The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima
published October 2009 by Hyperion
506 pages (hardcover), YA
First, I'd like to apologize to myself for having waited so long to read this book. I admit that the length scared me and that I returned it to the library a few times without reading it. Young adult novels are just too darn long - my happy place is at about 250 pages, so I think my hesitation was at least a little justified.
Except that I read, I devoured, this book in a day and a half. Besides eating and a little bit of sleeping, I devoted myself to this story, and I can't imagine having read it in any other way. For a short though incomplete plot summary, check out my Goodreads review (scroll down to my updates) because I can't do that here. Here I must just gush.
There are some books that are totally captivating - can't put them down, forget about the real world, this is more important. I should not be surprised that Chima has done it yet again for me. Her Warrior/Wizard/Dragon Heir trilogy hooked me. I knew that The Demon King would be good. But I didn't know that it would be THAT good. I have to confess that I probably don't give fantasy stories and authors as much credit as they deserve. In the end, I'm happy with a story where I can escape to new worlds, meet fairies and princesses, and travel back home safely and at a distance from it all. I don't consider these books life-changing, other than the fact that they give me peace and comfort, and when I think about award-winning books, fantasies don't generally make it. But those opinions are behind me now, and I hope that others can begin to see the value of these stories based on the creativity and skill it takes to create such complex situations and characters.
Back to the book, The Demon King is a story with many stories. It takes place in the Seven Realms where magic and earth-bound gifts must balance each other. Where a queen may rule with a High Wizard at her side but where wizards must be limited in their power by the clans and their matriarchs. Princess Raisa is the young heir to the queendom, dually interested in play and duty. She has spent her whole life in Fellsmarch Castle, rarely drifting past its walls. One act of kindness sends her into a shady neighborhood, and then kidnapped by a former streetlord who is trying his best to keep himself and his family alive. Han Alister sees himself as a nobody, but everyone else recognizes him as a somebody - someone to fear, someone to catch, and someone to believe in. These are mere glimpses into The Demon King, meaningless without context, without the superior word-work of Chima. How she weaves together these two characters' stories so seamlessly is beyond me. Just as I was getting to know Han and his meager life, I was swept away into the Castle to meet Princess Raisa, a sweet girl with good intentions and also with a strong head on her shoulders and instinct for trouble. She's powerless but cunning, and she won't sit back and let things happen around her. Such depth in these characters! I feel I'm getting to a rambling point, so I'll just say that I loved this book in more ways than I can convey and will undoubtedly read it again before the second book in the trilogy is released. Yeah, it's a trilogy. Oh, how I love those trilogies.
And I was right - this book does indeed make it to my Best of 2009 list.