Times are hard in the mountain city of Fellsmarch. Reformed thief Han Alister will do almost anything to take care of his mother and his sister Mari; but ironically, the only thing of value he owns, he can’t sell. For as long as Hans can remember, he’s worn thick silver cuffs engraved with runes. They’re clearly magical, for as he grows, they grow, and he’s never been able to remove them.
While out hunting one day, Han and his Clan friend, Dancer, confront three young wizards setting fire to the sacred mountain of Hanalea. After a confrontation, Han takes an amulet from one of them, to ensure the boy won’t use it against them. But the young arsonist is Micah Bayar, son of the High Wizard, and Han soon learns that the Bayar family will stop at nothing to get it back. For the amulet has immense power and once belonged to the Demon King, the legendary wizard who nearly destroyed the world a millennium ago.
Meanwhile, Raisa ana’Helena, Princess Heir of the Fells, has her own battles to fight. She is almost sixteen years old and her mother, the Queen, believes she should soon be married. But Raisa has only just returned to court, after spending three years of relative freedom with her father’s family at Demonai camp, and is reluctant to become little more than an ornament in a glittering cage. She aspires to be like Hanalea, the legendary warrior-queen who vanquished the Demon King and saved the world. But other forces are guiding her mother’s hand; forces that will put both the queendom and Raisa’s fortune in great danger.
Han Alistair once ran the most feared gang of thieves in Fellsmarch but gave it up to help his mother and younger sister. Now he runs errands for the Clans and sells their goods in the city to make ends meet. When he and his friend, Dancer, challenge three young wizards led by the son of High Wizard, Micah Bayar, for setting fire to a sacred mountain, Han ends up taking a powerful amulet and finds his life – and the lives of those he loves put in danger as a result.
Raisa, the Princess Heir of the Fells, has troubles of her own. Her mother has increasingly come under the influence of the High Wizard, and is pushing Raisa to marry into a wizarding family even though the country’s laws forbid it. However Raisa has allies and as she fights to take control of her life, she’s thrown into Han’s path and the discovery that their histories are intertwined.
As the two come closer to uncovering their own past and forge their own futures, they begin to unravel the truth behind the mythology of the kingdom - particularly the rise and defeat of the notorious Demon King, whose power threatened to destroy the world, and who is admired by those who would seek to emulate his achievements. They realise that they must join together to save the land they love from those who want to ruin it.
An interesting fantasy with complex world-building and an intricate mythology, this novel predominantly aims to set up the remaining events in the trilogy. As such what plot there is serves to build up the individual back stories for the characters of Raisa and Han and flesh out the world that Chima has created. Han is a standard hero with a mysterious past that points to a great destiny. Raisa is a spoilt princess utterly ignorant of the consequences that her actions have for others and uncaring even when she does find out. For me, she was the weak point of the story as she’s consistently irritating.
There wasn’t much of an emotional core to the story - a key scene for Han happens off page and he doesn’t spend too long dwelling on the consequences. Overall, it’s an okay read and I’m interested to read the rest, but there needs to be more action for my interest to be held.
There’s a hell of a lot of world building in this novel and the mythology and detail is well thought through. Aimed at the YA market, the teen characters will probably appeal to the target audience, although I found Raisa to be an irritating, self-absorbed ninny. However, there’s very much a sense of set-up in this book, which results in a leisurely pace – at times too leisurely. I look forward to reading more, but more really needs to happen for this trilogy to hold on to my attention.
Cross-posted to cool_teen_reads, fantasywithbite and yalitlovers.