Title:The Cruel Prince
Author: Holly Black
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Publisher: Little Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date: January 2018
Of course I want to be like them. They’re beautiful as blades forged in some divine fire. They will live forever.
And Cardan is even more beautiful than the rest. I hate him more than all the others. I hate him so much that sometimes when I look at him, I can hardly breathe.
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.
Stand alone or series: Book 1 in the Folk of the Air series
How did I get this book: Bought
Format (e- or p-): Print
Back when Ana and I started The Book Smugglers, we read a lot of dark fairy tales. Melissa Marr, Holly Black, Juliet Mariller, Patricia Briggs, Kim Harrison–these authors all know and write beautifully about the Seelie and Unseelie Courts, of the creatures of wood and air that inhabit the world at the edges of our mortal realm. A few years back, however, I stopped reading so much about this particular brand of faerie–not as a slight to the pantheon, but just because it felt like that particular moment of fey resurgence in Fantasy and YA SFF had passed. But then, a new Holly Black book comes along, and all of that changes. The Cruel Prince is a tale of the fey of old–the ones who thirst for blood and have their way with humans, playing tricks, telling riddles, compelling and ordering and stealing their way to power.
In particular, The Cruel Prince is a story of three sisters: Vivienne, Taryn, and Jude. Vivi, the eldest, is the half-blood daughter of a mortal mother and a fey father. Jude and Taryn are the younger sisters–twins in fact–and full-blooded mortals, born after their mother tricked and defied her faerie husband and slipped back into the mortal realm with her human lover. Together, the sisters live happily in the mortal world with their human mother and father–until Madoc arrives, hungry for blood. Discovering his mortal wife’s deception years later–she and his daughter did not die in a fire, but are alive and well in the mortal realm–Madoc takes his revenge, killing mother and father. But Madoc is an old creature bound by honor and the rules of his kind: he does not kill or leave his child, or his slain wife’s subsequent children, behind.
And so it is that two mortal twins (and their half-faerie older sister) come to live as the daughters of one of the most powerful and feared generals of the High Court of Faerie. For Jude, life among the fey is hard and cruel and full of danger–but it is the life she has always known. Jude hates her mortality and weakness; no matter how hard she trains, how sharp she becomes as a strategist and a warrior, she will never be as powerful, as fast, or as gifted as the faeries all around her. Taryn takes a different tack, choosing to assimilate as much as possible, embracing her almost certain eventuality that she will become a bride and peace offering to another faerie court. As for Vivi, the only faerie child of the three, she chooses to rebel against her mother’s killer, determined to do the exact opposite of what Macon desires for her, consequences be damned. If she can make trouble for her new stepmother, Madoc’s new wife, all the better.
As the years pass, the three girls grow more firmly into the roles they invent for themselves–Vivi the defiant, Taryn the kindhearted, Jude the ambitious–and fall into a rhythm. All of that changes again, though, when the High King of Faerie announces that he will be leaving his throne and the realm: Jude seizes the opportunity to enter a competition that could win her a shield as a warrior under another Faerie’s banner. She also breaks another rule by drawing attention to herself–this time, when Prince Cardan (youngest, cruelest son of the High King) and his cronies tease and taunt Taryn and Jude, Jude fights back.
Dark fairy tales involving the fair folk’s crueler nature are tricky novels–as I mentioned before, I read a whole lot of them back in 2008-2012ish, from Melissa Marr to Juliet Marillier to, of course, Holly Black. This new novel hearkens back to those tales, conjuring images of terrible and beautiful faeries and the mortals who dare to live alongside them. Per usual, Holly Black paints a darkly gorgeous world in this novel; the fey are strange and otherworldly with their strength, their customs, and their abilities, and we acutely see the difference between mortal and immortal. But there are many books that have done this in the past–so what? Where The Cruel Prince differentiates itself is with its relationships, its focus on family, and all the lines one might cross in the name of that family. Jacket copy be damned, this is not a book about a young girl falling in love with a beautiful faerie prince who is mean to her; this is the story of a determined young mortal woman who knows she is out of her depth but desperately wants to do right for her sisters and brother, and her adoptive kingdom. The Cruel Prince is very much Jude’s story–she is the one who uncovers the secret plots that would doom or save faerie, and strategizes how to win the game, though it costs her dearly. Ultimately, Jude is not so much motivated by power as she is motivated by her understanding of power–having grown up as a disgusting mortal in the realm of the ineffable, ancient, and cruel, she has always learned to protect herself (and her other weakened family) from attack. Her vulnerability and stubbornness are the characteristics that define her narrative; I loved these moments with Jude so dearly.
Yes, there are moments of ridiculously trite teenage melodrama–including at least one poorly timed romantic interlude that is eyeroll-inducing. BUT those are minor quibbles in a story this rich, with an ending so wonderfully heart-wrenching and satisfying at the same time. I thoroughly enjoyed The Cruel Prince and absolutely recommend it to anyone itching for a good, dark fairy tale.
Rating: 7 – Very Good, leaning towards an 8