Heirs of the Demon King: Uprising by Sarah Cawkwell (Book Review)

When I started getting back into the Warhammer universes back in 2010, one of the authors that I was following at the time was Sarah Cawkwell, a relatively recent addition to the ranks of Black Library authors who had written quite a few short stories around the time and who then went on to write two fantastic novels as well, one of which was her debut even! In all this time, Sarah has definitely emerged as one of my favourite authors and this is why I was really excited late last year when I found out that she was having her first full-length original novel published very soon. As someone transferring over from her Warhammer work, I was really anticipating the novel.

And it turns out that Uprising, the first novel of the Heirs of the Demon King series, is almost what I expected it to be (one of my 41 Most Anticipated Titles of 2014). Instead of the war-torn far future or the eternal war of the “old world”, this time Sarah tackles historical fiction and the series is built upon the premise that when Richard the Lionheart returned from his victories in the Holy Land, he brought back magic to England, and changed the course of history forever. The novel then follows some of Richard’s descendants and several magi as they clash over the best way to save the world from the evil designs of a most cunning villain, someone who intends to drown the world in blood and war.

Heirs of a Demon King - UprisingWith Richard the Lionheart bringing magic and the knowledge of the eastern mystics to the land of his birth, everything changed forever, and in that, even the rest of continental Europe changed, for magic was a catalyst. And of course, there are always those who resist change, and who want to hoard as much power as they can. All of this resulted in one of the more… well-known battles of English history, the Battle of Bosworth Fields. In the real world, the Lionheart’s bloodline came to an end in that battle as Richard III of the House Plantagenet fell to Henry Tudor and his forces. But in Sarah Cawkwell’s reimagining, Richard III wins the field of battle by succumbing to the lures of dark magic and it is Henry Tudor’s forces that are scattered and decimated that day. And the novel then switches gears to show how Richard III continues on his dynasty, and their dark patron’s wish to extinguish all magic from the world then becomes the central premise.

As much as the novel is about House Plantagenet and the curse that it bears for the price of winning the Battle of Bosworth Field, it is also about how the magi rise up in an attempt to resist the cursed family’s undue influence and evermore ruthless practices. One of which is, of course, the founding of the Inquisition to rout all the magi from England and beyond so that the entire isle is united under the banner of House Plantagenet. As such, the Inquisitor Charles Weaver is one of the two key villains of the novel, and the magi Mathias and Tagan are the key heroes who stand in their way.

Mathis and Tagan made for some really interesting characters given their backstory. The former is an orphan who’s father was executed at the behest of an Inquisitor who condemned his father for practicing dangerous magic (the man practiced only healing magic at best) and who’s mother eventually died of the grief that follow. The latter is a young girl learning to become a blacksmith just like her father and who eventually becomes one of the real key players of the game that is the story of this novel, even more than Mathias. And the two are lovers right from the beginning, and this reflects well on their relationship as two budding young magi who are key to ending the dominance of the Plantagenet family curse that is finally rearing its ugly head to demand the great sacrifice that it finds necessary.

This is a novel that is told on many different levels. On one hand we have the agents of the Inquisition who are hell-bent on exterminating all forms of magic from the Isle and who, under their wide remit and mandate from the King himself, have absolutely no hesitation in slaughtering entire communities and villages, even if they have kill dozens for the sake of one person. Charles Weaver personifies and exemplifies everything that is terrible and frightening about the Inquisition and then some. He was a character that I hated right off the bat, not because he was poorly written, but because Sarah wrote this villain so well that I really and actively despised him.

On the other hand we have the unexpected journey that Mathias and Tagan undertake when their entire life is threatened by the Inquisition and when they are exposed to a world that they never really knew existed. They are often fresh-faced and naive, and their entire worldview is challenged in this novel by people who are similar to them, and yet different as well. That is another thing that Sarah absolutely nailed in the novel, and something that I really enjoyed watching unfold.

On another hand there is the entire subplot involving Richard V and his son, who have to fulfill the terms of the pact that Richard III made on that day at Bosworth Field in return for winning that battle. It isn’t pretty and Richard V’s journey from being a supremely confident and almost-tyranical King to… something else was fascinating indeed. However, this was a subplot that I feel was underused and that it could have used a bit more room to really come together in the end for the reader, because a lot of the time it felt as if the current King of England and more was just a convenience rather than a true necessity.

And on a fourth hand yet we have the subplots involving the four magi that Mathias and Tagan meet later on in the novel, after their flight from Wales. Each of these magi offers something entirely different for the reader and the chemistry between all four of them is well-thought out and believable even, which isn’t an easy thing to manage when there are so many different characters in a novel like Uprising.

While I enjoyed the book quite a bit all the way down to the climax, the resolution of the final showdown and the post-climax felt like a let down. It was all basically over before it began and the expected showdown turned out to be somewhat of a weak ending. And that’s my only real quibble about the whole thing because right up until then things were proceeding really smoothly and then once we got to the climax, I lost some of my interest and felt a bit let down as well.

Still, I won’t deny that with Uprising, Sarah Cawkwell has another hit on her hands. She’s been tremendous in all her work for Black Library and this original novel of hers is just as good as any of that. In fact, this is on par with the ballad short story she wrote a couple years back for an anthology. With this novel, which is quite well-paced actually, now that I think about it, I believe that Sarah has another hit on her hands, because with this novel she shows that she has some strong talent and that it is not limited to writing about men in powered armour and evil godly consorts and the like.

Rating: 8.5/10

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Posted on May 26, 2014, in Book Reviews, Review Central and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

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