Times are hard in the mountain city of Fellsmarch. Reformed thief Han Alister will do almost anything to eke out a living for his family. The only thing of value he has is something he can’t sell—the thick silver cuffs he’s worn since birth. They’re clearly magicked—as he grows, they grow, and he’s never been able to get them off.
One day, Han and his clan friend, Dancer, confront three young wizards setting fire to the sacred mountain of Hanalea. Han takes an amulet from Micah Bayar, son of the High Wizard, to keep him from using it against them. Soon Han learns that the amulet has an evil history—it once belonged to the Demon King, the wizard who nearly destroyed the world a millennium ago. With a magical piece that powerful at stake, Han knows that the Bayars will stop at nothing to get it back.
Meanwhile, Raisa ana’Marianna, princess heir of the Fells, has her own battles to fight. She’s just returned to court after three years of freedom in the mountains—riding, hunting, and working the famous clan markets. Raisa wants to be more than an ornament in a glittering cage. She aspires to be like Hanalea—the legendary warrior queen who killed the Demon King and saved the world. But her mother has other plans for her—including marriage to a suitor who goes against everything the queendom stands for.
The Seven Realms tremble when the lives of Hans and Raisa collide, fanning the flames of the smoldering war between clans and wizards.
First in the series, The Demon King has blown me away with the writing and the world-building. This is also my first novel of the author, and I am an instant fan. The story takes some time to pick up, with the first half more devoted to setting up the world and introducing characters (too many characters, if you ask me) so it might be better to wade patiently through the start, but in the second, the story starts picking up. It is difficult to explain it in any other word than epic.
There is a world of two kinds of magic – the Vale wizards who practice High Magic and the Highland Clans that practice green magic, with a matrilineal monarchy that is being supported by these two magical races. The events of a millennium ago are the reasons for the bonds set between these three people, and their politics is a tightrope balance between the two. The wizards are powerful but they depend on the clans for their amulets, and though they control the Council, they are forbidden from marrying into the royal line. Naturally, some of them chafe against these restrictions and are trying to make a grab for power.
Raisa, the heir apparent, one of the centers of the plot – she is trying to groom herself into a strong queen, unlike her mother who is increasingly getting swayed by the High Wizard. She is also young and impulsive, and wants to be like every other girl who gets to have a courtship and romance, but the burden of her kingdom threatens to take away her choices. Han, on the other hand, is a charming reformed criminal, who is fostered by the clans and under their protection. He gets into the mess when he comes across one of the forbidden amulets that were seized from that millennium-ago event. His path crosses hers but they are unaware of each other’s roles and positions in this tangled web of politics, and power.
The world-building also lends to some fantastic characterization – the tug of war for power means that neither side is completely innocent. For now, the clans seem like the good guys because they care for Raisa and protect her and her Line, but they are also hiding secrets and trying to limit the power of the wizards. The wizards, for their part, right now seem like a power-grabbing unit but we have only a couple of examples to base that idea on. I am hoping, with the events towards the end propelling a couple of important characters to a magic training school, we get to see more complexity in the faction of the wizards. The romances are unpredictable for now, but I am definitely leaning towards Raisa and Amon, though that seems like a ship that might sink in future books – who knows? Right now, I am just enjoying the possibilities between the different characters.
The ending was a nice culmination of the two character threads of Raisa and Han, and I am excited to know how their paths will cross in the later books. For now, I am hyped about this series and definitely looking forward to devouring it over the next few days.