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 utmost care…
I would like to start by saying buy this book. It is only the first in the series, and I am already overwhelmingly in love with this world.
Holly Black is wonderful; her skill in character development is phenomenal. The Cruel Prince is bursting with complex characters, appearing remarkably strong, yet tortured by fear and plagued by sadness. No character is in any way flawless – each fills me with a mix of love, hatred, understanding and respect (bar one drunken asshole). Even Jude, despite her strength and intellect, can often be remarkably frustrating (and very surprising). And Madoc, despite his appetite for bloodshed, is, in a complex way, loved by the girls that he has raised, and is therefore difficult to despise. That is the incredible genius of Holly Black.
“What they don’t realize is this: Yes, they frighten me, but I have always been scared, since the day I got here. I was raised by the man who murdered my parents, reared in a land of monsters. I live with that fear, let it settle into my bones, and ignore it. If I didn’t pretend not to be scared, I would hide under my owl-down coverlets in Madoc’s estate forever. I would lie there and scream until there was nothing left of me. I refuse to do that. I will not do that.”
HOW GOOD IS THAT PARAGRAPH?! It perfectly captures Jude’s remarkable strength, while also acknowledging the fear that she can never truly escape.
Alongside incredible characters, is a story that is beautifully told. What begins as a young mortal intent on besting her Fey peers, soon becomes a tale of remarkable strength and sacrifice; a tale of deceit and consequence. Black writes with an effortless flow, each chapter blending perfectly together, with never a dull moment. There are no unnecessary interruptions; each moment is ripe with power and significance. In a particularly awful scene, Jude is forced to eat Faerie fruit, toxic to mortals. Despite being verbally and physically hurt by her peers, Jude is deliriously happy, and the way Black conflates the shocking abuse with Jude’s dangerous happiness makes for a spellbinding piece of writing. And this writing is consistently good, filled with humour consistently dark and wit consistently dazzling.
As is crucial to a fantasy novel, Black’s setting is spellbinding. A host of wonderful creatures appear; toads occasionally serve as horses; palaces exist within hills; estates have winding mazes; there are secret layers within ornate palaces; forests drip with dangerous fruit; lakes reflect the faces of previous onlookers. Everything is intoxicatingly beautiful, that, despite greed and corruption, I found myself constantly wanting to be there. I wanted to speak to each wonderful creature; to best Prince Cardan’s arrogance; to spit on the shoe of Valerian; to fight alongside Jude in her cunning schemes.
One more thing: if you enjoy plot twists, then you must read this book. The ending is absolutely phenomenal and at many, many moments I nearly threw the book across the room in shock. There is a particular scene in the palace that only lasts a few pages, but had my eyes nearly falling out of my head. I won’t give anything away, but it is very, very, very intense.
If you like fantasy novels (or just novels with intriguing characters and interesting stories), then you will enjoy this book. Also, it has really pretty illustrations – look at this gorgeous map.
I cannot tell you how excited I am for the second book. So, Hotkey, if you are sending out advance copies later in the year, I’m totally here for you.
Thank you for reading!