REVIEW: The Wicked King (The Folk of the Air #2) by Holly Black

The Wicked King by Holly Black

Length: 336 pages

Release date: 8 January 2019

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.


2

 

Power is much easier to acquire than it is to hold on to.

 

This book was AWFUL. It was THE WORST. I hate it so much right now, I literally figuratively can’t breathe through my fog of anger. It toyed with my emotions, it sucked up my time, and it made me question everything I thought I knew. Not just about its own story, but about how YA fantasy is supposed to work.

Holly Black, you ground up my heart and made a smoothie out of the bits. I hope you’re happy now that you’ve obliterated the trust I had in you. Out of all the things I could say to you, if I could only choose one of them, it would be: Bravo.

It’s series like The Folk of the Air that keep me coming back to YA. I haven’t read a trilogy’s second instalment with this quality of political intrigue, treachery and merciless ending since S.J. Kincaid’s The Empress. And after The Empress, the final book of that series has been at least two years with not even a title in sight. I’m not bringing that up to imply anything about The Queen of Nothing, just pointing out that stories this gripping aren’t easy to plot, and once written, they’re not easy to conclude.

I know it sounds like I’m actually praising this book now, but that can’t be right. I meant it wholeheartedly when I said that this book is THE WORST. I mean it, guys, I hate it with the same fiery intensity that Jude hates Cardan.


Part One of why The Wicked King is THE WORST: The Characters

Jude Duarte

Pain makes you strong, Madoc once told me, making me lift a sword again and again. Get used to the weight.

 
Actually the most amazing, brilliant, ruthless YA protagonist of all time who deserves to be in the hall of fame alongside Lada Dracul and Daenerys Targaryen for achieving WTF levels of accomplishments when no one believed in them A stone cold, conniving bad bitch who’ll do whatever it takes to get her that sweet sweet power, yet still somehow the most moral person in Faerie. Yep, I said it, despite manipulating everyone and murdering idiots who get in her way, Jude Duarte is the most moral person in Faerie. Cardan is an asshole for obvious reasons, Jude’s family all suck for reasons I’ll get into below, and that’s without mentioning any of the ACTUAL VILLAINS who make Cardan look like a playground bully. So what if she’s happy to leave a few bodies behind? I’d bend the knee to her as my queen any day.

Cardan Greenbriar

My king. But only for a year and a day, and five months are already gone.

 
As Jude will tell you, he is just THE WORST. The whole book is the worst, but he’s a special level of worst. Not only is he a mug who likes to kick puppies and makes an active effort to be as useless as possible, he’s also rapidly learning to scheme with the best of them. What’s worse than a useless jerk? A competent jerk, of course, because then they actually become a threat. After being epically betrayed and forced onto the throne as Jude’s puppet in The Cruel Prince, Cardan is out for blood. With Jude as his seneschal in public and commander in private, no one can say that he’s not learning from the best. Is a motivated and clever High King Cardan what ANYONE wants though? Let’s not forget that he was a massive knob who kept company with three of the most horrendous friends in existence in the first book. Speaking of which…

Locke

No, no, NO! Fuck this guy. He’s a complete sleazebag who should have exited the plot, preferably via painful death, a long time ago. He’s not even in the top five of the series’ villains.

Taryn Duarte

Oh, and look who’s enabling the sleazebag. It’s none other than Jude’s own spineless twin sister. I can’t believe the two are the same species, let alone share the same DNA and physical features. I refuse to read The Lost Sisters, because I have no interest in hearing this weak-willed coward’s side of the story. If you think I’m being too harsh on her, wait until you’ve finished The Wicked King. I’m mad at Cardan, but I’m past the point of ever forgiving Taryn.

Vivienne Duarte

In the minority here, I find Jude’s other sister possibly even more distasteful thanks to how she never had to go through the hardships her younger sisters did growing up (at least Taryn has a sob story excuse for her behaviour) yet remains wilfully ignorant of the systemic prejudice mortals face in Faerie. “But I have a mortal girlfriend!!!” Yeah you do, Vivi, and the way you treat her is gross.

Madoc

By far the most interesting of the series’ villains, Madoc occupies a contradictory role in Jude’s life as the man who murdered her parents and kidnapped their children, a monster by all human standards, her foster father growing up, and now her political rival for control of the crown. Having gotten a taste of Jude’s true potential at the end of the first book, Madoc doesn’t disappoint in The Wicked King. It’s fascinating to see how his outlook on her completely changes, the blinds having fallen from his eyes, and he finally sees his abducted “daughter” for the vicious kingmaker she really is. Madoc is truly THE WORST father in YA.

Orlagh and Nicasia

Spurn the Sea once,
We will have your blood.
Spurn the Sea twice,
We will have your clay.
Spurn the Sea thrice,
Your crown will away.

 
It’s great that the Undersea played a much larger role in this book, providing a deadly source of intrigue. At the same time, Queen Orlagh and Princess Nicasia are terrible people. As one of Cardan’s shithead squad from The Cruel Prince, Nicasia is sadistic, entitled, and not even competent to make up for it. At least Orlagh had the political skill to execute her enemies and consolidate power in uniting the Undersea, which is far more than her daughter will ever achieve.


Part Two of why The Wicked King is THE WORST: The Toxic Relationship

I never said this series was heartwarming, fulfilling, or kind. That’s because it’s not. In fact, it may be one of the most toxic series I’ve read. Cardan and Jude are the kind of pair who make me want to get out my notebook and doodle hearts in the margins like it’s middle school. They really seriously hate each other, and they really, REALLY want to let you know, in case you ever got the wrong idea. And if a few bodies happen to hit the dust along the way (on Jude’s end…because Cardan doesn’t like murder for some reason), well, that’s just unfortunate collateral.

I like him better than I’ve ever liked anyone and of all the things he’s ever done to me, making me like him so much is by far the worst.

 
Don’t forget that she has him under a spell where he’s bound to obey any order she gives. Or that he and his friends nearly killed her in their sick games at school. Or that they’re political enemies who scheme nonstop for the upper hand. Both of them can be pretty shitty people–come on, I’m not buying Cardan’s excuse about the tortured childhood for one second–and basically, they deserve each other.

I ship them so hard. I’ve been on board since reading the synopsis of The Cruel Prince. Normally I’d say this is YA, so there’s no danger of the ship ever not sailing, but remember when I talked about Holly Black making me question everything I thought I knew about the genre? Yeah. Here we go.


Part Three of why The Wicked King is THE WORST: The Ending

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I know I already commented on the merciless ending earlier, but it was so bad that I have to dedicate an entire section to venting. Cliffhangers should be banned for five star series like this one. Lots of readers are going to go crazy waiting for The Queen of Nothing. Yeah, poetic title for the last book there, but the cliffhanger has me lowkey panicked that it’s going to be prophetic as well. The last book better not hurt Jude. It better not maim, humiliate, defeat or break the heart of Jude Duarte, goddamn Holly Black hasn’t she suffered enough? Girl’s been stabbed, shot at, tortured and resorted to poisoning herself daily to gain an edge, and I am so ready for her to start winning, not just for a few months as she’s done so far but for good.

Please, for real, make Jude the queen of everything. In the meantime, eff you for doing this to me, The Wicked King. I hate you. I honestly, sincerely hate you.

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