The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima

The Demon King (Seven Realms #1) by Cinda Williams Chima
Published in 2009 by Hyperion Books.

Links: Goodreads.

Source: purchased (paperback).

Genre: YA high fantasy.

My rating:

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…

The Seven Realms tremble when the lives of Hans and Raisa collide, fanning the flames of the smoldering war between clans and wizards.


I am intensely grateful to this book because it ended my reading slump that lasted almost two months. It came highly recommended by Maraia, whom I’ve come to trust implicitly when it comes to fantasy recommendations. (She also told me to read Daughter of the Forest, one of the best books I read in 2015.)

I like the fact that this series is already finished so I can read it at my leisure. There are four parts, which seems perfectly manageable – I’m not fond of extremely long series because they almost always start dragging after a while.

I was impressed by the world building of the Seven Realms. Even though most of the action is divided between the city of Fellsmarch and the Marisa Pines clan camp, the history, the geography, and the society are all very well constructed. I dislike massive infodumps when it comes to the description of worlds and magic systems but Chima does a good job incorporating the setting into the action.

The protagonists were great, too. We meet Raisa, the princess and future queen of the realm, as she’s nearing her 16th birthday, which marks her eligibility for marriage. She was fostered with her father’s relatives, the Demonai camp, who are fierce warriors, so she finds the courtly life chafing and boring. But she begins to realize that a lot is happening in her country that she doesn’t know about and wonders whether she can be a good queen without knowing her land and people. 

Han is the former streetlord of a district in Fellsmarch, but has left the illegal life behind him and is trying to keep his mother and sister alive by honest means. He spends a lot of time living at the Marisa Pines clan camp though he’s not sure why the clan would welcome a boy like him. He wears silver cuffs that nobody seems to be able to remove from his hands – he’s had them ever since he can remember and they seem to be growing with him.

Their stories seem far removed at first but Chima does a great job of twining their fates together. I liked how Raisa realized that she’s been taking her royal status for granted and begins to think about what makes a queen. They both grow up and change, which is something I value immensely – YA novels (or any novels, really) where the characters never learn anything are never my favourites. 

The villains of the story are believable, too, and seem horrible enough. The mood of both Han’s and Raisa’s point of view corresponds well to the imminent danger – and the sense of doom is palpable. It made for a very fast read and made me finish the book in three days. 

I’m looking forward to reading the second part, The Exiled Queen, as soon as possible. I’ve heard it’s really good! 


Have you read The Demon King (and the rest of the series)? 

What did you think?

I’d love to hear from you! :)

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  • Jolien @ The Fictional Reader

    I’ve had this book on my shelf for about 2 years now! I still haven’t read it, even though I’ve heard such good things about it. I’m going to try and prioritize it though. I like what you said about the characters learning and growing. That’s really important to me in a novel too. Great review!

    • Well, if you have it already, I think it’s worth giving it a try, I really liked it! And yeah, character growth and development – especially in YA – is so important. I dislike characters who keep repeating the same mistakes!
      Thanks! :)

  • I’ve been meaning to read this series FOREVER! I’m so glad you loved this one. It reminded me that I need to read this. Also, YAY for ending your reading slump.

    • I’d definitely give it a try if I were you. I heard the rest of the series only gets better, so I’m looking forward to it!

  • I’ve owned a copy of this book for YEARS now and despite the fact that I KNOW I’ll love it, and ALL of the positive reviews I’ve read for it, I have yet to pick it up. Your words here might just be what gets me going though so thank you for that Kaja^^ I love that this got you out of a slump, the characters and the world sound wonderful!! Lovely review, as always ♥

    • Ooh, if you already have it, I’d definitely give it a try. It’s a really fast read, too! I think you might like it a lot (I hope you do, anyway). :)
      And yeah, I’m really happy my slump is over, too, it was pretty awful, reading mediocre books that I didn’t really enjoy.
      Thanks for stopping by! :)

  • Maraia

    I’m so glad this worked out for you! Especially since you were in a reading slump, which easily could have led to you hating the book. The series keeps getting better, so if you liked the first book, I have no doubt you’ll like the rest. I didn’t realize how much I’d forgotten until I listened to the audiobook last month, so I definitely want to finish audio re-reading this year.

