The Cruel Prince
by Holly Black
I used to never be a reader who gave into the hype and buzz a new book can sometimes bring along with it. But while Instagram has taken book marketing to an entirely different level, some books are becoming difficult to ignore. Literally thousands upon thousands of readers, reviewers, publicists, and enthusiasts are pushing the free marketing of books attached to hashtags and accompanied by beautiful and creative photography upon Instagram and other social media site purveyors daily. The Cruel Prince was one book that began to saturate my feed as readers latched on to the newest novel by fantasy maven Holly Black; their accolades and insistent cries that the book shattered them caught my interest and I decided to dive in.
The opening is brutal. Young Jude and her two sisters are enjoying a quiet afternoon at home, the TV lulling them into a comfortable slumber while their parents tinker about in other parts of their cozy home. Unbeknownst to them, this is the day that everything they have ever known will change, as the man watching their home from across the street decides to finally make his move. The stranger barges into their haven and shatters the idyllic scene by murdering both of Jude’s parents in a quick and succinct fashion.
Whisked away to the land of Faerie, Jude and her sisters are forced into a life settled firmly on the borders of being outsiders. Her oldest sister, Vivi, being the cause of the disruption in their lives, is ironically the most unhappy with their new situation. She is only Jude’s half-sister, the result of their mother faking her own death and spiriting herself and her pregnant belly back to the mortal world, with the help of a secret love. Previously attached to a brutal war general of Faerie, Jude’s mother committed the ultimate act of betrayal by hiding the child, and the result was her execution. By the laws vested in Faerie, General Madoc became responsible for the children of his wife the moment she died at his hand, and he takes his responsibilities very seriously.
Growing up in Faerie has had its difficulties, almost from day one. Jude is not one of them, not a member of the Fair Folk. She is human: dispensable and fragile; a veritable non-starter. Her saving grace, however, is that she is a member of the upper class and elite. Having been raised by Madoc garners her a touch of reverence. He is a man who commands respect and if he doesn’t find it, he takes it by force. Having risen to become the right hand of the Faerie King by hook, crook, and buckets of blood, Jude is afforded a modicum of respect in Madoc’s stead. But behind the scenes, she is taunted and ridiculed by her peers, looked at as a pretender, and as a frail human who has no real worth or talent. To say the situation is complicated is an understatement.
The worst of those who bully her is Cardan, the beautiful young Prince of Faerie who chooses to amuse himself by taunting her and putting her right onto the cusp of deathly danger before ripping her back. He skulks around the periphery of her life with his band of merry friends, waiting for any opportunity he can find to make her life miserable. Her twin sister Taryn also suffers the same fate of having her life soaked in nasty words and actions . . . but there is something different in the way Cardan treats Jude – almost as if he divines immense pleasure from making her bleed from within, from personally making her feel like less than human . . . and more like an animal.
Cardan is cruel, to say the least of it. But Jude has other things on her mind. She has to find a way to solidify her place in Faerie as the impending years of her adulthood begin to creep just over the horizon. She has some ideas on how to do this, but she finds that she’s blocked at every turn by her pseudo-father, Madoc. He insists that he has her best interests at heart, and he has always treated her just the same as his true born daughter Vivi, but Jude is cloaked in a blanket of frustration and raw anger. She wants to fight. She’s trained for it. So why won’t he allow her her chance?
She’s also finding herself strangely attracted to a member of Cardan’s vicious pack, but the man in question seems to have secrets of his own, hidden within the endless depths of his mysterious soul and locked behind the doors of the expansive empty mansion on the outskirts of the forest that he calls home.
And then a proposition is brought to Jude, from the most unlikely of characters. The man most believed to become King after the current reign is over comes to her in secret, seeking an alliance. Prince Dain offers Jude her innermost heart’s desires, in exchange for information. He wants her to become his spy, part of his Court of Shadows. And Jude must toe the thin line between safety and sure death to get the Prince what he demands.
But before Jude can achieve her goal and find her place in Faerie, everything begins to unravel like so much thread from a well-worn sweater. And on an evening that was supposed to be dedicated to a fresh new start, Jude will watch everything burn to the ground, leaving her to pick up the pieces and put them back together all on her own.
The Cruel Prince is the first book in the Folk of the Air trilogy, and before I recommend this to you let me say – you will be clamoring for more from the moment you turn the last page. This novel, set in the high-fantasy world of enigmatic Faerie, is sharp and deceptive, taking the reader on a roller coaster ride full of darkness and delight. The writing is masterful and faithful to the fictional world of Faerie as most high-fantasy readers know it. Sometimes YA books can come across as a bit corny, but this one was full of strong female characters and flawed systems. Nothing was obvious, and the plot was well-played.
This is one book that lives up to the hype. Appropriate for readers ages 13+, fans of The Cruel Prince would be wise to look into the rest of Black’s literary catalogue, as the worlds of her novels have finely tuned connections. Also, the cover art and a sneak peek excerpt has been dropped via Entertainment Weekly – to be found here.