The Demon King is a fantasy novel set in a different world that focuses mainly on two different characters: Han and Raisa. Hanson (“Han”) Alister is just a common teenage boy trying to make an honest living to provide for his mother and sister, or so he thinks. He has unusual silver cuffs that wrap around both of his wrists and won’t come off no matter how he tries to have them removed. For this he is given the nickname “Cuffs” in the city, and has a reputation for being a Streetlord, the head of a gang called the Raggers, that he would rather put behind him. He tries to do so by staying at Marisa Pines, a campsite for the clan: the group of people who use green magic, but are also traders and craftsmen. However, he can never seem to stay out of trouble for long: this is demonstrated when he and his friend Fire Dancer come across a group of young wizards. Unknowingly, Han will take one of their amulets, intending at first just to sell it, but it will end up changing his life forever. Raisa is a princess and will someday be the queen, but she feels more trapped than ever by her mother, the current queen, who is constantly taking the advice of the High Wizard Gavan Bayar. Raisa wants the freedom to be young and make her own decisions about whom she will marry. She also wants to learn about what is happening in her own kingdom as she has lived a very sheltered life at the palace.
The Demon King is just the first in The Seven Realms series and predictably takes the position as the “world-building” novel. However, this did not necessarily diminish the value of the novel or my enjoyment of it. The characters were interesting and well drawn, with particular attention to the two protagonists whose points of view we are given in alternating chapters. Overall, I thought that the structure of the novel was very dense, but it was sewn together in a way that still made me want to turn the pages. The story especially begins to pick up at the one point where Raisa’s and Han’s stories intersect. As with the novel Legend by Marie Lu, I found this part of the story (the part where the two protagonists meet and spend a short length of time together without really knowing who the other is) to be the most interesting. I see some striking similarities in both situations. These two main protagonists have stories that are for the most part separate, but are also similar in that they are both struggling to form or establish their identity. When they meet, although it may initially be with conflict or conflicted feelings, this serves as a brief unveiling of the romantic possibilities between the characters, although that may have no place in this part of the novel or in this book of the series. In this way, the author can set up these possibilities and give readers a taste of what is perhaps to be, but without ending the series or the story prematurely. While I find this plot device to be helpful to the building of a series, I do have to say that it is what makes me yearn for stand-alone books even more. To me, that scenario has been the most interesting and well-written in both Legend and The Demon King. However, that being said, The Demon King is a very comprehensive first novel in a fantasy series. I am definitely interested in finishing the other novels in the series. I found the setting of the fantasy world to be excellently established. I especially thought that the psychology and structure of the gangs in the fictional city and how they mirror the gangs in our own world to be very interesting. Cinda Williams Chima is wonderful at building worlds with magic and magical possibilities, but that incorporate very real problems and real emotions that are encountered in our own real lives.
I also really enjoyed her other Heir series as well, especially The Wizard Heir.