One of the pulls that keeps me coming back to YA fiction again and again is seeing young people placed in extraordinary circumstances – and then overcoming those circumstances.
There’s something so genuinely hopeful about being on the cusp of adulthood – the raw potential of knowing that a character’s life could literally go in any direction. When that is combined with heroism and overcoming adversity, it just keeps me coming back over and over again.
The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima presents a full and vivid world, one whose history and characters immediately leap off the page and into the hearts of the reader. But what struck me the most about The Demon King was just how genuinely adolescent its characters were, despite the fraught and dangerous circumstances with which they’re presented.
As an adult reader, I might be frustrated with Raisa for forgiving the obviously sinister Micah after his almost successful attempt to enchant her, but it’s certainly understandable. I’d even go so far as to find sympathy with Micah and the way he’s caught up in his father’s plots. Despite the larger than life quality that comes with these kind of fantastic stories, Raisa, Micah, and Han are so obviously teenagers in so many of their decisions and actions. And it’s this kind of ignorant, naive youthfulness that does give the story life and hope.
Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith has many of the same qualities. Meliara especially is an amazingly compelling character. However, despite the fact that I went into the book not knowing it was originally published as two separate stories, it was exceedingly obvious to me as a reader. The first half of the novel feels jumbled and almost cluttered with too much plot. It was difficult to keep track of all the players and pieces and places straight.
The second half is a lot more compelling, perhaps because the larger portion of it happens in one place. And while there is certainly no less happening in terms of intrigue, coups, and characters, it was easier for me as a reader to sink my teeth into the story and really enjoy. It’s no coincidence that this coincides with the development of Mel and Vidanric’s relationship. I particularly enjoyed the fact that their courtship developed in tune with Mel and her own version of romance rather than having her adapt to a court romance. Throughout the novel Mel stays entirely true to herself while growing out of her – perhaps naive – ideals about what it means to rule a kingdom.
Both novels focus on the responsibility a person has to one’s kingdom and sovereign. Both novels look at what it means to lose faith in what was previously believed to be right. Both challenge the status quo in the best ways that YA can, but for me, Chima’s holds the reader from start to finish. Despite being tempted to advance Smith’s book for essentially being a combination of Game of Thrones and You’ve Got Mail, Chima’s The Demon King is the clear winner here for me, and therefore my choice to advance.
Congratulations to The Demon King, which moves on to Round 2!