The Cruel Prince by Holly Black
Age category: Young Adult
Release Date: June 7, 2016
I confess came to this book late, after the initial hype around its release had sort of died down a bit. Which might actually be a good thing. I like coming to a new series with my mind clear, no expectations one way or another, just the general excitement of cracking open an unread book and stepping into a new world. And this world? It has fairies.
I like the setting of The Cruel Prince quite a lot. Fairies are some of my favorite magical creatures, but they often get imagined as super small, super cute, and pesky at their very worst. I liked how the fairies in this world weren’t delicate but powerful, easily able to overcome humans. The book opens on a violent attack on Jude’s family, an event that has a profound effect on her for the rest of the book, and I assume the series as well.
In general, I’m also intrigued by characters with mind-control or suggestive powers, and this was one part of the world I feel could have been fleshed out even more. The fairies always got a dark, gleeful pleasure out of using their powers on Jude and other humans to humiliate them or use them as slaves. But what about characters with some contrast? I would have loved to see more fairies who detested controlling humans but found it necessary for society to prosper.
I confess, some character motivations were fuzzy to me. We’re told Jude wants to be a fighter, but there’s not a lot of fighting spirit in her until the book is almost over. She doesn’t approach situations from a tactical angle, and she tends to pull away from conflict rather than pursue it, keeping all the things she wants to do in her head. We’re also told Jude wants to be like the fairies, yet she seems to hate most of them and thinks some of their powers (the aforementioned mind-control) are horrific. It’s more Jude wants the immortality and attractiveness, but her interests in being a fairy stop there.
But enough of our protagonist. Let’s talk antagonists. I have a thing with bullies in fiction. I know in real life people are mean and nasty to each other for little to no reason. I get that. And I get that social pressure can make peers join in with awful behavior. But sometimes you want fiction to defy convention a little bit. The Cruel Prince didn’t. Jude is different from everyone else, and Jude is predictably picked on by everyone else. Especially Prince Cardan. It takes until almost the end of the book for the dynamic to shift. Cardan is an interesting character when things suddenly aren’t going his way, and his willingness to compromise to save himself (instead of the usual villain line, “I would rather die than help you!”) was refreshing. I wish Jude would have had a little more agency in getting him to this place. There’s a few outside forces that just so happen to work in her favor. At one point when Cardan is questioning how he got in this situation, Jude replies, “Because your luck is terrible, and my luck is great.” Let’s face it, if you’re a character in a novel, “good luck” really boils down to “the author likes me.” Which is fun in wall-breaking humor books but less fun during a serious situation in a high fantasy adventure.
Overall, I loved the world, but Jude wasn’t my favorite character in it. The ending packed an exciting twist, and so far, Prince Cardan in his end-of-book state is the most intriguing member of the cast. I plan to read book two, and I’m curious where the story goes, but I’m not sure how long I’ll continue after that.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5
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You can also purchase The Cruel Prince (The Folk of the Air) at Amazon or your local bookstore.