Author: Cinda Williams Chima
Series: Seven Realms #1
Publication Date: October 6, 2009
Publisher: Hyperion Books
Reading Level: Young Adult
Pages: 506 (paperback)
Source: Personal Shelf
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 returning 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 Han and Raisa collide, fanning the flames of the smoldering war between clans and wizards.
This book had a lot of promise, and while enjoyable, I found that it was unable to reach its true potential. With all of the praise that this book has received, I was expecting something brilliant. It's a bummer for me to admit that it didn't live up to my expectations.
It's hard to describe what hindered this book from greatness in my opinion. Look at the synopsis above. It's so long, it covers so many different details and gives you a very informative summary of many aspects found in the book instead of the book overall. That's sort of how the description in the book was. There was too much uninteresting knowledge. I'm not even going to lie, the first quarter of the book spanned maybe twenty four hours in a book that lasted several weeks. And to make matters worse, I was not truly enraptured until I surpassed page 200. While this is an easy book to get through because the concept is so fascinating, you can somehow simultaneously feel that you are reading 506 pages of words.
I also feel as if too much time was spent on the world-building. It basically breaks down as followers: There's a Queendom in a place called the Fells of the descendants of the Grey Wolf Throne. There are wars all around their territory in the novel. There are people in spiritual clans in the mountains, poor, unsafe, dirty flatlanders in the flatlands, and the wizards who are part of Wizard Council. The clans and the wizards hate each other, so the flatlanders sort of help to prevent a war because they're location is what bridges the gap between the two disagreeing people. The people disagree because, as legend has it, an old and powerful wizard named Alger rose up to destroy the world one thousand years ago. He earned the name The Demon King for his power and wrongdoings. His attempts to destroy the world led to the Breaking because the world was literally breaking from earthquakes of negative power. Then the warrior queen at the time found a way to save the world through the Naeming which established the Wizard Council and banned the wizards from the mountains while the clansmen had to fashion their wizarding tools for them to regulate and control them. Since then, the Queen always had a High Wizard to help aid her in times of war. The legend also states that this wizard could never betray the Queen because he is bound to her. But, what we quickly learn is that not all legends are true. My point being is that it took a solid third of the book for me to firmly grasp the entire world because the detail led me astray at times. It just wasn't necessary.
I also hate to admit that the characters fell into many cliches, which disappointed me. While the plot was incredibly creative, I wish that the characters were equally as original. And while some stood out to me, most had cliche aspects that had me shaking my head. Firstly, there's Princess Raisa, the upcoming heir to the Grey Wolf Throne. She's very impulsive and slightly annoying. She has a rebellious nature because her life is so regulated, so she often goes around kissing boys on whims. Sure, it's mostly the same boy, but at some point in the book she admits to kissing an entire list at least once. She's very thoughtful when it comes to helping out the poor, but very shallow and rude when it comes to giving other people a chance romantically. She won't even look at a potential suitor because his name is Kip, yet she openly admits to kissing his identical twin, Keith. They're the same, but she judges him on his name. I found this shallowness to be annoying, yet it's contrasted with her desire to help the poor in the flatlands. Her desire to rebel also made her ignore all negative aspects of her chosen forbidden romantic love interest. She chooses him above all in private, but is stricken at the idea of actually having to be with him in public several times throughout the book because it's against the law. Oh, and then there are the many times where she just sort of gets the urge to kiss a boy out of nowhere, even if it is her long lest best friend from when they were children, so she just does it because she's the Princess and can do whatever she wants.
Not to be rude, but shouldn't she be more conscientious of how people view her? The immaturity and thoughtlessness as well as the hypocrisy and conflicting emotions and actions found in Raisa made some aspects of this book laborious because I just couldn't connect with her.
I did, however, greatly enjoy Amon's characterization and Han's characterization. Amon is a warrior that will do what is right, even if it means tamping down on his feelings. Han is an ex streetlord from the flatlands who was respected and revered for his skills. However, he chose to leave the life behind to protect his mother and younger sister from harm's way. I very much enjoyed his characterization. He was equal parts snarky and thoughtful with a keen intelligence and street sense that snuck up on you all the time. However, even these boys had cliche character flaws.
This book was full cliches that just got to be annoying. There's a weak queens. Obvious villainous people were ignored by everyone until it was too late. The evil kids doing their father's bidding. The evil guy who gets all the girls to go nuts over him despite his obvious evilness. The thug turned good guy. The long lost best friend finally returns home and falls in love with his friend only to have to deny his feelings. A distant father (though he was forced away by trading). A group of people to hate: the wizards. A million unnamed suitors hungry for the crown. Really, any character flaw and cliche you could think of in general, but also specifically for high fantasy novels, can be found in this one.
And though this isn't a cliche it is a flaw; it really annoyed me that the Queen was so stupid she acted more like a child than her 16 year old daughter. You are a QUEEN, you cannot avoid conflict!
I have to say that with all of that being said, the political intrigue in this one fascinated me. This novel was written as Raisa's 16th birthday was approaching. This birthday marks the occasion of her ability to be married, so obviously the suitors are flocking and the alliances in times of war were on everyone's minds. Watching the dynamics among both the rich and the poor and the magical and the spiritual were interesting because we were allowed to see all sides of the coin. I greatly looked forward to scenes in the Spirit Mountains the most.
With all of that being said, I enjoyed this one. I just wish I could have formed a more emotional connection with characters since this book has such great length. I am hoping book two has an even better delivery than book one because I know both Amon and Han will play key roles in book two and they were what kept me reading book one.
A very great high fantasy, but not among my favorites. If you liked the war and political intrigue in GRACELING, you will most likely enjoy this one.