”The world was full of secrets, apparently, but maybe he didn’t need to know them all.”
Okay, everyone can put away the pitchforks and flamethrowers away, I did end up loving it. And I’m looking warily at my galley pile because this series has the potential to take over my life for the next couple of days should I choose to let it.
First book in High/Epic Fantasy series are tough to judge solely on its merits. Because more often than not, the merits are pretty boring. If you’re lucky enough and the author has a clear map of where he/she intends to take the story and how she will get there, first books are often burdened with info dump, setting up the pieces, the landscape, building characters and your affinity for them out of nowhere.
The Demon King isn’t really different in this aspect. From the blurb, I had an idea how the story will be pulled together, and true enough, my estimate wasn’t far off. Except it didn’t happen until 40% into the story. Before that mark, it was a slow, confusing struggle. The details were intricate, micromanaged and conversely intimidating for a series entitled The Seven Realms (Seven?! Of all that minutiae?!). There are clans and factions to keep track of, each with focus characters of varied agendas and motivations. There are traditions to remember, history to distinguish from lore and the socio-political climate all of these facets impacts on. It should be overwhelming but this cleverly employed some familiarity for me to identify with. Han’s story is very Aladdinesque. Bayar the High Wizard is reminiscent of Rasputin. The clans folk and their values echoes Native American lore. And soon enough it became easy to keep pace with. I liked how Williams Chima incorporated these details into a fantasy story that moves in a languid glide, low on the suspense but with a plot bigger than a missing amulet, a bratty princess, a reformed thief and an honourable guard.
I found Amon, Raisa and Han promising in what I’ve seen of each. They are imperfect but not so ghastly as to make me give up on them this early or make me wonder if its some reverse form of cheating where the author makes a character so shitty early on just so they can be redeemed in the glorious manner midway through. Something about Williams Chima’s writing comforts me that we’r not going that way. She’s not flamboyant, her narrative isn’t quotable (yet) but real; the dialogue consistent with the personality of the character.
Raisa/Briar Rose/Rebecca Morley can be a challenge to like here. She has her vanities: she likes to throw around her title to get her way, she can be cruel and shallow. I had issues with how her relationship with Amon and her father can easily be reflective of her mother’s and Bayar’s. Here, she echoes her father and Amon’s fears and opinions. She lets her childhood sentimentality (with Amon) and underhanded rebellious streak (against her mother) colour her point of view somehow. But I like that she asks questions, examines her options and has enough self-awareness to second-guess her purpose.
”What’s the true nature of loyalty, she wondered. Is it like a gown you put on that disappears when you take it off? Does anyone look beyond the finery? Could anyone in the queendom take her place, given the right accessories?”
And she can basically make any man in Fellsmarch her bitch should she be inclined. To a certain degree, she did exactly that here, and I can’t help but plant some fangirl seeds in my heart for this lady.
I’m a little surprised how little conflict Amon had in this book. He’s fiends with Raisa, his father is the Captain of the Guard, he has yet to finish schooling and yet he waltzes his way back to court well into a corporal position among the guards. How is nepotism not an issue here? I found him quite passive and a token representative of the middle class (why is there no middle class in the flatlands? Everyone’s either poor or a royal?) but that development midway through will certainly make for some interesting subplots down the line. It’s almost like buying some tickets for the coming feels train.
Han/Cuffs Alister/Hunts Alone… it’s hard to say anything objective about him because I think I’ve been conditioned to root for this guy even before I started reading this book The reformed street lord, trying to make ends meet for his Mam and his sister through honest means. A ward of the Marisa Pines clan cursed to see the things that he can’t have, see his friends find their places in a world that doesn’t even recognise him.
Han might fancy himself a powerful street lord, but in truth, the bit of swag he’d managed to tai off the rich was mere crumbs from their table - so little as to be scarcely noticed. For that he’d been beaten in the streets, pitched into gaol, hunted all his life.
He’s a bonafide nobody, a bit of an honourable loser. Who wouldn’t root for that bastard?! I did feel it got a little too heavy-handed on the pity-party drama towards the end, but it certainly led to more interesting twists for this character so not complaining much.
I love the unifying theme of choice among these characters and how each are caught in circumstances a different points in the story that takes that freedom away from them: Raisa by her birthright, Han by his poverty and Amon by his duty. It served as an effective vehicle to best illustrate their evolution from the first chapter to the last.
It’s been a while since I last wanted to just hunker down and finish a series in one go. There are books that you suspect are planting emotional time bombs meant to detonate a bit further on down the line… This was a minefield.