Friday, August 19, 2011


The Seven Realms Series - Cinda Williams Chima
(The Demon King and The Exiled Queen)
Publisher: Hyperion (still can't believe they published this)
Genre: YA fantasy
The Demon King @ Parental Book Reviews
The Exiled Queen @ Parental Book Reviews

I actually read The Exiled Queen first, then went back and went through The Demon King, so my reading experience with this trilogy is a little different from most of the novels I go through.
Here's the thing...this series really frustrates me. This is the kind of series that screams 'READ ME AMELIA! You're going to LOVE ME!' Because, see...I lovelovelove high fantasy, probably more so than any other genre/subgenres. Most books that deal with magical and/or fantastical elements are set in the modern world, so true high fantasy novels get my attention faster than cake with icing and the smell of popcorn.
Plus...look at those covers. LOOK AT THEM. I think that out of all the authors with books currently in print, Cinda Williams Chima has been the one with the most consistently beautiful, snazzy, and attention-getting covers (her Heir books, plus these two, and the cover for Grey Wolf Throne are easily the finest I've ever seen).
So all these things said, I really wanted to like these books. I wanted so much to enjoy them, love them, and recommend them. But...I didn't.

There were some things, plot-wise, that I think could have been done differently. There are a lot of subplots and loads of information to keep track of that could have been refined. But what really killed this series, for me, were the characters. The two "protagonists," Han and Raisa, were yet more examples of characters that I felt obligated to care about, but really disliked.
Raisa is yet another of those "kick-ass heroines" (not my term, and I don't much care for that term, as it is sounds incredibly crass) who thinks that the world revolves around her and whose sense of self-preservation borders on extreme, and Han...oy. The supporting characters didn't leave much of an impression, and I really wish that three characters in particular - Amon, Micah, and Bird - would have been axed entirely.
It seems like fantasies, more than any other genre, are the most removed from reality and the reaches of real-world restrictions. They are the most magical, and traditionally, the most epic. And I guess what really disappoints me is the lack of 'epic-ness' with this series. Plus...there's another quality that traditional fantasy characters have possessed that sadly seems to be rapidly diminishing: "good guys."
In the past, fantasy characters (more than characters in any other genre, it seems) were noble. They were virtuous. Yeah okay, maybe a little innocent, but still...they were very cheer-worthy. A lot of times the protagonist went through a rite-of-passage motif, and they represented innocence, integrity, and I don't know...just goodness. No, Frodo Baggins was not 'street-wise.' He wasn't snarky, smooth-talking, and provocative. Neither were any of the hobbits, really, unless you consider Pippin and Merry's ability to persuade Treebeard to fight against Saruman "smooth-talking." One of the greatest young adult fantasy series of all time is the Chronicles of Prydain, and its protagonist, Taran the Assistant Pig-Keeper, didn't have any of these personality traits, either. I guess what disappoints me is how common the "sassy bitch" and "smooth-talking bad boy" characters have become, even in high fantasy stories. Again, sorry for the crass vocabulary. The tone of this new series, one of the few true high fantasies of current YA lit, is just so different from traditional fantasies and so similar to the majority of other YA subgenre books out there. It's just a little sad. And I guess what didn't sit well with me, either, was Chima's puzzling need to remind readers how "experienced" her characters are (Han and Raisa); the innuendo in both of these books, but especially the second one, was hard to ignore, to say the least (I mean, for goodness sake, there's even talk of a fantasy equivalent of "the pill." Whaaaaa...?)
And I think that is what really disappointed me about this series more than anything else, including the characters. I'm just tired of everything having to be so dadgum provocative. It seemed very unnecessary for a high fantasy series. And it really irks me to know that this series is being thrown at middle schoolers. That a sixth grader I know could pick up one of these pretty-looking books, read through it, and be treated to reference upon reference of innuendos and characters' excessive exploits. Not cool.
To be fair, nothing I've mentioned here is exclusive to this series alone. Quite a few YA books I've read recently have had one or several of these elements, too. So while I love the explosion of YA literature in the last 10-15 years, and while I am glad that "kids today" have more options than when I was a kid/middle-schooler, I wish that they could experience the kind of high fantasy characters I grew up reading and loving.

In my opinion, Chima's Seven Realms series is the YA equivalent of George R.R. Martin's books ("edgy fantasy."), and therefore, they are not books that I would recommend - either to my friends, students, or family members. After all, a book's cover doesn't tell the whole story...
Please let me say again that this is just my opinion, and just my thoughts.
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