Han Alister is a reformed streetlord trying to earn money to take care of his mother and little sister. He gathers rare plants to sell at market, carries news and mail up and down the mountain, and runs alcohol from Lucius Frowsley’s still down to taverns in Fellsmarch. Life would be a lot simpler if he could sell the one thing of value he owns—rune-covered silver cuffs that have been on his wrists as long as he can remember. They have magical properties, for they grow as he grows. And he’s never been able to get them off.
After an unsuccessful day of plant gathering, Han and his clan friend Fire Dancer decide to hunt deer instead. They run into three wizards—too young to be working magic—who have set fire to the meadow in an attempt to drive the deer down the mountain where the Queen and her entourage are set to begin a hunt. An altercation ensues and Han has to stop one of the wizards from jinxing Dancer. At bow point, he forces the wizard to throw down the amulet that is the focus for his magic. Han’s possession of the amulet sets a series of deadly events in motion and his difficult life becomes much worse.
Fifteen-year-old Raisa ana‘Marianna is the heir to the Gray Wolf throne of the Fells. After spending three years with her father’s clan family in the mountains, she’s back at Fellsmarch Castle feeling trapped by her royal duties and throng of suitors. The High Wizard has too much influence with her mother, the Queen, and Raisa has had a premonition that there is danger ahead. She also wants to be a more informed queen than her mother and so convinces her friend Amon to take her into the city in disguise.
It is there, late at night, where our protagonists meet. And not under the best of circumstances. Han has been accused of murders he didn’t commit and is desperate. In an attempt to get away, he kidnaps Raisa, not realizing she’s the princess. And she doesn’t tell him. He releases her the next day, but not before more complications arise. From there to the end of the book, these two characters are on a trajectory to meet again as their individual circumstances become more dire.
I’m a huge fan of fantasy and decided to pick up The Demon King because I enjoyed Chima’s contemporary young adult fantasy series, The Heir Chronicles. Han and Raisa’s story doesn’t disappoint. Be aware, however, that it is part of a series and the second book, The Exiled Queen, only recently came out. I imagine the third book won’t be in print until fall of 2011. If you don’t mind waiting, I recommend reading this one right away.
Chima does a wonderful job with world building. There are a couple of fantasy staples that will feel familiar—the native tribal people, the monarch under the influence of evil magic—but Chima pulls it off with unique magical twists and compelling characters. I’m ready to dive into The Exiled Queen.
For more information on Cinda Williams Chima and her books, check out her website: www.CindaChima.com.