Premise: Han Alister, a reformed street thief, and Princess Raisa ana’Marianna, Heir to the Fells, each struggle to deal with problems in their respective social circles. Han works hard to care for his family without the extra income of thieving; Raisa determinedly battles her advisers just to maintain a shred of her own identity. But when the High Wizard of the Fells hatches a plot to seize power from the Queendom, both teens are thrust into trouble that ranges far beyond themselves and their families.
I devoured The Demon King like I devoured Tamora Pierce’s fantasies when I was a teenager. I love sinking into an absorbing fantasy like this one.
What It’s Not: The Demon King won’t be everyone’s favorite style—the plots twists aren’t SO COMPELLING that you HAVE TO READ ON, like in The Hunger Games or The Maze Runner; there’s no dreamy quality to the romantic tension, like in Twilight; the voice isn’t particularly strong voice or laugh-out-loud humorous, like in works by Maggie Stiefvater; and although I liked Raisa, she doesn’t get many real adventures, like those enjoyed by Tamora Pierce’s lady knights and mages, or Lindsay Buroker’s heroines.
But even though the book doesn’t check every box for me, I’m still giving it five stars. It’s an unselfconscious, promising start to a YA High Fantasy series—it sets up a complex world with thoughtful, sensory-oriented prose and it manages to avoid the usual YA romantic pitfalls.
Things I Liked: (1) The strong setting and sensory details immediately drew me into the story. The writing is exact, descriptive and jam-packed with detail. (2) The worldbuilding is my favorite thing—it’s very well developed and layered in. No infodumps. And there are THREE OTHER BOOKS (!!! Yay!) in this series, which should further explore the politics, history and religion of the seven kingdoms. That’s half the fun of this book—knowing that it’s a great start to a four book high fantasy series. (3) There are some lovely character moments—fights, character immaturity, realistic questions about identity, etc. For example, “She was always eager to bring any argument to a close as quickly as possible, even if it meant throwing a bandage over a boil” (26). Good stuff. Also, the characters are very aware of their own stations and the station-specific problems they must overcome. And finally, romantic tensions don’t take over the story, as they do so often in YA. The characters juggle multiple infatuations, and I think that’s really healthy and realistic for a teen novel. No instalove thx.
Other Stuff: The only real complaint I have is that Han just kind of…mopes around…for much of the second half. It’s a little annoying. I wish his arc could have moved faster.
Recommendation: I think this book probably appeals to girls more than to boys, mostly because the action is slow and thoughtful, as opposed to quick and pulse-pounding—but some boys will probably like it.
Overall: This is definitely my favorite YA since I discovered Rosemary Sutcliff’s Frontier Wolf last summer. I hope further books will develop in psychological and moral complexity, although that would exceed my expectations. I do, however, fully expect the worldbuilding to grow more complex, and that’s really why I’m going to continue reading. (I already have book II in hand! Yippee!!) I enjoyed the sensory experience, and as long as the seven kingdoms continue to offer interesting conflicts, I will continue reading this series.