Meg’s Review: The Demon King and The Exiled Queen by Cinda Williams Chima
Cinda Williams Chima has some sort of strange voodoo hold on me. When I picked up her first novel, The Warrior Heir (blame the pretty cover), I found it to be rather lackluster in narrative. I then proceeded to pick up her second book, The Wizard Heir, for reasons that I believe had to do with extreme summer boredom. I picked up her third book, The Dragon Heir, because by that time she had her crazy witch talons dug in so deeply that I couldn’t walk away even though the books were, to put it succinctly, boring as hell.
Fast-forward two years and I’m in a Barnes & Noble and believe myself to be Chima-free for life. And then I see the cover for The Demon King and my first thought is, “Oh God, it’s more Chima. Walk away, Meg. Walk away! WHY ARE YOU REACHING FOR THE BOOK? No. Don’t open the cover. No, no. Man, you’re an idiot.”
But I was already hooked, doomed to start another boring Chima series.
And then, much to my utter surprise, the book was completely delightful. It was like God had put “The Heir Chronicles” series into Chima’s head by way of pre-emptive karma. Write a crappy series, and He shall bequeath upon you a gem of a novel.
The Demon King is the first book of young adult high-fantasy series, The Seven Realms. It boasts parallel narratives of Raisa ana’Marianna, Princess Heir of Fellsmarch, and Hanson “Cuffs” Alistair, former gang leader and current teenage flotsam. While their paths do cross once, the stories actually remain fairly separate, with Raisa attempting to undercover a political plot and Han dodging one attempt on his life after another.
Here’s the thing: Raisa should be a really boring character. Like, really boring. Princess-who-has-so-many-people-in-love-with-her-and-who-wants-to-go-out-among-the-people-and-do-good boring. Instead, she’s lively and feisty while never quite forgetting that she is privileged and entitled to quiet a bit of bossing people around. She is a fully realized character, perhaps even more so than Hanson. The former gangbanger himself is far from short on personality. His sharp wit and self-deprecating demeanor are played to just the right level of ridiculous. He is a master manipulator, always keeping situations right on the edge of teetering out of control.
What Chima does so well in the novel is character placement. Both Raisa and Han’s stories are very small pieces to a much larger overall world. The queendom of The Fells is not an active participant in the war that is ravaging the rest of the realm. And Han is just a lowly street rat for all intents and purposes—his role in the fate of The Fells and the world as a whole are a long time to be realized, leaving Chima plenty of narrative to spool out the tensions between wizards and the common man. The characters exist within the world; the world does not exist simply to be scenery for them to walk through.
The second book in the series is The Exiled Queen. I enjoyed it too, if to a lesser extent, but as a bigot towards all second books, I’ve decided to review it in a single paragraph: They go to school. Nothing really happens except Han and Raisa make out, and I’m not sure if that’s a good thing because they are technically distantly related. The ending is remarkably abrupt.
Still, it’s clear that Chima is meant to write high fantasy. The world she’s created is vibrant, full of historical tidbits to be dug up and treasured. Her characters are all superb, from Raisa and Han to the lesser characters such as Amon Byrne (on whom I maaaaay have a bit of a literary crush). The Seven Relams is such a head above her “Heir Chronicle” series that it’s a shock. But a delightful one.
I’m impatiently awaiting August, when the third novel, The Grey Wolf Throne, hits stores.