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Title: The Cruel Prince
Author: Holly Black
Format: Paperback – 370 pages
“ Because you’re like a story that hasn’t happened yet. Because I want to see what you will do. I want to be part of the unfolding of the tale.” – The Cruel Prince
Hello Hello! How are you all today?
I had been wanting to read this book ever since it came out two years ago and I had been putting it off for so long because unless I get a new released book in my monthly Fairyloot box or it is a Goodreads book club pick, I don’t generally pick up new releases until they are a few months – or years – old. I only just acquired all three books because I knew that when I read this, I was going to want to binge the whole series, but guess who forgot the other two books back in France?
Back in December, Noly and I decided that we wanted to read something with Fae and we automatically picked The Cruel Prince because we had both been hearing such good things! It’s the first book I’ve picked on my February TBR and it didn’t disappoint, so keep reading to find out what I thought about The Cruel Prince!
Of course I want to be like them. They’re beautiful as blades forged in some divine fire. They will live forever. And Cardan is even more beautiful than the rest. I hate him more than all the others. I hate him so much that sometimes when I look at him, I can hardly breathe.
Jude was seven 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.
As Jude becomes more deeply embroiled in palace intrigues and deceptions, she discovers her own capacity for trickery and bloodshed. But as betrayal 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.
The Cruel Prince is the first book in the YA fantasy series The Folk of the Air by Holly Black. We follow the main character, Jude Duarte, a mortal girl, stolen away from her parents and the mortal world, along with her two sisters and taken to the world of Faerie. The Faeries all despise humans and Jude despises Faeries too. She is a mortal, but she has ambitions, she wants power and she knows how to get her hands on it. But if she is to become part of the Court of Faerie, she has to get around Cardan. He is the sixth son of the High King of Faerie and probably one of the cruellest Faeries she knows.
Right from the start, we see how Jude has a very ambiguous relationship with many people around her, but also with her setting. She despises Madoc for having killed her parents when she was a child, but at the same time she admits to now loving him. She hates people in Faerie and what they stand for, but she couldn’t imagine her life anywhere else and wants to be a knight for the High King. She hates Cardan and knows that he hates her too, but she can’t help but realise how beautiful he is. Through Jude’s point of view, the reader is swept down quite a dark and violent path, where people are cruel and backstabbing and she has to fight as if her life depended on it to get what she wants. But will she succeed?
One of the things I liked the most about The Cruel Prince was its settings and their descriptions. Holly Black’s writing style is quite flowery, she has managed to craft a beautiful backdrop to this dark story. I adore it when a book has a map at the start and this one is so beautiful!
Throughout the story we see quite a few different places, for instance, the Shifting Isles of Elfhame, also known as Insweal, Insmoor and Insmire. The last of which is where Jude and her family live, in Madoc’s stronghold. Elfhame is described as a fairy tale setting, with each place described vividly like the Milkwood or the Lake of Masks. I really enjoyed learning more details of some of the places Jude takes us to, like the Lake of Masks, where you never see your own reflection staring back at you. All of the places seem magical and you can’t help but be swept up in the story.
I really liked reading about Madoc’s stronghold, the Palace of Elfhame, Hollow Hall and a few other manors/castles, because a lot of the time in fantasy books, the story is mostly walled into one single dwelling, whereas here, I feel like we got a really good view of the island, whether the outside or the actual homes. All the interiors felt very regal to me, with gold, emerald and red hues, showing off the decadence and wealth of the homesteads. I felt like all of these lush descriptions of beautiful homes was actually quite a stark contrast with what was actually going on in the story and with the characters. I got the impression that the setting really helped to make the plot even darker and atmospheric. I think my favourite place Jude went to was the Lake of Masks because we learn a lot about her personality, her intentions and her feelings while she was looking into the lake, especially towards the end of the book.
I think this is the part of the review that I’ve been really looking forward to writing because I have so many thoughts going around in my head about all the different characters!
Jude: She is the main character and the narrator/POV. We first meet her when she is 7 years old, she witnesses her parents’ murder by Madoc. Fast forward, 10 years and we meet her as a young woman. She immediately appears to be a very determined character, she has a strong personality and she knows exactly what she wants. I really felt for her at times because she had some dark moods when she was thinking about her parents, how Madoc killed them and how, through living in Faerie for so many years and being around naturally cruel people, she had actually become cruel herself. You can tell that she has gone through quite a lot in her life and she wants to get back what she lost and possess power. As a mortal, in Faerie, she is fragile and she wants to become a knight to prove that she is not merely a mortal. I really enjoyed reading from her perspective and even though her decisions are maybe slightly iffy at times, I really fell for her. She is really witty and just a generally strong character, it was a nice change to not have a female character swooning left and right, and actually fighting back, and doing it well.
