathetic character. Han was brave and scrappy, mischievous but also decent to his mother and sister, and to his friend Dancer. A true diamond in the rough.
Thank you for reading my review of The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima. I'll be back on Monday. In the meantime, please share your thoughts in the comments section.
If you fancy something different, you might like to take a chance on my review of Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie here.