Title: The Cruel Prince
Author: Holly Black
Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Many YA reimaginations of Faerie conjures up an impossibly beautiful wonderland, populated by beautiful lords ready to romance our mortal protagonist. Enter Holly Black: exacting in her portrayal of Faerie as a beautiful nightmare, inhabited by cruel and capricious creatures. This dark tale is a story with teeth, where ambition and vengeance drive the plot forward. For Jude, romance is less than an afterthought, especially if she wants to survive in a world hell-bent on diminishing her worth. The Cruel Prince is a story about a girl wrestling for control of her own narrative, and discovering that to fight monsters, she might have to become one.
“If I cannot be better than them, I will become so much worse.”
Jude Duarte is no stranger to the horrors of Faerie. During her first encounter with the Fair Folk, she witnessed the brutal murder of her parents. Along with her sisters, she was stolen away to Faerie, where she grew up as daughter to her parent’s murderer: General Madoc of Elfhame. However, Jude’s relationship with Madoc and Faerie is not governed solely by fear and resentment, there’s also love and a deep yearning for acceptance. Jude starts out striving to become a knight of the faerie court, though her ambition soon takes a darker turn. Spurned on by the incessant cruelty of her immortal classmates and the political machinations of faerie princes, Jude finds herself in a position where deception becomes her main currency.
The Cruel Prince will likely be polarising due to its relentless darkness, all the main characters are self-serving by design. As Jude said herself at one point in the book “I love my parent’s murderer, I suppose I could love anyone.” Living amongst the Fair Folk has twisted Jude’s moral compass and left her ill-equipped for the human world. Although she attempts to be the hero numerous times in the story, Jude is fallible. This makes her steady transformation through the novel all the more intriguing to follow. Certain events towards the latter half of the book makes me believe that her character development, though expansive, still has a long way to go.
“He looks like a faerie lover stepped out of a ballad, the kind where no good comes to the girl who runs away with him.”
I appreciated the way faerie-human relationships were handled in this book. From the beginning, it’s made clear that there is a vast imbalance in their relationship – savagely revealed by way Jude’s parents were murdered with an awful ease. Holly Black never allows the reader to indulge in the fanciful marvels of Faerie for long, we’re always quickly reminded of the corruption which belies the perfect faces and gilded halls. The dangerous contradictions of Faerie are best seen in Madoc, and also in Cardan – the sixth prince of Faerie. He is spiteful and vicious, and the book never lets us forget it. His relationship with Jude is mutually destructive, yet I cannot tear my eyes away. I love that Jude is cognizant of the differences between herself and the Fair Folk, and she’s cunning enough to use the knowledge to her own advantage.
I’ve read a few other Holly Black books in the past, and The Cruel Prince easily surpasses them in terms of writing. The prose is as bewitching as the faerie they describe. There is such a conviction in the way she writes her characters, even when said characters are experiencing an inner conflict of identity. Within the writing, I felt the war between Jude’s humanity and her survival instincts, the blurred line between love and hate. Within these pages are unbreakable oaths and a multitude of betrayals, along with half a dozen intense plot twists which kept me turning the pages. I cannot wait for more.
Note: Content warning for a lot of intense bullying and violence within the book. There is also a scene with an on-screen suicide.
Have you read this book or any other Holly Black? What did you think?