Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima

Rating: WARTY!

The Demon King is part of some sort of series, but at least it said that squarely on the front cover "A Seven Realms novel". I have no idea if this means it's just set in the same world as other novels, or if it's part of a series, but it read like a stand-alone - at least in the way it began. The impression I get from fellow reviewers though, is that this is nothing more than a five-hundred page prolog for the other books in the series. Yawn. I blame the money grubbers in Big Publishing™ for fostering a culture of series in YA novels, and authors for tamely going along with it like so many sheep about to be shorn.

While I'm not a fan of series, I don't mind stories set in the same world. It would be truly foolish to do so! Unfortunately, this started out larded with trope and cliché, and in the beginning, it managed to avoid pissing me off with that, but it danced so shamelessly with those banes of young adult authors that I harbored serious doubts I would get very far. In the end I made it a little over one-third the way through before it became far too mired for my taste.

The sad thing is that this novel is just over five hundred pages long, and yet in that first third, all it had achieved was to establish a love triangle between the princess, the son of the captain of the guard, and the son of the palace wizard. Yep. That's all it did. The author could have put this into a prolog of a few pages long. I would have skipped it as I always do, and everyone would have been happy! But no, we have to spend a hundred-fifty pages crawling through this overblown set-up. Oh, and yeah, there's some dude whose people are rooted in American Indian culture too. Han Alister is the Luke Skywalker of the story - a powerful person of honorable descent who has spent his young life in ignorance of his power and destiny. Blecch! And yes, there's a Darth Vader (the head wizard), and a Han Solo (the guard captain's son), and a Princess Leia, er Raisa.

Wait, there are American Indians (close enough) and a queen? Yes. Believe it or not, there are. Even after a hundred-fifty pages, I still had no idea about this world, so poor as the world-building. It could have been Star Wars! I couldn't tell if it was in the very early days of the wild west, or in steam-punk Victorian times, or more modern even than that. Obviously, it was a fantasy world, so there are no direct ties, but even so, I felt lost. After we had been introduced to the captain's son, who, now back from military school (where warring tribes all train together? What?), is tall and muscular and chiseled, has a square jaw, and has girlish eyelashes and flecks in his eyes! Barf! It was at the point that I went looking for a good dose of Phenergan to stem my nausea, and ditched this novel post haste. Are YA authors medically incapable of originality? It would seem so. It's the precious few who are off the reservation whom I seek out, and they are a rare and treasured breed. This author isn't one of them.

In terms of writing, there were some common errors - common to many YA novels I've read of late, that is. One was where a snake was described as poisonous: "As if he had a large poisonous snake in there" but snakes aren't poisonous, they're venomous. A native would know the difference between venom and poison, especially if they collect herbs and fungi for medicinal purposes and trade, so this one tugged me out of suspension of disbelief briefly.

On the very next page, I read an example of what is evidently fast becoming a change in the English language as yet another author used 'staunch' where 'stanch' was desperately seeking employment. Personally I am a staunch supporter of those who stanch blood flow from open wounds, but I guess this author is not! It's sad to see this from young writers, but the English language is without a doubt extraordinarily fluid and dynamic, and never more so than it has been of late. But this and several other such issues - when added to the tedious love triangle, and a frankly limp and lackluster female main character - were enough to persuade me that this was not worth finishing, much less pursuing into 'seven realms'.

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