Cardan: I think you could call Cardan the proverbial bad boy. He is tall, beautiful and cruel, wouldn’t we all love to have our own Cardan, ahah! I have to admit that the first impression I got of him was that he was very condescending and righteous, after all he is royalty, but it felt like a sinister type of personality. Of course he is charming and regal, but I think that he comes across as cruel and I definitely understand why Jude hates him. Even though Jude and Cardan remain cruel towards one another, right at the end, the tension lifts a little, and you see a side of him that is a bit more vulnerable and a bit more “human”. I’m really interested in seeing how he is going to be portrayed in the second book because I think that we’re going to get a lot more information about him!
Jude’s family: I wanted to touch quickly on the different members of her family because I really liked how the author portrayed every single person. Taryn is Jude’s twin sister and they may be alike in looks but they are nothing alike in their personalities. To begin, I quite liked Taryn and I felt that Jude and her had a good relationship, but I’m actually not too sure. Taryn has become totally part of this magical world and she wants to live like them, for all intents and purposes whereas Jude still wants to be distanced from the Faerie. Vivienne is their older sister, she is part mortal and part Faerie so she has some Fae characteristics, for instance, pointed ears and cat eyes. We don’t really see as much of Vivienne as we do of Taryn, but I think I enjoyed the moments with Vivienne so much more, there is just something about her that makes me want to hug her! The sisters also have a younger half-brother, called Oak. Oriana and Madoc are Jude’s “foster parents” I suppose you could say. At the start I DID NOT LIKE Oriana, I thought she was stuck up and cruel, but as the story progressed, I feel like she mellowed a bit and became a bit more likeable. Madoc is… strange. I like him, but at the same time, I hate him. He is very violent and bloodthirsty, but there were a few times when you could really see that he cared for Jude and her sisters and it made him seem more approachable and less cruel.
Royal family members and other Faeries: Quite early on in the story, we learn that all members of the royal family have an animal feature, for example, Cardan has a tale! I thought this was quite an original feature because apart from the ACOTAR series by Sarah J. Maas, I don’t think I have read a book where Fae are also “part animal”. There are 6 royal children, I can’t really remember who is who because they didn’t really stick in my mind, but Balekin, Dain and Cardan are the three main members of the royal family I would say. They all come across as extremely different, cruel, arrogant, Dain is kinder, but only barely. I have to say that I really appreciate reading about “cruel characters”, there’s just something about a cruel person in a book that makes things more interesting and I was enthralled with all the different personality traits and descriptions of all the Faeries. Some other notable characters in this novel are Locke, Valerian, Nicasia, who are part of Cardan’s “entourage” and the Roach, the Bomb and the Ghost, part of Dain’s “entourage”.
I really enjoyed the character descriptions and developments in this book. It was a very solid cast. It could seem a bit overwhelming with the number of characters, and one or two times I had to go back a few paragraphs to check, but as the book progresses, the plot really concentrates on the most important ones. I really enjoyed how we got to learn more about these characters and find out how important they were/ or not, in relation to what was happening.
This is going to be long, so bear with me 😊 This book is absolutely jam-packed with loads of wonderful elements, all making the story really dense, intricate and just a real pleasure to read. Here are some of the main themes.
Faeries: Obviously, this is the most important element, I absolutely love books about Fae/Faeries and I really want to try my best to read more of them this year. There is just something about the Fae that really captivates me, I’m really drawn to them and I think it’s because of their appearance but also their personalities. I find that books with faeries are always quite dark, and although I’m quite a light-hearted, good feels and good vibes kind of girl, I do like a bit of darkness in my books, I just find it a bit more interesting. I really like a lot of the descriptions of the faeries’ physical appearances, they all sound absolutely beautiful, and what makes it even better is that they are cruel! I really like it when characters in books are ambiguous and questionable. One of the reasons my favourite genre is fantasy is because all the characters are so diverse and all have such different personalities.
