Title: The Wicked King
Author: Holly Black
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: January 2019
Hardcover: 336 pages
This exclusive edition contains deleted scenes sure to delight fans and give them a special peek into the world of Faerie!
The enchanting and bloodthirsty sequel to the New York Times bestselling novel The Cruel Prince.
You must be strong enough to strike and strike and strike again without tiring.
The first lesson is to make yourself strong.
After the jaw-dropping revelation that Oak is the heir to Faerie, Jude must keep her younger brother safe. To do so, she has bound the wicked king, Cardan, to her, and made herself the power behind the throne. Navigating the constantly shifting political alliances of Faerie would be difficult enough if Cardan were easy to control. But he does everything in his power to humiliate and undermine her even as his fascination with her remains undiminished.
When it becomes all too clear that someone close to Jude means to betray her, threatening her own life and the lives of everyone she loves, Jude must uncover the traitor and fight her own complicated feelings for Cardan to maintain control as a mortal in a Faerie world.
Stand alone or series: Book 2 in the Folk of the Air series
How did I get this book: Bought
Format (e- or p-): Print
**WARNING: This review contains unavoidable spoilers for book 1, The Cruel Prince. If you have not read book 1 and want to remain unspoiled, LOOK AWAY.**
Last year, I had the distinct pleasure of reading The Cruel Prince–the first in a new series from the prolific and distinguished Holly Black. At first, I wasn’t hugely interested in reading the series–though I certainly appreciate a good tale involving the fair folk, and Holly Black’s delectable writing–reading about a cruel faery prince through an under-powered mortal point of view (inevitably leading to a romance between said characters) did not register highly on my excitement meter. But then a ton of reviewers and authors and friends started raving about the book, and I was in a bookstore and it was like right there, so of course I decided to scoop it up and give it a try.
Readers, I really liked that book. I liked it so much that it made my best of 2018 list. And it ended with an awesome cliffhanger/twist, so naturally I was hooked and eager to get my hands on The Wicked King as quickly as possible.
[Spoilers for book 1 ahead, friends.]
In one brilliant move, Jude Duarte has gone from dissembling, weak mortal to the most powerful being in all of faerie. Having tricked Cardan into taking the crown as High King of Faerie–as part of a desperate gamble to keep her younger brother, Oak, safe and free from their surrogate father Madoc’s manipulations–Jude now secretly controls the will of Elfhame. To the rest of the fey–including Madoc himself, as well as her twin sister Taryn–Jude is an ambitious, probably love-struck mortal that has defied her father’s wishes in exchange for power as Cardan’s seneschal. In reality, Jude is effectually the King of Faerie. With her ability to command Cardan for a year and a day, and with the spy organization of the Court of Shadows at her back, Jude schemes and plots and tries to keep the realm under control and out of war.
Rule is not so easy, however, when no one can know of Jude’s true power, and when her King fights her command at every turn. Things become even more complicated when the Queen of the Undersea makes a move against the High King, claiming that her pact for peace with the folk of the land lay with King Eldred and not with King Cardan–worse yet, somehow Cardan’s defeated and imprisoned elder brother Balekin is part of the plot.
Facing enemies from within–her own network of spies and allies, and a reckless, drunken King chafing at her commands–and attacks from the outside in the form of the Realm of the Sea and her own father, Jude walks a dangerous path. It will take all of her skill and determination to maintain her control of Elfhame. After all, Jude has learned well from her father.
Power is much easier to acquire than it is to hold on to.
The singular theme of The Wicked King is power. Jude has lived almost all of her life in Faerie. Being the surrogate daughter of the King’s General would mean prestige and power for any creature with fey blood–unfortunately for Jude and Taryn, they are both fully mortal, the children of Madoc’s human wife and the man who helped her trick her way out of Faerie. As a human in this realm of magic and riddles and glamours, Jude has been told to keep her head down and stay in her place. But, as the events of The Cruel Prince illustrate, Jude has never been one to feign weakness–at least, not unless it serves a larger strategy. In The Wicked King, Jude has gone from prey to predator; she has seized power when no one believed that she could, and though she did it to protect her family, finally possessing true power is intoxicating in its own right. (Of course the thing of it is, no one can know Jude has outsmarted them all or all of her carefully-laid plans will come crashing down.) But the crazy thing about power is that it comes with constant challenges–from the Sea, from the dethroned and those who have been displaced from Cardan’s rise, and from the schemers within the court. Madoc’s lessons have always served Jude well, and she learns this particular one over and over again in The Wicked King–and one that rings very true.
Beyond Jude’s arc, The Wicked King is so damn good because of its twisty plot–another Holly Black hallmark, and she does not disappoint. The realm of Faerie is full of tricks and distrust, and even friendly allies have their own secretive motivations. Though there is undeniable attraction between Jude and Cardan, it’s not exactly love or lust or hate–there are reasons they do the things they do, and we can’t really predict what those reasons are or how they’ll unfold. That’s part of the thrill, really. Similarly, the relationship between Jude and her sisters (especially Taryn) and ohmygod the relationship between Jude and Madoc are particularly thorny and nuanced. There is respect and tension, betrayals and lies, and it’s all just so incredibly well written.
I finished this book with my heart in my throat at the final revelations, and while I am so frustrated I have to wait another year to know what happens next, I loved every moment of this adventure.
Absolutely recommended and one of my favorite reads of the year so far.
**A note on the edition: I read the B&N exclusive hardcover, which has a different jacket and also features several “deleted scenes” from the book (as an appendix at the end). Definitely worth it, in this reader’s opinion.
Rating: 8 – Absolutely Brilliant