The Cruel Prince (Folk of the Air #1)
By: Holly Black
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: January 2nd, 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.
I seem to love Holly Black for different reasons than everyone else. While most people seem to really like her Tithe series, I personally adore her for the White Cat series (I did read pieces of the Tithe series, but remember being kinda meh about them). But, whether you like fairies or crazy heist plot twists, you are going to like the Cruel Prince. It’s a glorious marriage of the dark, seductive imagery of Tithe with the high-stakes tension and serpentine plot of White Cat. What is there not to like?
The Cruel Prince starts off wild–a double murder of the Jude’s parents by her mother’s ex-husband, who also happens to be a fairie general, Madoc. Although only Jude’s half sister is Madoc’s child, he also claims custody of Jude and her identical twin, Taryn, and sweeps them off to live in Faerie. Although the half-fey sibling, Vivi, sneaks back off to the mortal world every chance she gets, Taryn and Jude are more fond of the fey world, despite everyone making it clear that they don’t fit in.
The book starts off with a lot of tension–Jude’s odd position of living as the adopted child of the man who killed her parents is really the main one. But, as adopted children of a nobleman, they’re also sent off to study with the other noble children of the fey realm. This leads to some bullying, notably by the ‘Cruel Prince’ Cardan (or, you know, a lot of bullying of the ‘mortal danger’ kind). Although the book meanders some at first, it’s also clear that there’s quite a lot of political tension happening, as the High King is preparing to step down in favor of one of his children (dum dum dummm).
I honestly loved all of the tension and crazy situations, though. I loved the delicate balance of Madoc’s household and his crazy band of mostly-not-his children. I loved Jude’s older sister Vivi, her spunk (and her human girlfriend, which was part of the reason she was sneaking out all the time)(also, saying ‘our father is conservative’ and not ‘our father is an immortal being’ was one of the better lies Jude told). I liked the relationship between Jude and Taryn, how they cared for each other, but had radically different natures. I appreciated how Taryn was the happy-go-lucky one, the gentle sweet one, compared to Jude’s fiery nature. But they were both doggedly pursuing their goals, to find a way to stay and be accepted in Faerie, albeit by different paths. It was difficult to like Taryn sometimes, but her goals were always understandable. And although Jude’s stepmother Orliana started out stereotypical as all get out, I warmed to her and her precarious position over the course of the book.
What I loved, though, was how Jude doggedly pushes to find a way to earn a place in Faerie. She pushes herself, distinguishes herself in the tournament, finds a way to serve a court, and keeps grabbing at every opportunity she sees. Her resilience and fire is what I loved about her. But I also liked how, over the course of the book, she begins to see that some of what she’s been told about her inadequacy, her inherent flaws, her weakness, is just plain bull. That she’s despised not necessarily because she is so much more fragile, but because she has strengths that the fey don’t. One of my favorite parts was her reckoning with Cardan about ¾ of the way through the book, where he suddenly realizes that she’s SO much more than she seems. And, although there’s a little bit of tension there too, I appreciated how it skirted outright romance with the person who’d been horrible to Jude throughout her childhood. But I also liked how Cardan was humanized, how it was shown he didn’t have a perfect childhood either, even though he chose to take it out on someone else.
Although all of this stuff is going on in a slightly meandering way, the plot kicks into high gear about halfway through the book, when Cardan’s brother stages a coup and attempts to take over the throne. Jude, Cardan and everyone else is thrust into a high-stakes situation, where a single misstep could be deadly. And, although I appreciated the wind-up, I loved this part most of all, the political chess that’s going on, and how all it takes to unravel everything is a few well-buried secrets.
The twist at the end (of course there’s a twist at the end) is also delightful, with a promise of a thorny, dark next book–titled the Wicked King. I, for one, will be looking out eagerly for it.
Disclaimer: The synopsis and cover picture were pulled from the book’s Goodreads page. Neither belong to us.