Author: Holly Black
Series: The Folk of the Air, #1
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Publication Date: January 2, 2018
Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (5 stars)
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.
“If I cannot be better than them, I will become so much worse.”
This book is a masterpiece.
If the hype wasn’t enough to grab my attention, the unique premise would have: a girl cruelly stolen from the mortal world and raised among Fae, always on the periphery of truly belonging and wanting nothing more than to feel like she does — but in the high Court of Faerie, nothing comes without a price.
From page one, Holly Black’s The Cruel Prince immersed me in a vivid and complex fantasy world, and then yanked me along for a wild ride. Much of the beginning of the book is dedicated to introducing not only the intricate lore and politics of Faerie, but also the key characters and their dynamics. There’s a lot of ground to cover, but I love how it’s all woven tightly together and exposed bit by bit as it becomes relevant to the narration. We learn about the malicious nature inherent to the Fae, how a human’s ability to lie can be their greatest asset, and the complicated plot for the crown that has been simmering behind the scenes — all while accompanying Jude to her lessons, terse family dinners, and escapades to the mortal world. I was charmed by this first half of the novel, moving along at a leisurely pace to take in all of the world-building.
As soon as I hit the second half, though, I couldn’t put the book down. The mid-way twist blindsided me, and I loved the drastic pivot in mood and pacing that followed and persisted through the very end. It’s such a stark contrast to the beginning, which made me appreciate the initial naïvety and innocence only after the façade crumbled away. Dark, political, and deceptive, the remainder of the book is filled to the brim with all of the tropey goodness I live for: multi-faceted scheming, moral grey areas, fragile alliances, anti-heroes, and more.
Jude is a phenomenal multilayered protagonist. There are several clear themes that string the novel together, and I love how effortlessly yet thoroughly they get explored through her character growth. Cast since her childhood as the weak outsider, she’s grown up with a desire for power and a sense of belonging. But when she comes face-to-face with what she thought she wanted, over and over again, she realizes that true power and belonging are nuanced ideals and attaining them doesn’t come without plenty of sacrifices. The real question is, what sacrifices is she willing to make? When you turn that final page, remind yourself that at the beginning, the extent of “power” that Jude sought was the ability to evade the glamours of other faeries and control her own fate. Her character development is truly staggering, and I loved every bit of watching this pithy, intelligent, and downright dark and cunning girl come into her own.
So much is jam-packed into this powerhouse of a series starter, yet it’s all strung together seamlessly. From its unique premise through plenty of twists and turns and an ominously fitting conclusion that will leave you wanting so much more of this deliciously dark world, The Cruel Prince took my breath away. I can’t recommend it enough.