Book Title: The Cruel Prince (The Folk of the Air #01) Author: Holly Black Number of pages: 370
Jude was seven years old when her parents were murdered and she and her two sisters were stolen away to live in the treacherous High Court of Faerie. Ten years later, Jude wants nothing more than to belong there, despite her mortality. But many of the fey despise humans. Especially Prince Cardan, the youngest and wickedest son of the High King.
To win a place at the Court, she must defy him–and face the consequences.
In doing so, she becomes embroiled in palace intrigues and deceptions, discovering her own capacity for bloodshed. But as civil war threatens to drown the Courts of Faerie in violence, Jude will need to risk her life in a dangerous alliance to save her sisters, and Faerie itself.
Should this book be picked up? the tl;dr review:
– A story about survival and finding a place of belonging with some underdeveloped subplots that may take away from how the conflict is actualized
– Setting: urban and high fantasy fae world with varying degrees of political intrigue; the imagery in the interior of court life is great but the outside environment could use more substance
– Romance (a la love triangle) can feel forced; one suitor lacks chemistry despite love being spoon-fed to readers
– I still don’t know who the cruel prince is? help.
My rating has been oscillating up-and-down the 3’s for the past few weeks now. I have many thoughts.
Disclaimer: I received an ARC of The Cruel prince from Hachette at Book Expo.
The Cruel Prince is a staggering journey of survival, political intrigue, and discovering a place of belonging that opens the contemporary veil to a parallel world of mystic and lore which earns this book a Urban and High Fantasy label. The story follows Jude and her twin sister Taryn, both human mortals, along with their older Fae-sister, Vivienne, as they find themselves displaced from the human-world and enter the life of the High Court of Faerie under the forced protection of their adoptive father Madoc, who just happens to be the very Fae who murdered Jude and Taryn’s blood parents when they were still children. As both twins learn to navigate their new environment, secrets and whispers pave the way for a fight to an abdicated throne that questions the very fabric of their survival. But who’s a friend and who’s a foe in this game?
For the most part, I think Holly Black’s The Cruel Prince delivers what it set out to achieve while taking some knowingly convenient avenues. While there are holes in plotting and character development, I think it was the “focus” of the story that led me astray more than anything. There’s so much world to be explored and so much court life inherently central to the plot that needed to be examined but it’s exploration felt rather tunnel-visioned to be uncovered only by proxy (kind of like a “side b plot”) of developing the romance first (“plot a”?). I just think Jude, for as cunning and confident that she is, could have the cake and eat it too.
As my first “fairy/fae” book, this was not as…fairy (?)…as I had expected it to be. Instead of the expectation of attractive-non-humans-with-ethereal-wings, it’s more of a anthropomorphic-woodland-creature-with-fantastical-appendage-things of a vibe. I guess both are sexy in their own ways.
But even if I have these wonderful pockets of characterizations to build the society of this Fae world, there seemed to be visual cues lacking from a “birds eye” view. What I mean is that while life in the shadowy crevices of court life is vividly imagined, the outdoor environment of Elfhame and landscapes linking everything together wasn’t as fully formed as I had wanted it to be. A map would have helped (I read an ARC, but a map was provided in the finished) but there’s only so much a map can offer that isn’t canon to experiencing it first hand through Jude’s perspective. It’s the difference between knowing there’s a place on the map and taking time to develop this setting instead of teleporting scene-to-scene.
In terms of the aforementioned Urban Fantasy vibe, I actually really like the idea of having a non-magical space as a point of escapism (which is virtually backward from the standard fantasy). I do question its presence as it offers convenience to what happens in the story, but I do love a good reference to mortal things like Target and CVS (yes, the store) and the need for tampons. World building.
(I had to combine these sections because my critiques were interrelated.)
When you begin the story with everything going to shit, you know you’re [usually] in for a relentless page turner of a read. The Cruel Prince was incredibly well paced. I was enthralled with Black’s writing and just the seasoned confidence in writer’s craft to know when to sprinkle secrets and drop red flags of doubt that could be noticed by Jude (and the reader) to sew together a compelling conflict among the parties.
