The Seven Realms series by Cinda Williams Chima

I learned in late high school that the way for me to survive long, stressful days of testing was to read fantasy novels.  During the two-week period when I and my classmates were subjected to AP and IB exams--oral as well as written--I read the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, and to this day I think having that parallel fantasy world through which I was imagining traveling allowed me to do better on those tests.

Being up for tenure this year is a similar test, only with a much longer period of endurance.  I have passed the test of documenting my accomplishments effectively, with the help of a supportive committee (October).  I have passed through the second gate, the test of school-level approval (December).  I await the final test, approval or denial by the campus-level tenure committee that looks at all tenure cases in the university, results to be announced on May 15.

As I wait, I read fantasy, and over this winter I was looking for a really long and hearty fantasy series to carry me through.  First, I read both books by Patrick Rothfuss:  The Name of the Wind and Wise Man's Fear, and I may blog about those another time, but the chutzpah, swagger, and yet touching personal tragedy of the main character Kvothe was enough to have me flying through many hundreds of pages.

Then I found The Seven Realms series by Cinda Williams Chima:  The Demon King, The Exiled Queen, The Crimson Crown, and The Gray Wolf Throne.  This series, with its dual narrator perspectives of princess Raisa (aka Rebecca Morley) and ruffian Han (aka Hunts Alone), fit the bill perfectly for a long, engrossing set of reads with captivating plots and likeable characters.

The Demon King was slow to start, in great part because it takes so much of the book to understand that there will be an ongoing connection between our two characters, Raisa and Han.  Raisa, after all, is next in line to be queen of the realm, and she meets Han when a secret excursion from the castle reveals to her the deep suffering of the people (not unlike the tale of the young Buddha).  On this excursion, she is briefly kidnapped by the streetlord of Ragmarket, Han, and while he is clearly clever, the precise attraction between them is a bit difficult to buy, at first.  After all, she is strong and determined, and he is a streetlord who kidnaps her, however kindly.  But, somehow, the connection is forged, and suspending disbelief for this first book is worth is for the second.  And Raisa is a likeable--if not always believable--character who is enjoying the blooming of attractions in her teenage way, sharing passionately distracting kisses with a warrior, a wizard, and the head guard's son who has been her best childhood friend.  Ultimately, Chima is being clever in stringing the reader along, but it takes longer than it might for the core characters to be connected and the allegiances to be clear enough to launch such a complex court-drama plot.

However, by the end I was entirely hooked, and The Exiled Queen was astonishingly satisfying, as each of our characters is revealed to be more layered and nuanced than they were in the previous book.  At this point, I won't go into great plot detail, knowing how frustrating it can be, but the title and first pages are enough to let you know that Raisa is exiled from her beloved queendom and its peoples.  Here, by getting outside of this country, we begin to learn about the different groups:  the Grey Wolf line of queens, the wizards and the Bayar family, the clan people who live in the mountains and their Demonai warriors who are sworn enemies of wizards.

The Gray Wolf Throne is mostly politics, and to give much of this away would be to take from you the opportunity to read it!  I'm nearly through with The Crimson Crown now as well, and, from all I can tell, the excursion into The Seven Realms will have been worth it.  Recommended for patient readers at the high school level and above who want pages and pages of well-crafted fantasy.  Especially recommended on Kindle/Nook/iPad/etc., because these are thick books!

Looks like The Heir Chronicles series would be the next thing to read by Chima.  We'll see if the two-plus remaining months of tenure suspense take me there.

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