(*Some aspects of the narrative below have been changed—but keep in mind that fiction mirrors truth.)
THE DEMON KING
When I reserved this title at my library, I didn’t really think twice about how its title might affect other Believers’ opinions about me if they saw me reading it. In all honesty, the title didn’t give me a single moment’s pause until, while reading, a Christian friend interrupted my bliss.
“Whatcha reading?” He looked at the graphic on the front, an amulet featuring a coiled serpent hanging in the forefront over a back drop of a fog-drenched mountain range (yes, it’s cool), then tilted the cover so he could read the sideways capital letters which proclaimed the author’s name and, larger, the title. “THE DEMON KING.” His lips moved across the syllables and, with a quick intake of breath his eyebrows flew to his hairline and he pulled his hand away from the book jacket as if it had burned him.
Heh, heh, heh.
(That, my friends, is the sarcastic sound of my internal monologue’s “sucka!” laugh. With just a tinge of my evil laugh thrown in for good measure. Perhaps I should have written it “Heh, heh, heh--bwuah-ha-hah!”??)
Internally, I chuckled (see above) and rolled my eyes, thinking, “Here we go….” and prepared to get out my GREAT DEFENDER OF FICTION soapbox to stand upon. Externally, however, I just replied, “Wild title, huh? I love this author. I’ve read all of her books.” And went back to reading. Probably a good call, because sometimes all the soapboxing in the world is not enough to overcome a person’s prejudice.
I have read Chima’s other works, (The Warrior Heir, The Wizard Heir, and The Dragon Heir) and was excited to see a new title by this exciting “new” author. I love being pulled into an alternate reality via a fantasy novel, and Chima has yet to disappoint me.
THE DEMON KING is a great, eye-catching title for a fantasy buff--but a little bit misleading. The Demon King is a colloquialism for legendary Queen Hanalea’s husband who went a little wacko and ended up causing a bit of mayhem. But his story isn’t really THE story.
(And, yes, in case you were wondering, a certain 1970s folksong came to mind each time I read the legendary queen’s name—also the name of a mountain in the Queendom’s geography--. Most of Chima’s intended audience, however, are too young to remember that particular dragon and the name of the land in which he originated.)
As I was saying before Peter, Paul and Mary distracted me, the story itself does not belong to the title character, it belongs to three young characters, Han, aka: Cuffs, the reforming former leader of a street gang, The Princess Heir, Raisa who is being courted by a young wizard as a means for the wizards to regain their lost power in the Queendom, and Amon, Raisa’s childhood friend and bodyguard.
Chima’s former books took place within a magical sub context of our modern world, but THE DEMON KING is pure genre fantasy—the beginning of an epic tale which happens in other time, another place, another reality. With a thoroughly visual cast of minor characters, including mages, warriors, metalworkers, street urchins, and royalty, each with his or her own distinct voice, Chima’s world-building talents have come into their own in this first installment of The Seven Realms series. And her main characters? Love ‘em!
Han, aka “Cuffs”, aka “Hunts Alone” depending upon the company he keeps, is sixteen and tortured by his past, his duty, and the tragic “bad luck” which has seemed to grab hold of him as tightly as the irremovable silver cuffs which have encircled his wrists since infancy. He’s all boy and all teenager, but with the hard-edged maturity and skill which comes from fighting for survival in the streets. Han feels as if he has no place in the world and, after a near-disastrous run-in with a couple of cocky young wizards in the forest, he steals a magical amulet, eschewing the young wizards’ warnings of its power to kill him and secretly takes it for himself and hides it away. When its owner realizes the amulet has been lost, everything and everyone Han loves is put in mortal danger.
Princess Raisa has just returned from being fostered by her father’s clan in the mountains. Skilled in metalwork as well as some warrior training, Raisa is bored to tears sitting in the palace and attending to her mother, The Queen’s, insistence on proper education—all of which seems trite and meaningless to this girl who longs for adventure. During Raisa’s training with his clan, her father has also been absent from court and Raisa is troubled by the way the Queen has changed in his absence. The Monarch seems to be all-too-well acquainted with, enthralled, as it were, with the High Wizard, her most powerful advisor—a man who gives Raisa the creeps. As Raisa’s sixteenth birthday arrives, and her official naming as the Crown Princess with it, suitors line up for their chance to have influence over Raisa’s throne. One of those suitors is Micah Bayer, the son of the High Wizard, but his suit is forbidden—which makes him all the more diverting to Raisa. But Raisa is loyal to the kingdom and has no desire to marry Micah, nor anyone else at such a young age. She plans much more adventure before settling into the political life. The princess's quest for adventure and meaning leads her straight into Han’s violent path.
It could be argued that Amon is a minor character, but Chima spends considerable time building his importance in Raisa’s life, in the past, present, and future and also intersects Amon’s comings and goings with Han and, through that, Han with Raisa. Although we do not get to know Amon as thoroughly as we do Han and Raisa, he is a loyal and romantic character and it is clear that he will play a major role in future Seven Realms Novels.
I hope people of faith will not judge this book by its title and allow their children to read it. Put aside your fear and give it a chance. Read it for yourself and see there is no danger to your soul. THE DEMON KING is a tale of good vs. evil, of light vs. darkness, of power and corruption vs. goodness and bravery. It's an epic of personal transformation. To write this book off due to preconceived notions—prejudice—based upon its title is, in my opinion excessive bigotry and cowardice. Come on, people! Bravo to Cinda Williams Chima--a gifted storyteller who writes with the restraint and freedom due her audience. Give this author a chance and I doubt you will be sorry. There is nothing morally offensive within her books. (If you find something that trips your prude-o-meter, however, please do let me know so I can practice rolling my eyes.)
My recommendation? Read THE DEMON KING with caution… not because of soul-endangering content, but, rather, because you will be tempted to let the dishes sit in the sink and the laundry to build up in the basket until you turn the final page. And, lest you get the wrong idea, please be aware that you will be frustrated at the end. THE DEMON KING is a new release in a new series… and the last page leaves you drooling for its sequels.
Let Ms. Chima tell you more in her own words. Watch the book trailer at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QEtfteO-9dU