Monday, March 01, 2010

The Heir Chronicles by Cinda Williams Chima

Book 1: The Warrior Heir

If I could have posted a few more entries for my week of if-you-like-Harry-Potter-try-these blog posts, I would also include Cinda Williams Chima's trilogy and Jim Hines' Princess novels.

There is a secret society of individuals with gifted abilities (called the Weir) living among the non-gifted (called the Anaweir). Each Weir heir is born with a magic stone in their hearts that gives them their abilities and connects them all, in a fashion, to each other. Even among the gifted, there are differing abilities and a hierarchy built upon these abilities. There are the warriors (those who specialize in warfare and fighting), the enchanters (those gifted with powers of persuasion), the seers (who have the power of seeing the future), the sorcerers (their power is in using magic objects), and wizards are at the top of this food chain (they have an overall ability using power to control and manipulate whatever they will). Seems a little lopsided, doesn't it?

The wizards are top dog of the Weir because of a magical contract that gives the wizards power over the other Weir. The wizards are quite comfortable with this arrangement, but the non-wizards are not and have been fighting back to find a way to break the contract. This fight has been going on for generations, and this latest conflict may finally see some changes. Chima develops a complex history of the Weir, and it makes for an intriguing read. To Chima's credit, she does not drop all the details on you all at once. In book 1, the main character, Jack, is a normal boy until his powers surface, and he has a lot to catch up on. He learns some of it history class-style, but, mostly, he learns the hard way by running into other Weir who know what is going on and also picking up tidbits and stories along the way from the different characters who have different stakes and goals in this battle between the Weir. Along with the fascinating history, there are plenty of secrets and plot twists to uncover (with some of them being revealed in the later books). Chima gives you hints and bits throughout (pay attention to the names of some of the characters) and unveils it to maximum dramatic effect.

Seeing parallels to Harry Potter's world? It was muggles and wizards there, and, in Chima's books, it is the Weir and the Anaweir (pretty cool sounding labels, I'd say). In both, the magical world is kept secret from the normal "real" world. Rowling keeps the worlds separate by keeping her story at Hogwarts, in magical hideouts, or with glamour spells in the muggle world. Chima takes a trickier path by keeping the characters in the real world, where the characters have to keep the Anaweir oblivious to the magical and dangerous world of the Weir. It makes for interesting complications when Anaweir friends and family members become involved. Some of the situations can be humorous, but it also means the Anaweir are vulnerable to enemies who can take advantage of their ignorance and lack of power, and Chima measures up to the task of maintaining this balancing act. Adding to that, she does not create a black and white world in which good and evil are clear, though it is clear to readers which is more fair (look back through history and the struggles for human rights). The teen characters are pulled by different moral obligations and have to decide where they stand and what they will do about it. It is especially poignant with teen works where you see that bittersweetness of growing up, falling in love for the first time, taking responsibility, making hard choices, fighting for what you care about, and trying to do the right thing when people usually play dirty.

In writing a review for a trilogy, it is easy to lose track of the characters that get you to invest in this complex story, but they make this story work. Each book focuses on a different Weir who makes a difference in this power play, which allows you to get to know several main characters well and to see things from a different perspective. It also allows the story and action to move around, so the narrative takes on a wider scope and gives you a sense of the big battle and the many fighting in it. Jack is a warrior but grew up with a normal life, and he is now dragged into this conflict between the Weir whether he likes it or not. Seph is an orphan with a secret past and huge potential as a wizard but untrained and unaware of the Weir's history. Jason is a wizard out for revenge and looking for a place to belong. Maddie is an artist struggling between going for her dreams and fulfilling her family obligations, and, on top of that, she has an unusual power that has the Weir scratching their heads but may play a part in this battle. Other secondary characters have their moments to shine. Jack's Aunt Linda is an enchanter who seems to be around whenever there is trouble. Snowbeard is one of the oldest wizards around and seems to know quite a bit about what is going on. Leander Hastings is an enigmatic wizard with his own agenda and one to keep an eye on, very much like Rowlings' Severus Snape. All of them have their own secrets and stakes in this conflict, and it is a page-turning ride to see how it all plays out.

This trilogy is Chima's debut work, and you can find Warrior Heir, Wizard Heir, and Dragon Heir all in the VBPL catalog. If you enjoy her work, you may also like the first book of her new series, The Demon King.

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