My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Length: 384 pages
Release date: 2 January 2018
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.
“Of course, Taryn is right about stories. Bad things happen to those princesses. They are pricked with thorns, poisoned by apples, married to their own fathers. They have their hands cut off and their brothers turned into swans, their lovers chopped up and planted in basil pots. They vomit up diamonds. When they walk, it feels as though they’re walking on knives.
They still manage to look nice.”
When I first saw The Cruel Prince on my Goodreads feed, I knew I had to have it. So when it showed up on NetGalley for UK readers, as so many American novels don’t, it was a hugely pleasant surprise. And when I got approved for it?
Then, of course, I had to go and finish it in one day, subjecting myself to a yearlong+ wait for the next instalment.
As you can see from my 5-star rating (this one’s an enthusiastic 5 stars, no grudgingly-4.5-rounded-up pass here), it did not disappoint. If I had to give my review in one word, it would be bravo. Painted with just the right amount of darkness, The Cruel Prince is a beautiful anti-fairytale with a jaded protagonist whose strength nonetheless shines through on every page. Holly Black’s writing is as its most brilliant when she takes the luxury of time to explore the messy, tangled, and ultimately revealing relationships between characters.
For those unfamiliar with Black’s universe, as I was before picking up The Cruel Prince, something that the blurb doesn’t really tell you is that her land of Faerie exists alongside our modern-day human world. Probably because of other Fae books I’ve read like A Court of Thorns and Roses and An Enchantment of Ravens, I went in expecting that it’d be an original high fantasy setting. Although unexpected by me, the actual location of Faerie works superbly, allowing Jude to have a moral compass similar to that of 21st-century developed world without feeling contrived or too good to be true (looking at you, Rhysand). The few scenes we see of Jude stepping foot into mortal society–getting ice cream in Converse high-tops–creates a thought-provoking duality between the Wonderland-like faerie kingdom and, well, Earth.
The novel is split into two “books,” where Book One is a slow burn where the pieces are set up for the actual game, which starts off with a bang in Book Two. That said, Book One doesn’t drag at all; there’s still so much going on that I feel like I could reread all of The Cruel Prince from start to finish and find that I’d missed as many details the first time as I’d caught. Without giving away specifics, the whole plot flows wonderfully, with more than one scene that left me going
¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Also, CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
As enchanting the setting and captivating the story, though, the backbone of the book ultimately lies with the characters. They’re honourable and strong-willed and caring at times, but more frequently, they’re vengeful and ambitious and, of course, cruel. No one is a better example of the entire range of qualities as Jude Duartes, who impresses with her resilience, courage and cunning. In Book Two, she actually shocked me with some of the manoeuvres she pulls off without blinking–this is a girl who goes from the mortal black sheep amongst her faerie classmates to, well, something awesome. I won’t spoil it, but here’s food for thought:
“The odd thing about ambition is this: You can acquire it like a fever, but it is not so easy to shed.”
Jude’s twin Taryn, fully human, and elder sister Vivi, half faerie, each have fleshed-out personalities of their own. Taryn is more of a “good girl” who follows the rules and strives to please her peers, but she’s hiding her own secrets. Vivi is just a blast–thanks to being born one of the faeries, she doesn’t give a damn about kowtowing to them and doesn’t care if everyone else can see it. She’s also seeing a mortal girlfriend, making her life quite a bit more intertwined with the human world than her sisters’, adding an interesting dynamic to her character. Madoc, their adoptive father and killer of Jude’s biological parents, is a surprisingly decent guy whose eyes I still want to stab out with a fork. The dysfunctional family dynamics end up playing a pivotal role in the story, but they’re also fascinating solely on their own merits.
Finally, there’s the eponymous Cardan, who I’m guessing is the one everybody wants to read about anyways. Well, I’ll go right ahead and say it: he’s a little shit! But a little shit you continue watching while alternating between a squint and a smile! I’m not sold on his reasons for hating Jude, and it would have been nice to see a bit more of the inner workings of his mind, but hey, I had fun reading his asshattery anyways. And it’s gonna be really, really interesting to see where his arc goes in the sequel.
*Thanks to Bonnier Zaffre and NetGalley for providing a review copy of this book! All opinions represented remain my own.*