The Cruel Prince, by Holly Black is a fantastic dark fae filled fantasy that draws on the cruelty of the fae and creates something unique.
CW/TW: May contain spoilers: Abuse (physical/mental), bullying/torment/torture, violence, emotional manipulation, murder.
Synopsis: As children Jude and her two sisters witnessed the murder of their parents and were then stolen away to the land of the Fae. The High Court Of Faerie is a dangerous place, the fae dislike humans and Jude draws more attention to herself than she should. But as tensions rise so does a dark and dealy plot and Jude gets caught up in the middle. Jude must keep one eye on the court and another on the cruel and dangerous Prince Cardan.
The Cruel Prince, by Holly Black is a uniquely dark and twisted story of the Fae that I thoroughly enjoyed. Though it sticks to a lot of traditional mythological beliefs around the fae, their magic, and their behaviour it still manages to stand out among the other fae filled reads by using it them in original ways.
Holly Black’s writing style is beautiful and compelling, but maintains a simplicity that makes it easty to read and race through. She weaves a beautiful picture with rich descriptions that bring the settings and characters alive. I love how she manages to capture the beauty and magic of the fae, making Faerie come across as almost elusive and gorgeous as well as balancing the harsh reality of the cruelty of the fae. The prose perfectly captures the beauty as well as the trickster side of the fae, with careful and clever wording that shows their wit.
This book is told from Jude’s perspective, in the first person, and was very effective partly due to how limiting it is. We only see Jude’s side of the story, and we only see her perspective so it allows for a lot of mystery to be built up over the course of the story. This helped maintain a good pace and helped to create tension throughout the book. Jude is a headstrong character who acts impulsively so her perspective was very interesting albeit frustrating at times, but we could understand why she acts as she does because we get a lot of insight into her thoughts, feelings and emotions.
The story is very character driven, for the first 1/4 it seems to have little plot and focuses more of Jude’s life in Faerie – I didn’t mind this, I love a character driven story and it was interesting to see Jude’s view of the world before we got thrown into the underlying ‘plot’ concerning the throne. There is a lot of personal conflict that keeps this story going though most notable Jude and Cardan’s is the primary one. I will admit I don’t see why people ship these two characters as hard as they do but I have heard book 2 makes this much clearer!
I really enjoyed the underlying plot regarding the crown and found it to be interesting – I loved the stealth and action scenes, the trickery and the manipulation, and the betrayals that occur over the course of the story. Each element really highlighted how cruel and clever the fae could be and I loved it – I love the dark and gritty portrayal of the fae and this book definitely ran with it, from outright violence to manipulation for fun it truly dug into that cruel fae mythology. There are a lot of twists and turns in this story, some more predictable than others, but each one makes you want to keep reading.
Moreover, I loved how the magic works in this world, from glamours to oaths to resisting the fae. This draws heavily on tradition, the fae cannot lie, they can glamour items/themselves, the can bind you to an oath, their food can make you easy to manipulate and in their world you can end up trapped in multiple ways – I also loved that she drew on tradition to resist the fae. Because they cannot lie there is a very specific dynamic created, words are chosen carefully, and tricks are used – this was one of my favourite things about the book because it added a sense of scrutiny, nothing could be taken at face value.
The characters are very complex and interesting, none seem to be what they appear. Jude is, as I said, headstrong and impulsive, but she can be clever and calculating, almost as good at manipulating others as the fae can, and can handle herself – with the right protection. She is quite compelling because she is significantly flawed, she can be selfish and cruel too but through necessity due to usually holding less power. As the story goes on she develops and changes quite a bit, though not entirely for the better – which is realistic and serves to help her at times. I quite liked Jude’s character, more so as the book progresses.
Cardan, immediately is presented as heavily flawed – he is cruel and seems to torment Jude for no reason. But, he is also clever, charismatic and witty and over the course of the story his personality gets to be revealed, as does his own demons and problems. Cardan is a bully at first, but by the end of the book there seems to be a lot more to him, he is who his family made him but he begins to break out of that mould and I look forward to seeing how he develops in the rest of the series.
There are a lot more characters in this story from Jude’s sisters (Taryn and Viv), to Locke, Madoc, the rest of the royal family and other members of the fae. Each of these characters develop well over the course of the story some grow more likeable others less so.
Viv tends to balance on a beam, she is a great character who wants to leave Faerie, but can be unruly and rude (though I don’t blame her for this) I loved her and found her to be intriguing. Taryn appears sweet and very submissive, by the end I actually grew to dislike her for a few reasons. Locke, I never fully trusted and definitely hated by the end. Madoc is an awful character, well written but severly unlikeable – he is cruel and bloodthirsty. There is some diversity in the cast of characters including Bi rep (possibly also lesbian rep – there is an f/f relationship with said Bi character).
There are a lot more chracters and a lot more I could say about the ones I have already mentioned but there would be far too many spoilers for those who have yet to read this book. I really did like the cast of charcaters though and found they all were established very well.
Overall: I really enjoyed this story, I did feel it dragged very slightly at times and I was a little let down by the Jude Cardan relationship (but this is a result of the hype I went into this book with) but it is a fantastic story. The characters are complex, dynamic and flawed, the story was intriguing, the magic was cruel and beautiful and the fae really manifested into the cruel and dark trickster myth that I adore.
I would recommend this to faerie, magic and fantasy lovers. Especially if you adore cruel and bloodthristy faeries, manipulation and deadly plots, and realistic and complex characters.