Title: The Cruel Prince (2018)
Author: Holly Black
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Read: 19th – 22nd June 2018
Genre: young-adult; fantasy
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
“One terrible morning, Jude and her sisters see their parents murdered in front of them. The terrifying assassin abducts all three girls to the world of Faerie, where Jude is installed in the royal court but mocked and tormented by the Faerie royalty for being mortal. As Jude grows older, she realises that she will need to take part in the dangerous deceptions of the fey to ever truly belong. But the stairway to power is fraught with shadows and betrayal. And looming over all is the infuriating, arrogant and charismatic Prince Cardan…” (Synopsis from the publisher)
Despite my distaste for another vastly popular YA fantasy series featuring fae, I decided to give The Cruel Prince a fair chance, having seen it highly rated by some of my fellow book bloggers and its praises sung by Leigh Bardugo, one of my favourite authors. I was promised dark, dangerous, and lush book – did it deliver? Partially. As far as fae stories go, I vastly preferred the tone of The Cruel Prince to the Sarah J. Maas school of fae where any semblance of plot is thrown over in favour of focusing on how hot and seductive the main characters are. Holly Black’s faeries may be seductive and alluring, sure, but they’re never for one second not dangerous, and outwardly so. Seeing the faerie court through the eyes of Jude, a partial outsider, helps to situate the reader in this precarious and risky position along with her, learning to trust/distrust those around her, and navigate the difficult socio-political environment in which she finds herself growing up.
“I am used to having servants attend to me. Imps and hobs, goblins and grigs. Gossamer wings and green nails, horns and fangs. I have been in Faerie for ten years. None of it seems all that strange anymore. Here, I am the strange one, with my blunt fingers, round ears, and mayfly life.”
I cannot deny that this book was an engrossing read, but after the first opening, shocking prologue chapter detailing the murder of Jude’s parents by a fae visitor, there was something of an abrupt change of pace and the narrative slowed right back down whilst Holly Black got her readers well-situated in the world. However, I didn’t find the world to be all that well-built or specific enough for me to vividly picture any of its locations. I found following Jude’s classes to me strangely dull, and monotonous, and the narrative seemed to spend far too long on them for them to not really advance the plot much. However, having said all that, when the book gripped me, it really gripped me, especially once we got further into the dark and delicious betrayals, backstabbing, spying, plotting, and coups – this kind of courtly intrigue and political machinations are the stuff I live for in fantasy books, and its presence in The Cruel Prince definitely earned it more of my praise than I would have probably given to what was otherwise an average book overall. (Sorry/not sorry.)
“Mithridatism, it’s called. Isn’t that a funny name? The process of eating poison to build up immunity. So long as I don’t die from it, I’ll be harder to kill.”
Furthermore, I had some issues with “telling not showing”, as I felt that a lot of the time we, as readers, were told that a character was utterly despicable, yet their actions didn’t necessarily prove this. In some ways, this serves to purposely wrong-foot the reader, because the alleged “cruel prince” isn’t as all it seems, and I did think that this was cannily done in order to subvert expectations you’d have for this a YA fantasy/romance of this ilk. However, I felt the characterisation came across as patchy at times because of it. I didn’t understand why we followed for Jule’s point of view because, to me, she was the least interesting of the siblings – unfortunately, I realised I probably would have been more intrigued to get Vivi or Taryn’s take on the events of the book than Jule’s, or maybe that of Cardan, Locke, or even Madoc.
” ‘So I am to sit here and feed you information,; Cardan says, leaning against a hickory tree. ‘And you’re to go charm royalty? That seems entirely backward.’
I fix him with a look. ‘I can be charming. I charmed you, didn’t I?’
He rolls his eyes. ‘Do not expect others to share my depraved tastes.’ “
In conclusion, I feel that The Cruel Prince was an interesting take on the fae court stories which, let’s face it, are having something of a renaissance right now in the YA fantasy world. However, I wouldn’t have necessarily picked this book up if it hadn’t been for this – I don’t really seem to enjoy faerie stories (Artemis Fowl is a very strange exception but those are, equally, very different faeries) and I need to accept this instead of looking around for a book to wow me because other readers have rated it 5-stars. There are elements of The Cruel Prince which I enjoyed and which I hope will be further explored in the inevitable sequels – I’d be very curious to see what Holly Black does with the characterisation and development of Taryn, Madoc, and Cardan in particular.
“It turns out that passing between Faerie and the mortal world isn’t all that difficult. Faerie exists beside and below mortal towns, in the shadows of mortal cities, and at their rotten, derelict, worm-eaten centers.”