    • YES, thank you for recommending it! :) I was afraid the slump would kill all my enjoyment, too, but it flowed perfectly. I really like Raisa! :)

      I can imagine the series would work well in audiobook form if the narrator is good. I’m really looking forward to The Exiled Queen, it’s on my to-buy list already.

      • Maraia

        I actually didn’t think the audiobook narrator was too great, unfortunately. I think it will be okay for a re-read, but I probably wouldn’t recommend the audiobook to someone reading the series for the first time.

  • Glad to hear this one got you out of your slump. I just finished my first five-star review of the year and am so ecstatic to have finally picked up a book that was so great. Let’s hope this is one is the beginning of a slew of wonderful books you pick up this year. It’s been a while since I read this book, so I may have to revisit it soon before continuing.

    • Yeah, I’m having better luck in March than I did in February. What book did you give 5 stars? I read SO MANY good books in 2015, it was really quite an exceptional reading year, so I’m hoping 2016 will turn around as well – it’s certainly looking better.

      I often feel like I’d need to re-read the beginning of a series before starting on the sequel(s) – I let too much time pass before I continue with the rest of the series, it’s always a problem. I’m planning of picking up the sequel to this one soon to avoid this!

      • I gave five stars to Alwyn Hamilton’s Rebel of the Sands (my review will be up tomorrow). I had such a great time reading it.

  • I’ve been wondering about this series! Maybe next time I’m at the library.

    • Oh, if you have access to a library version, that’s great! I’ll have to order the sequel soon, I’m really looking forward to it.

  • I looooved the Demon King! It’s one of the first books that ever made me reconsider my (misguided) disdain for high fantasy novels. It was this wonderful blend of character development and history and world building. So lovely! I’m horrid when it comes to reading past book one in a series, but I did read the Exiled Queen a year and a half ago, and it was even more exciting! And guess what! I’ll be starting on the third novel this year. (A testament to how good these books are)

    • YES, that’s it exactly: the world is complex but it doesn’t distract from the action and the characters are great. i’m hoping Fire Dancer gets a more prominent role in book 2, I really liked that poor kid.

      I’m glad you liked the sequel and are planning on continuing with the series. I’ve heard the books only get better! :)

  • YOu know what, I have seen this book so many times in various places and just looked past it. I didn’t even bother looking what it’s about! This sounds so like a book I will want to read, why did I ignore it? It’s another case of my ignoring books with covers that don’t immediately draw me in. Damn my stupid judgmental brain, I know you shouldn’t judge a book by cover yet can’t stop myself.

    Your review makes this sound pretty damn interesting. I am trying to stop myself from starting too many series, but when it’s finished then it’s totally acceptable to start reading, right? I’m not likely to forget about it while I wait for another book to be released. I may have to treat myself. You’ve convinced me. I may treat myself at the end of the month to a mountain of books, because I may have given up on trying to cut my TBR pile.

    • Yeah, the covers are pretty cheesy, though I saw some alternative ones (they are white with some objects on them?) that are better. But you know, paperbacks are cheap, what can I say … I judge books by their covers all the time but luckily I also listen to people’s recommendations, otherwise I’d miss out on really good books (like Daughter of the Forest, it has a pretty awful cover).

      And yeah, I’m trying not to start too many series, too, but I’m constantly seeing new ones I want to try. I’m still clinging to my 3-to-1 rule – barely. I just really want to finish some series first…

      And I agree, starting series that are already finished is way better, then you can read at your own pace without waiting for a year (or YEARS) for the sequel to be published. I love series, especially in fantasy, but waiting can be a pain in the a**.

      • I know, I always feel bad for the books with bad covers, though. I only look at them twice when I’ve heard someone talk about them as otherwise I am far too judgey. There are some fantastic books with terrible covers out there, though. And I think I know the white covers you’re talking about for this series and they are a lot better. Cheap books are too difficult to resist no matter the cover.

        Ugh, definitely, it feels like some fantasy books take forever to write. I may try to stick to more finished series when reading for a while. Just to stop me from having so many unfinished series to read (way too many).

        • Yeah, I have the same idea about reading finished series, but then I see a pretty book (like Rebel of the Sands, for example), and I CAN’T RESIST, even though I know I’ll have to wait for three more years for the entire series to be complete. Ugh.