The Cruel Prince
By Holly Black
Published January 2, 2018 by Little, Brown
I am a huge fan of Holly Black’s books, so I was really looking forward to The Cruel Prince, and I’m happy to say that she really delivers in this book.
Jude is a human teenage who dwells in the High Court of Faerie. Before she was born, her mother was married to a Faerie general named Madoc. The mother left Madoc, took their daughter Vivi, and faked her death. She returned to the human world, where she remarried and had twins, Jude and her sister Taryn. But it’s difficult to truly escape Faerie, and Madoc eventually tracks them down, kills the parents, and takes the three girls back to live in Faerie.
It’s an odd thing to be raised by the man who murdered her parents, but Madoc has cared for children, made sure they have every advantage, and tried to protect them from the often brutal world of Faerie. As Jude says, “And despite myself, despite what he’d done and who he was, I came to love him. I do love him. It’s just not a comfortable kind of love.”
Her older sister Vivi wants to escape to the human world, but both Jude and Taryn want to stay in Faerie (it seems like there’s a bit of Stockholm Syndrome happening here). But life in Faerie isn’t easy for humans, and Jude is subject to the whims of a group of teen Faeries, who are the worst of high school bullies merged with the amorality of the Faeries. They’re awful, and their leader Prince Cardan is the worst of all. Jude and Taryn attend lessons with the Faeries teens, which gives their tormentors lots of opportunities to torture Jude. The bullying is awful (there’s one particularly harrowing scene involving fairy fruit), but Jude is determined to hone her skills in the hopes that one of the High Faeries will take her on as a knight. Taryn hopes to find a place by marrying a Faerie.
The High King is growing older and plans to step down. The most likely heir is his third son Prince Dain, but there’s potential competition from another son, Prince Balekin. As the youngest child, Prince Cardan is an afterthought and doesn’t play into the succession. Jude becomes involved in court machinations and may have a role to play in how the succession happens.
The Cruel Prince is a very tense book. It’s tight and twisty, and you never quite know what’s going to come next. Black’s Faeries are vicious and unpredictable, and Jude has to be constantly on her guard, trying to stay one step ahead. There are plots and counterplots, and no one is exactly what they seem on the surface. Humans are seen as less than nothing in the High Court, but she does have one advantage: humans can lie, and Faeries cannot.
I enjoyed this book so much. I’m glad that it’s going to be a trilogy, but it’s a going to be a long wait until book 2 is out.
It may be worthwhile to note that The Cruel Prince is set in the same universe as Black’s previous Faerie books, the Modern Faerie trilogy and The Darkest Part of the Forest. It’s not necessary to have read any of the previous books, but a few characters from these books make appearances in The Cruel Prince that are a bit spoilery.