Holly Black is one of the queens of Young Adult fantasy. In fact, if you Google “Top YA Fantasy Series” the first five results will include lists that all mention the Folk of the Air series. If you turn to Goodreads, the same story. Looking for recommendations on Booktok or Bookstagram? I can guarantee you will receive at least one person telling you to pick up The Cruel Prince.
After seeing the hype surrounding this series on a variety of platforms, I picked up the first book from my local Barnes and Noble.
If you have not heard of this series before, it contains three novels (The Cruel Prince, The Wicked King, and The Queen of Nothing) and one novella (How the King of Elfhame Came to Hate). I personally have read the primary trilogy and have not yet gotten to the novella . . . and I am not sure that I will ever pick it up, either.
As much as I wanted to love this series, I found myself having trouble getting hooked.
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.
Holly Black writes the novels in first person, from the perspective of the main character, Jude Duarte. Jude is a human, who was stolen away from the human world to live in the world of faerie with her adoptive father, twin sister, and half sister. Being human in the land of faerie is not easy, as most humans are hated by faeries, which leads us to our primary conflict in the story–Prince Cardan. Cardan is the youngest son of the current king of the faerie and Jude’s worst enemy. He goes out of his way to make Jude’s life miserable at every possible turn, even going so far as to nearly kill her on a number of occasions in the first book.
Rather predictably, Cardan ends up being the primary love interest in the series and at least so far as the first book in the series, I was not a fan of it. I found Cardan to be utterly unlikeable even when considering the abuse he suffered at the hands of his own family. This trilogy, and particularly The Cruel Prince, is best characterized as a bully romance.
A quick search of “what is a bully romance?” provided me the following definition: Bully romance is where the heroine falls for a hero who is a bully. He may torment, tease, belittle, or deride the main character and others in the story.
The Cruel Prince most definitely fits the definition. Cardan torments, teases, and belittles Jude time after time. After time. After time.
And Jude? She hates him for it. Until she does not. I was hoping for more character development and more development in regard to Cardan and Jude’s relationship throughout the series. I felt as if all of a sudden, Jude had a lightbulb go off and she realized “oh wait, I am attracted to him” without much of a transition in her thinking or feelings toward Cardan until she comes to that realization. I felt that their relationship came off very shallow and lacked any real depth.
It took me about seventy percent of the way through the Cruel Prince to find myself invested in the story. The first portion of the book is primarily Jude being tormented by her classmates, which felt repetitive after the first few occasions. However, I will say that Holly Black did a great job at turning around the plot and the pacing of the book, ultimately even weaving in a pretty well-done political subplot, something that is usually lacking in the YA fantasy genre. When it came to books two and three, The Wicked King and The Queen of Nothing, respectively, I was fully invested. The storyline was paced much faster, resulting in me getting through The Wicked King and The Queen of Nothing in a day and a half.
The Cruel Prince: ★★★/5
The Wicked King: ★★★★/5
The Queen of Nothing: ★★★★/5
Do I think that this is a pretty decent YA fantasy? It is definitely an enjoyable light read, but I personally do not think it deserves quite the level of hype that the series has received. While I became more invested in the story as the plot developed over the trilogy, I do not find myself classifying this as a “must read.” If you have the time to pick it up, great! If not, I don’t think you will be missing out on anything life-changing.