Several years back, a certain bookseller named Melissa grabbed my arm and said, "Sarah! You've got to read this! Now!" She handed me the galley for THE WARRIOR HEIR, and I put it on my to-be-read pile. As usual, Melissa was dead-on. From the moment I started WARRIOR HEIR, I knew this was an author I was going to be reading for a long time to come. The HEIR books finished up last year, and it's one of the best contemporary fantasy trilogies I can name. When I heard Ms. Chima was trying her hand at high fantasy, I was very excited, but a little nervous. High fantasy is one of those genres where the story either really works, or really doesn't, and I've read my share of both sorts. It's always difficult when an author you love starts a new project, and you hope you'll love it as much as her older work, but there's a tiny trepidation in the back of your mind that you won't.
Here's the bottom line: THE DEMON KING rocks.
High fantasy is often driven by plot, but at the end of the day, if you don't fall in love with the main protagonists, it's game over. There's certainly plenty of plot to be had here, from scheming wizards to political chicanery, from street lord wars to ethnic blood feuds, and there's a rich thousand year history that serves as a glittering backdrop for it all. While the worldbuilding is lovely, what really seals the deal are her main characters. Han, a former thief, is trying to reform his criminal ways and take care of his mother and sister. While riding with his friend Dancer, a clan boy, they encounter a group of wizards setting fire to the grassland. They engage in a bit of a scuffle, and Han takes an amulet from charmcaster Micah Bayar, who is a bit like the Draco to Han's Harry. The amulet turns out to be more than just a family heirloom, as it exhibits terrifying power, and Han knows he must keep it out of the Bayars' hands.
As Han struggles to figure out what to do with the amulet, the princess heir of the Fells, Raisa, is in the midst of her own personal turmoil. Her mother, the Queen, is becoming more and more distant, making strange decisions on her behalf, and she is torn between Micah Bayar's forbidden affections (the princess cannot marry a wizard) and the attention of her handsome friend Amon, who is a member of her personal guard. As she lived for several years among her father's clan, she feels cloistered and trapped inside the palace walls, and makes a concerted effort to find out what's happening in her queendom behind the facade. Raisa hopes to be like her legendary ancestor, Hanalea, who saved the world by slaying the Demon King. Her coming of age ceremony looms, however, and that means a potential political marriage, which is a loathsome idea for her.
The novel follows the stories of Han and Raisa, usually swapping every other chapter between their points of view, and somehow Ms. Chima manages to weave their tales together in such a way that five hundred pages simply fly by. Both Han and Raisa are on a journey to become the adults they are meant to be, and both must find out, often at a price, whom they can trust. Along the way, Han and Raisa are surrounded by a host of secondary characters, from clansman to princes, and although the supporting cast is quite large, they all fit seamlessly into the framework, making the world of the seven realms seem all the more believable. Raisa and Han are both in relationships of some romantic degree at various points in the story, and while mature themes are alluded to, there is no explicit content. (That said, I believe this belongs in the young adult category; make of that what you will.) My only complaint is that I'm going to have to wait another year for the next installment of this trilogy! I am thrilled to have a new Chima series to recommend to my customers, and very grateful that both she and Hyperion books have put forth such a strong offering to the high fantasy lovers of the world.
Preorder THE DEMON KING from an independent bookstore!
One of the best things about Rick Riordan's PERCY JACKSON AND THE OLYMPIANS series being such a massive hit (beyond the fact that they're just great books) is that now there are lots of other Greek mythology-based books, too. I enjoyed last year's THE NIGHT TOURIST, based on the Orpheus myth - the story of a boy named Jack who ends up on a journey to the Underworld searching for his missing mother. It was more serious than Percy (although it did have its lighter moments) and included a lot of references to hidden spots below New York, a subject that has always fascinated me (abandoned subway stops and that sort of thing).
Jack's story continues in THE TWILIGHT PRISONER, and this time Marsh is weaving in the Persephone myth. Jack's back at school and back in his normal life, but for some reason he's still seeing ghosts. This is not only bothering him, it's interfering with his clumsy attempts to get his Latin Club-mate and friend Cora to see him as...something more. In a misguided moment he decides to impress her by leading her to the mouth of the Underworld, but Cerberus is on the hunt for him and they end up having to cross over.
As soon as they enter the Underworld, they run into Euri, Jack's friend from the first novel (who still hasn't crossed over to Elysium, where ghosts go to be forever once their issues with their former lives are resolved). Euri seems annoyed by Cora and is behaving oddly, haunting a strange man and refusing to explain herself to Jack. She agrees to help them, though, and the trio goes on a mad run through New York - both above and underground - so that Jack and Cora can return to the world of the living before three days have passed. If they do not, they will have to stay in the Underworld forever.
This clever take on a familiar tale will have you wondering which myth Marsh plans to tackle next. I think this book is better than the first, and look forward to a third (if one is planned). Marsh weaves the mythology in a very subtle manner, making it an accent rather than the complete focus of the tale, and manages to create a version of the Underworld all her own.
Pub Date: April 7, 2009
Two things kept running through my head while I was reading this.
1. This is what it must be like to be inside a teenage boy's head.
2. Teenage boys are jackasses. Hilarious, predictable, often meaning well but totally failing jackasses.
Will Carter is 14 and entering his freshman year of high school, and he is totally desperate to lose his virginity. Or at least kiss a girl. Or at least talk to a girl without his pesky stuttering problem acting up. He's on the football team because he's been playing since he was a kid, but his ADD keeps him from paying very close attention so he's just not very good. His friends are those typical teenage boy friends who will have your back one second and then mock you mercilessly in front of the whole team the next. They've all got eternal foot-in-mouth disease, and it comes back to haunt them time and again through the course of this book.
Watch Carter and his friends screw up one relationship after another, embarrass themselves at sports practices, stuff seven or eight people in a two-seater car, run from the cops, get mocked in school and ultimately get just what they deserve - and, in some cases, just what they want.
CARTER FINALLY GETS IT is written in some of the most perfect voice I have ever read in a YA book. It's like Nick Hornby without the angst. There's a lot of older content here - some language, Carter's obsession with boobs, some offscreen sex (not Carter), some drinking (again, not Carter - he thinks beer is gross). Mostly, though, this book is just hilarious. I LOVED it. Reading it reminded me of what I like about the HBO show ENTOURAGE: the guys are jackasses, but deep down they've got decent hearts. In the end, you root for them to win. I was rooting for Carter all the way.
Pub Date: April 2009