Spoiler Review of THE CRUEL PRINCE by Holly Black

#MediaGalReads review of Holly Black’s THE CRUEL PRINCE with spoilers.

As THE WICKED KING comes out tomorrow, I decided to write a review of THE CRUEL PRINCE, the first of Holly Black’s The Folk of the Air trilogy. This post CONTAINS SPOILERS. If you would like to read the spoiler free post click here. To begin, here is the summary and a quick review before the extended review:

Summary: 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 years old 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.

In doing so, she becomes embroiled in palace intrigues and deceptions, discovering her own capacity for bloodshed. But as civil war 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.

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Why I was interested: Before TCP, I had never read a book by Holly Black. You may be gasping at my revelation — I know, I can hear you. And while THE SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES were released when I was in elementary school, I never read them. The Boyfriend, however, had, and when I heard about TCP and so many authors raving about it, he encouraged me and I decided to give it a shot.

Judge a book by it’s cover: The cover is covered in gnarled tree branches and a gold crown. It’s hard to look away from — just like a certain faerie prince.

What to expect: A dark fantasy that is filled with knowledgeable (read: very knowledgeable) ideas about traditional fairies/fae that is related to Victorian English folklore; a couple you may love to ship; an (anti?) heroine who is a bold character in her own right.

Why you should pick this book up: If you love any of Black’s previous books, A COURT OF THORNS OF ROSES series by Sarah J. Maas, anything that has to do with fairies in the traditional sense with a modern twist — this book is for you.

Want more?: There is a short story, THE LOST SISTERS, which is from Taryn’s perspective. It’s a great transition into THE WICKED KING.

ATTENTION: IF YOU HAVE YET TO READ THE CRUEL PRINCE do not continue reading. The following contains spoilers for the book.

Media Gal Reads’ Review:

Going into Holly Black’s THE CRUEL PRINCE, I did not have a deep idea of what the book would be like. As I said previously, I had never read a book by Holly Black, but when I started, I imagined  a high stakes fantasy with vast locations and a threshold of characters — something epic.

THE CRUEL PRINCE, however, is truly epic, but on a much smaller, more intimate scale. At its heart is a semi-relatable story of family and growing up (semi-relatable as I’m sure we do not all have half-sisters who are half-faerie nor do we live in Elfhame with dark magic) rather than traveling to far off countries and leaving home. TCP is an epic story in the backyard which somehow makes it so much more magical because if these characters can find magic as close as their own neighborhood, then why can’t we?

Jude’s relationship with her family — twin sister, Taryn; half-sister, Vivienne; Viv’s biological father, Madoc; his second wife, Oriana; and her son, Oak — is complicated. In the first scene Madoc kills his first wife — Jude, Taryn, and Viv’s mother — after she leaves Elfhame with a human blacksmith. Madoc then takes the children to Elfhame where they live and grow up in fear of the inhabitants they live alongside.

But the cruelty does not stop there. The royal faerie children of Elfhame treat Jude and Taryn with malice: they mock them, make Jude eat a magical fruit to do as they command, and later one of these royal faeries try to kill Jude on more than one occasion.

You are nothing. You barely exist at all, Jude reflects. Your only purpose is to create more of your kind before you die. (p. 210) As Jude, Taryn, and the rest of the humans are seen as disposable, and the fairies view the human lives as worthless and with a lack of living.

The cruelty of the children is relatable to anyone who has been bullied growing up, and because of these small experiences, the reader can empathise with Jude. Words still cut, magical fruit (or even being drugged) still removes agency, and threats can turn deadly — facts that, sadly, the young adult audience can know only too well from personal experiences at school and even school shootings that are seen on the news.

However, Jude is no damsel in distress, and soon she is determined to become a threat herself.

If I cannot be better than them, Jude thinks. I will be so much worse. (p. 210) And worse she becomes. Jude no longer is a bullied schoolgirl but a girl turned spy — and soon the two ideas merge.

When her life is threatened by Valerian, one of Prince Cardan’s friends, Jude ends up defending herself with a knife, killing Valerian in the process. Not so much later, Jude kills a messenger she assumes has information against Prince Dain. The somewhat cruel world on a smaller, school scale soon becomes a larger political and truly life-threatening experience in Elfhame. Most of the royal family is murdered and school bullying is pushed to the side as Elfhame is under siege by local warfare. Jude must be clever to save her family and results in placing Cardan on the throne — and not her step-mother’s adopted son, Oak.

Overall, I thought THE CRUEL PRINCE was a well-developed fairytale/fantasy bildungsroman and I look forward to THE WICKED KING. The idea of cruelty in Black’s THE CRUEL PRINCE extends beyond the title and cleverly grows as Jude develops. What the readers initially understand as cruel — i.e., school bullying — turns gradually more deadly as lives are taken as threats are made. Jude’s experience with cruelty develops as she does, and by the end of the first book in The Folk of the Air trilogy, she does not only grow out of it but becomes its master.

What did you think of Holly Black’s THE CRUEL PRINCE? I’d love to hear your comments below!

Thanks for stopping by!

MG, Media Gal Reads

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