That being said, I wasn’t completely on board with how narrowly written Jude’s relationship was with key players. Let’s explore that:
Madoc: is truly a dynamic character (arguably my favourite thus far) who actually sliced-and-diced Jude’s parents only to be burdened by having to take care of two sacks of potatoes for the rest of his Fae life. This was a choice he made to not “shirk his responsibilities”. Simply put: Madoc is a character of intent. So when we fast forward to the present, he submits to agreeing to train Jude in bladesmanship and strategy because Jude’s (superficially) wants to be knighted into the high court. He even passed along a pointy blade crafted by her own father, Justin Duarte. However, my issue with this plot point is that this “training” ceases to happen and there’s no real follow through on his part despite his apparent hypervigilant demeanor. We can cough it up to Madoc just being busy but there’s so much superficial value at stake for Madoc raising humans; which are often seen as slave labour in this world, that it presents a break in character that he wouldn’t show more more oversight.
This leads to my non-critique on Jude’s two main skill sets: swordfighting and spying. We barely glimpse her sword training and her spying is vaguely developed overnight. As matter-of-fact as that sounds, that’s all we’re honestly given…and I suppose readers are led to believe that Jude can do it all despite the dissonance in belief that she could do it. It’s all assumed and under the page, really.
But let’s talk about the biggest wtf.
Locke and Cardan. I need to acknowledge the predictability and ultimately poor showing of the romance in The Cruel Prince. The issue is not that leading characters are able to explore love (that’s fine), it’s that it was written in a way that exposes the [romantic] relationships in this story to propel Jude toward one direction and one interest in particular. Perhaps chemistry is the keyword. It just wasn’t there for one of the suitors. This is me thinking aloud but I would have enjoyed it if the non-canon suitor was developed as an integral friendship. Actually, I think the entire “main” romance, as slow as it was, could have been more friendship-first and written for the long game. Because if I’m being frank, to go from bully and/or bystander to love interest because you don’t know how to manage feelings (?)…I’m…uh…TROPES ARE A LOVELY THING, YA HEAR?
Taryn. lol Taryn. Just got on the Fae Bachelorette booboo and find your love there. Stop stirring the pot, god damn.
Vivienne. While I do like that her bisexuality is left as is (re: normalized), I do wish that her relationship had more of a foothold to Jude’s narrative as it was certainly more interesting than Taryn’s grievances with court life.
The Kingdom. Here’s my question to The Cruel Prince: who is the cruel prince? Please tell me.
“willfully causing pain or suffering to others, or feeling no concern about it.”
I’ve witnessed a Conniving and otherwise Immoral Prince and an Apathetic Prince, among others, but cruel…CRUEL? Nah. The only thing cruel is how I’ve been been deceived to this promise. The kingdom has zero fucks to give as to the shenanigans of these princes. Seriously. When one explosive scene happens, they literally all carry along with their partying and dancing and having fun. I would argue that to be cruel, someone has to be there to care. And the only person I can think of who would care enough to wave that no-no finger and flag of moral high-ground is Taryn. But I don’t have any recollection of any of the main princes being cruel unless being complicity equates to being cruel and Prince Cardan was a cruel bully with his non-actions and Locke was cruel because he’s just a fuckboy period.
Jude. Bringing it back to Jude, I quite enjoyed following her POV as she navigated the struggles of fae court. The complexity and hardheadedness of her character to do right [by herself] takes an otherwise plot-driven conflict and turns it on its head to be one partially influenced by the protagonist’s doing. And tat’s exciting.
Last thought: there are scenes (chapters?) where it reads as though the narrator (Jude) is speaking to the reader, telling us of their story. I don’t know if this has any bearings going forward but this took me out of the story on more than one occasion.
Hype might be the biggest deterrent to picking this one up, but as my first Holly Black novel, The Cruel Prince was a solid series opener; especially when this book was incredibly page-turning with some great surprises for twists and a parallel world that offers so much space to toy around with in this magical fae world. Although the romance can read a bit forced, the relationship being propelled into the next book is one to surely be of intrigue to many readers (myself included).
I’m also an outlier in those who have enjoyed this book (everyone), so you should probably not listen to me at all on this one.