Review written by Jennifer Lewis.
The Demon King is the first of four books in the Seven Realms series. Raisa is heir to the Gray Wolf Throne of the Fells. After returning from 3 years with her father’s family in Demonai Camp, Raisa discovers that Queen Marianna has become something of a pawn in the games played by the members of the Wizard Council, particularly the high wizard, Lord Gavan Bayar.
Han Alister, known as “Cuffs” to the street gangs of Fellsmarch because of the silver bracelets he’s had since birth, runs afoul of some underage wizards, including Gavan Bayar’s son Micah, wielding power they cannot control. Han and his friend Dancer confiscate their amulet (the talisman wizards need to channel their power), and Han discovers the amulet belonged to the Demon King who nearly destroyed the world with his magic. Unfortunately, the Bayars also know this and will stop at nothing to get the powerful amulet back.
SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid
There is no sex in this book. There are some steamy scenes between Raisa and Amon (a guard at the castle) and Raisa and Micah, but the book does not go beyond kissing and flushed cheeks. At one point, Raisa is kidnapped by Han and expresses concern that he might “ravage” her (the Fellsmarch word for rape). Nothing resembling ravaging takes place.
Violence is sprinkled throughout this book. There are magically controlled creatures attacking gang leaders in Fellsmarch (looking for the missing amulet), street fighting amongst gangs, a scene where Raisa sticks a flaming torch in the eye of an abusive jailer as she escapes, and a point where the city guards burn down a building with two people trapped inside. It does not dominate the book, but it is indeed present.
Han comes from a very poor family, and there are hints that his mother beats him when they cannot afford food.
Portrayal of family and relationships
Family relationships of all sorts are covered in this book. Han’s mother may love him, but she is verbally and sometimes physically abusive. In contrast, Han’s relationship with his sister is one of total devotion. Han also feels like part of his friend Dancer’s family, and sees Dancer’s mother Willow as an important figure in his life. Raisa’s family relationships face the typical stress of being a royal family. One interesting relationship manifests in the dedication to the queens by one member per generation of the royal guard; their devotion, love, and loyalty for the queens is stronger than that of a family member.
There is much tension between the clans (e.g., Dancer’s family, the Demonai where Raisa’s father is from) and the Wizards. This stems from the Breaking when the wizards, led by the Demon King, almost destroyed the world. Now, the clans control the artifacts the wizards need to channel their magic, which has led to a strain in the relationship between the two. Occasionally, this leads to conversations that hint at racism towards either the clans or the wizards.
There is definite class distinction between Raisa and Han. Han represents the majority of Fellsmarch as he struggles to find food, must scrape by to get what little he has, and when his sister gets sick, they cannot afford to take her to the doctor. This is in contrast with Raisa who has every material need met. When Raisa realizes this, she works to assist the people of her queendom.
The overall tone can be a bit heavy. People are starving in Fellsmarch, the queen is being controlled by a wizard fueled by his own desires, Han is discovering the darkness in his past. This is balanced by the intriguing storyline filled with political intrigue at a level appropriate for younger audiences.
I enjoyed the strong female character revealed in Raisa. It was refreshing to consider a country where queens rules the land and were treated as equals. Having Han compliment the story did not weaken her role and made for a richer plot.
It was delightful to see the different components of the plot laid out through this book and brought together in a satisfying way towards the end while leaving many arenas open for exploration in the next book, The Exiled Queen.
Amazon recommends ages 10 and up for this book. I was comfortable letting my 12 year old read it, but I would probably want to read it with my 10 year old to talk through the concepts that come up.
The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima
Published in 2009 by Hyperion Books
Book 1 of the Seven Realms series, followed by The Exiled Queen, The Gray Wolf Throne, and The Crimson Crown
Read the paperback