Betrayal: Now, this is a touchy one, and I won’t get into it too much because I don’t want to give anything away, but a few times there is betrayal in this book, and I NEVER saw it coming. Two or three times I actually put the book down and nearly screamed because it was so frustrating, but, it’s always better to have a bit of betrayal instead of lovey-dovey kiss-and-make-up elements. If you want to find out who betrays who, you’ll have to read it, ha! 😊
Violence, murder, blood: Oh the joys of a little violence, what would a fantasy novel be without it? There is just something about battles and fights between people, especially magical people that I really like! It might have something to do with the fact that I can’t throw a punch for the life of me, so maybe that’s why I really get into fight scenes, lol! In this book, you get quite a few “violent” scenes, so if that’s not your thing, I would really stay away from this one because it gets quite visible, verbal, physical, etc. Also, quite a few people die/are killed and it’s not done thinking of squeamish people, so if you can’t handle blood, gore, descriptions of murders, don’t read this book. I really like murder mystery books, so I’m used to descriptions of dead people, also, with fantasy you generally get quite a bit of blood, gore and death, but some of these scenes made my eyebrows shoot up because they are really vivid! It’s not necessarily a bad thing, though, is it?
Magic and creatures: This is another of one of my favourite themes to read in books! There is quite a lot of magical elements in this one, I think the most vivid one is to do with the dangerous properties faerie fruit has over humans. A lot of the humans you see in this book have been enchanted or are made crazy by eating faerie fruit because it is like a drug and once you have a little, you always want more. We also see quite a few other magical creatures like imps and goblins. I think that this was a good choice because you don’t often get a very big range of magical creatures in fantasy books, they mainly stick to one “species” and don’t stray but it was quite different to be able to see how all these different faeries, humans, goblins, imps, etc, come together in the court and their relationships to one another.
Cruelty: There is a lot of cruelty in this book, and when I say a lot, I mean, a LOT. It seems that every opportunity Cardan gets to grind Jude down, he takes advantage of, and especially, his friends use his influence and stature to bully Jude and be cruel with her. A couple of times they try to harm her and when they do, Cardan is very hard to read. Even at the end, they are still both being cruel towards each other and I have to say that I haven’t read many books with so much hate and cruelty between the characters. I suppose that all the faeries in Elfhame are cruel because it is in their nature, but just a few really stand out: Balekin, Valerian and Madoc. I was surprised by how much cruelty is actually portrayed, and if you are sensitive to this, I would stay away. This is not an easy read because of the violence and cruelty that is shown, but if that is something that you don’t mind, then I think you’ll really like it because it gives so much more depth to the story to actually have such strong emotions and themes.
Relationships: Relationships in The Cruel Prince are, at best, ambiguous. With Jude, I feel like you never know what she really thinks about someone and I was surprised quite a few times over her decisions and behaviours. She has a very strained relationship with Cardan and his “gang”. As the book moves forward, the relationship between Taryn and Jude starts to break down and you start to see a different side to both of the twins. I’m not entirely sure, but I think that I came to appreciate the quite “tense” relationship between Jude and Oriana, at the start, you can tell that Oriana doesn’t quite trust Jude, but near the end, I feel like they definitely got closer. There are also ambiguous relationships between Jude and Locke, Jude and Dain, and Jude and Madoc. Even though both Jude and Cardan remain vicious to one another, I really liked their banter!
THOUGHTS AND RATING
Overall, I really enjoyed reading The Cruel Prince and I gave it 4 stars. The main reason why I loved this book was because it is a fantasy novel and I’m a sucker for fantasy, but also because Jude is a refreshing character. She doesn’t swoon, whimper or whine, she gets on with things and she works to get what she wants. She is determined, somewhat cocky and very strong-willed, she never backs down and what I liked the most is that she always stayed strong and never let people see her weakness.
The first part of the book (Book One) is slower and more “detailed” than Book Two, where the action and “madness” really takes off. It got a lot more fast-paced at this point and I wasn’t expecting what happened at the end. Yes its dark, yes its cruel, yes it is violent but I think it is a really solid first book in a fantasy series. A lot of the time, things don’t kick off straightaway in these types of books but I like that here, the reader hits the ground running and we don’t stop! The Faeries exult a perpetual atmosphere which is sinister and twisted and even right up to the end, I was expecting to be wrong and to think that they couldn’t be that bad, well actually, yes, they can be THAT bad.
I think that this book has a lot of potential, both in its structure and plot, but also in the characters. I don’t know what is going to happen in the next two books because I was honestly shocked about the ending and the characters surprised me multiple times. The characters could go a number of different ways and I’m really looking forward to reading The Wicked King, hence my rating The Cruel Prince only 4 stars, because I want to keep the precious 5-star rating for The Queen of Nothing, I have a feeling it’s going to be epic.
If you like dark fantasy with faeries, betrayal, some violence, cruelty, gorgeous descriptions, solid worldbuilding, and character development, then I think you’ll like this book as much as I did.
That’s all for now, I hope you enjoyed reading this review, see you soon,