Holly Black-The Cruel Prince

What would you do to live forever?

Synopsis:  Jude was seven 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. As Jude becomes more deeply embroiled in palace intrigues and deceptions, she discovers her own capacity for trickery and bloodshed. But as betrayal 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. (Adapted from Goodreads)

Themes Explored: death, life, adolescence, longing, faerie politics, fantasy, young adult, mystery, Father-Daughter relationships, sibling relations, love, hatred, school, bullying, revenge, plotting, treachery, espionage aging, immortality, mortality, forbidden romance, Celtic mythology

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Review: The Cruel Prince contains everything you could want out of a young adult fairy tale: bullying, revenge, love, loss, and a nice twist. Strongly influenced by Celtic myth, this story explores the darker side of the Fey Kingdom. A dark, evil current runs through the glittering, immortal realm on the other side of existence. When you can live forever, what would you do to stay on top? Nothing can breed cruelty and scheming quite like the promise of eternal life. For those of you not well versed in Celtic myths regarding the fey, humans tend to not last long. Immortal fairies have a tendency to use and abuse mortals at will, usually without remorse. Holly Black’s book, The Cruel Prince, explores the lengths some humans will go to in order to stay in the fairy realm, preferably as an immortal. 

Jude and Taryn, twin human sisters, came to the Faerie Realm as children. They have spent their entire lives living in the Faerie Realm but the magical denizens do not accept them. For her entire time in the Realm, all Jude has wanted is a position in the High Court, but her every move is annoyingly thwarted by Prince Cardan and his fey posse. When the High King announces his retirement, Jude becomes a spy for one of the top contenders for the crown, which puts her on a collision course with Cardan. However, nothing, prepares either of them for a twisted act of betrayal that changes everything in the Royal Court.

A large majority of stories present the Faerie Realm as a Utopian dream full of fuzzy lights and dancing sprites. Others take a different route and show the Faerie’s as ruthless, corrupted beings set upon conquering the human world without remorse. The world presented in The Cruel Prince falls somewhere in between these two extremes. The Cruel Prince sets up a deadly conflict between Jude and Cardan, that quickly escalates from school yard bullying to out-and-out war. One neat trick of the narrative is the Prince referenced in the title is not the one the early parts of the narrative points towards. 

As with most young adult fantasy novels, this book does include a rather confusing love triangle. Unlike most such triangles, Black, thankfully, does not overburden the reader with unnecessary declarations of overly flowery love. This triangle carries a much darker edge to it and no one ends up satisfied, a unique twist in the young adult genre. 

What I most appreciated about The Cruel Prince is the lack of existential teenage angst. Jude knows exactly who she is, what she wants, and what she must do in order to accomplish her goals. Such single minded devotion towards a desired outcome leaves little time for Jude to question her place in the universe. This makes her a rather unique and refreshing teenage heroine. Furthermore, Jude does not spend all her time in front of a mirror worrying about her looks. She lives in the Faerie Realm, Jude already knows she will never compare physically and moves on with her life. Her family dynamics are interesting to say the least, I will not go into more detail so as not to ruin a rather crucial narrative arc involving her home life. Just know, Jude comes from an extremely dysfunctional family. 

Prince Cardan, Jude’s main antagonist, is actually rather tame compared to his friends. Every character in the book keeps talking about Cardan’s cruelty and ruthlessness, but he never really displays either of these characteristics. Instead, he comes across as a rather bored kid who lets bad things happen around him out of curiosity. By the end of the book, I found Cardan a more sympathetic character than Jude. Whereas Jude will fight anyone and everyone who stands in her way, Cardan just floats through life on a cloud of sarcasm and wine dregs. 

Black weaves together a believable Faerie world. This place seems both familiar and utterly foreign. What I appreciate is Black’s restraint towards fleshing out the world. She throws in just enough other worldliness to showcase the foreign aspects of the Faerie Realm. Otherwise, this place could exist anywhere in time. As a reader, this makes the setting more believable and easier to picture since it does not seem too different from human society. 

Readers who consume a lot of fantasy fiction may foresee the ending, but I think most people will be caught off guard by the numerous twists scattered throughout the narrative. The dialogue is sharp, the characters vibrant, and the action consistent. This is a solid fantasy that moves quickly, does not waste time on superfluous sub-plots, and gets to the point in an efficient fashion. The Cruel Prince is the first book in a planned trilogy. If Prince is anything to go by, the rest of the trilogy seems promising. 

The Cruel Prince, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2018, ISBN: 9780316310277

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