The Cruel Prince (The Folk of the Air #1) by Holly Black

Hardcover, 384 pages
Published January 2nd 2018 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Source: Publisher

I always love Holly Black’s books but this one especially blew my mind. Before I list all the reasons I love it and you will too, let me give you the official 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.

When I received the book, I thought I would read the prologue just to get a feel for the story.

I did.

And it killed me. The Cruel Prince does not pull any punches. The prologue makes you sit up and take note of what is going on. It is the equivalent to a scream in your mind.

Whether you adore fae tales or are ambivalent to the idea of them, I can promise you The Cruel Prince will give you a tale that is so much more than what you may expect. By reversing the usual set up, that is the fae in the human world, Black tells a story that is both refreshing and exciting. While the usual set up establishes the fae as the Other, in The Cruel Prince the humans, Jude and her twin sister, are the Other. Their humanity is strange and sometimes wonderful. The reader battles contrary feelings of familiarity and strangeness as the tale establishes it. The fantastic is familiar but strange.

These contrasting feelings become a theme as the novel processes. Jude’s mother’s first husband and her half-sister’s father is both a figure Jude loves and hates. Cardan, the wicked prince of the fae, is someone Jude initially hates but when she gets to know him, she begins to understand the demons that hound him.

The worldbuilding is brilliant as one expects of Holly Black. The ease with which she weaves in the more fantastic elements of the story into the narrative took my breath away. But what I most loved about this novel was Jude. She is fierce and flawed in a way that not many YA heroines get the chance to be. I like that she makes her decisions and sticks to them. I like that her perseverance characterizes her. Her strength of will dominates the actions she takes and the logic with which she makes her decisions. In a world where she is the weakest link, she goes into battle with nothing but her wits and her determination to succeed.

I also genuinely liked the romance. Or the little there is of it. Rather than letting the romance subsume the story, the relationships that are there tease at what more is to come. Black spends considerable time developing the characters so whatever relationships occur are organic and grow as the characters grow. If I have a complaint, it would be that the twin sister is far too opaque. I would have liked to see the world from her point of view–it would have helped me to better understand why she made the decisions she made. At this point, I just—well. Yeah.

If you want a story that will electrify you, that will leave you screaming for more, read this.