One terrible morning, Jude and her sisters see their parents murdered in front of them. The fearsome assassin abducts all three girls and brings them to the world of Faerie, where Jude is installed into the royal court. Mocked and tormented for being merely mortal, Jude soon realises that to survive in this treacherous, dangerous, new world, she needs to be as smart, cunning and deceitful as the Fey themselves.
But the stairway to power is fraught with shadows and betrayal. And looming over all is the infuriating, arrogant and charismatic Prince Cardan. Jude must take the upmost care.
“Because you’re like a story that hasn’t happened yet. Because I want to see what you will do. I want to be part of the unfolding of the tale.”
The Cruel Prince by Holly Black is one of those books that has existed on the periphery of my TBR forever. I remember thinking when it first came out that it looked like a lot of fun, but while some bloggers absolutely loved it, I read a lot of negative reviews too – enough that it just kept sliding further and further down the list. Then, a couple weeks back, I decided to join my local library (I know, it’s mad that I was not a member already). I became immediately overwhelmed by indecision as I wandered the stacks, so when my eye fell across The Cruel Prince I thought – I guess it’s finally time.
And you know what, that first thought I had was right. I did really enjoy this book. The thing people did not like, whatever it was – there have been too many years and too many books since for me to remember anymore – did not bother me.
Thought I suspect, but do not know for sure, what people’s problem may have been.
Everyone in this book is kind of awful.
And I loved it.
So, Jude, the lead in this drama, and her twin sister Taryn are two of very few humans in Faerie. They are all the more unusual for the fact they are free, and, for the most part, un-enchanted. They arrived in Faerie as children when they, along with their older, half Fey sister Vivienne are kidnapped by Vivienne’s vengeful, Fey father, Madoc. He just came to reclaim Vivienne from the human mother who took her away from Faerie, but for violent and murderous reasons winds up bringing Jude and Taryn along too – and raising them all as his own along with his new wife and young son, Oak, in a blended, just-don’t-mention-all-the-murder, family.
I bring all this up so you understand that Jude had something of a complicated childhood.
From such patriarchal beginnings, it’ll hardly surprise you to learn that The Cruel Prince is a book about power – because power, and the pursuit of it, is Jude’s driving force, for better and, sometimes, for worse. Growing up human in a world of Fey is not an easy road, and throughout their lives, Jude and Taryn have been subjected to bullying and harassment from their peers, and at times, full blown endangerment. Black has very much written the twins as foils to one another, at least in this first book of the series, and the blunt juxtaposition of how they have chosen to navigate their low status in Fey society is the most interesting conversation of the book.
For both women the roads they choose come with a lot of darkness, but I never felt particularly judgemental of their choices. They are simply trying to survive using the tools they have – it’s not exactly their fault the tools are shitty. Like I said, for Jude, survival is all about clawing together whatever power she can get her hands on, whatever the cost. For Taryn, on the other hand, she sees safety in going with the status quo, fitting in, and aligning herself with those Fey she hopes might make her acceptable by association.
One way to see this is that Jude is a bitch and Taryn is weak. But I think that shows a certain lack of imagination.
This messy relationship with the power dynamics also makes it known in their relationships with the men in their lives, which are hella problematic – as you might expect, under the circumstances. These women make terrible choices with men bound up in the structures that are oppressing them, and as much I wanted to shake them and scream ‘why though?!’ until I’m blue in the face, or grab a hold of him (a particular him that I cannot name because, spoilers) and point out how close he is to recognising the bullshit he has participated in without question for so long – that was all part of the enjoyment. I love characters that I am supposed to feel conflicted about. I revel in exploring all their shades of grey and I am so excited to see where Black takes it throughout the rest of the series – which I will definitely be returning to the library for, sooner rather than later.
These characters are not nice to each other. They are kind of murdery sometimes. They also make a lot of very poor choices.
It’s super fun to read. Especially if you need to think about someone else’s problems for a while.