Melissa McShane's Reviews > The Demon King

The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima
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bookshelves: fantasy, epic-fantasy, young-adult-fantasy, not-my-thing

Adapted from my write-up for the YA/MG Book Battle and the comments on that post.

I'm not a huge fan of epic fantasy, but I enjoyed this very much. It's an extremely exciting story, everything you’d want from an epic fantasy: multiple viewpoint characters, dark magic, plots against the throne, and at least three factions all at odds with each other and the promise of more in books to come. I particularly like the strong worldbuilding and the fascinating backstory, with the intersection between legend and reality as the story of the Demon King is constantly called into question (and the truth of it was beautifully poignant on so many levels). Chima’s characters are interesting; she takes the stock figures of the rebellious princess and the outcast hero and gives them life enough that they’re archetypal rather than stereotypical, which I think is something epic fantasy often fails to do. I’m also a sucker for a good romance, and there are several in this book, not all of them healthy, but all of them perfect examples of how teens explore being in love. Also, one of the good things Chima does is give us a sort of mini-resolution at the end of this volume instead of leaving us with a cliffhanger, wrapping up one aspect of the story while opening up possibilities for something new. Han learning the truth about himself resolves the issue of why he doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere; Raisa being forced to flee resolves the question of her mother’s increasingly erratic behavior. I was definitely drawn into the story, and the ending sets up the next volume in the series well.

A few things kept me from really loving it, primarily what Chima did with her female protagonist Raisa. Raisa as a character is wonderfully multidimensional; her storyline is not. It is the all too familiar tale of an adventurous girl forbidden to be herself and forced to do girly things, and since the reader is meant to identify with the heroine, the implication is that those girly things are bad—and this ultimately teaches girls who are interested in domesticity that there’s something wrong with them. I am tired of seeing the empowerment of nontraditional femininity come at the cost of dismissing the traditional kind.

I would just have been disappointed that Chima took the easy road here if it hadn’t been clear that she was willing to sacrifice good sense to achieve that adventurous-girl trope. Raisa is the heir to a queendom, and they’re not giving her queening lessons? In all Raisa’s griping about what she’s being taught, there’s never a mention of learning geopolitical history or the basics of strategy; if she gets it, she gets it second-hand. I simply don’t believe that Raisa not being taught to rule is solely the fault of the man who wants to insinuate himself onto the throne; nobody says anything like “wow, she’s sure not getting taught like her mother the queen was” to suggest that this is a new development engineered by Gavan Bayar. Yet Raisa’s mother, even in her enthralled state, has a good grasp of politics, and she had to learn that somewhere—so where is Raisa supposed to get it, if her mother isn’t providing it? The only thing this omission does is reinforce the image of Raisa chafing at unfair restrictions meant to stifle her personality, and I fault the author for not trusting her characterization enough. When Raisa’s plot is compared with Han’s, with its complexity of someone searching desperately for his place in the world, the difference is even more striking. Given that Raisa’s plot is half the story, that was too big for me to get past.

Something else I couldn't get past--and this is a personal quirk, I'm sure--is how Chima is so good with characterization and then just throws away her secondary characters. I was really excited at the beginning, when Han's friend Dancer confronts a cocky young wizard in a way that hints that Dancer is more than he seems. I thought Chima was going to do something unusual and make Dancer the hero, with protagonist Han trailing along behind until his true destiny is revealed. But, no, at the end we learn Han is the one who has the fabulous destiny, and all of Dancer's storyline just gets stepped on in the process of that revelation. And don't get me started on Amon. I think I love Chima's side characters more than she does, which makes it uncomfortable for me to see their potential go to waste.

So, in the end, this is a very good book with a few flaws that, ultimately, isn't my thing.
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Reading Progress

March 4, 2014 – Started Reading
March 4, 2014 – Shelved
March 6, 2014 – Finished Reading

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