Heirs of the Demon King: Uprising is the first standalone book by British author Sarah Cawkwell. Already known for her publications in the Warhammer 40K universe, Cawkwell strikes a new path with this story, set in an alternate history of the UK. In a world ripe with magic, Richard III won the Battle of Bosworth Field with otherworldly assistance, and the Plantagenet line remained on the British throne. One hundred years later, the contract signed at Bosworth is up, and Melusine, the demon that ensured the Plantagenet reign, is ready to collect on her half of the deal. In response, young villagers Mathias and Tagan are caught in a race against time, trying to piece together the one thing that can stop the overrun of the world.
The obliteration – and survival – of the world’s magic is the driving theme that ties the entire story of Heirs of the Demon King together. It works, too. Melusine can be kept at bay through magic, but the people who are born with the gift have been hunted down to near extinction by a powerful Inquisitor named Weaver, all under order of the crown. Mathias and betrothed Tagan are forced from their tiny Welsh village, travelling across Europe to gather the powers needed to stop Melusine’s arrival, tied to sundown on Winter Solstice of the same year.
A vibrant cast of characters and heavily distinct line of good versus evil push the plot forward with solid pacing. Once the story gets going, the action does not stop, and I found myself growing more and more curious as to what would happen at the end of every chapter. As chapters switched between the view of the panicked rush of Mathias and Tagan and the fervent hunt of Weaver, the pace builds, and more of the story grows beneath their feet. By the time December 21 rolls around, the pacing is almost frantic and the twist of how Melusine will return to the world is in place, ready for the epic battle that ensues.
While the world is richly displayed and the characters brilliant, the tale itself does take some time to develop. The first 70 pages weave the history on which the tale is built, and may prove to be distracting to readers who enjoy digging into the meat of a story within the first chapter or two. In addition, the point of Mathias and Tagan’s betrothal is rarely touched on except for the way Mathias views his bride to be. Without Tagan’s viewpoint, one of the major events to prevent Melusine (no spoilers!) from taking hold in the realm falls a bit flat, though still holds an emotional hit.
Despite this, Heirs of the Demon King: Uprising is a solid effort from Cawkwell. The story is engaging and a fresh take on a familiar timeline. The supporting characters on all sides are sympathetic without being coddling, and once the foundation is set, the tale takes off at a rabbit’s pace, urging you to keep up with each new chapter. From the sand-swept deserts of Tunisia to the sun setting over Stonehenge, the settings should keep a reader entranced, and by the end of the book you not only care about each character – even the inquisitor! – but also want to know what happens the next morning – and beyond.