Certain writers have that flair for creating rich, layered worlds with characters that are so much more than clichés or tropes. Holly Black is one such writer who can compel you, bring fantasy to life, and make you feel connected to characters, even the antagonists. The Cruel Prince is a young adult fantasy novel published in January 2018. Book 1 of The Folk of the Air Series, it is about Faeries, Seelie, and Unseelie Courts, the cruelty of these impossibly beautiful creatures, and the despair of mortality. It is about fey, the old ones who manipulate and plot and humiliate humans for fun, they thrive in creating misery and playing tricks, there is always somebody with an agenda and it is a miracle if you just survive.
The Cruel Prince begins with the murder of two humans, parents of Vivi, Jude, and Taryn. Vivi, the eldest is the half-blood daughter of fey father Madoc and a mortal mother. Her mother faked her death and fled to the mortal world to keep Vivi safe. Madoc finds her and kills the mother and the human man she marries. He takes Vivi and her human twin sisters Jude and Taryn, as they are his responsibility now. Jude and Taryn grow up as mortals in a Faerie world, living with the Gentry, but still not a part of them. Madoc is one of the most feared generals in the High Court of Faerie, he is also extremely powerful and rich. Jude can never forget he killed her parents but she craves to become powerful, to not be reminded of her mortality. Taryn on the other hand is desperate for validation and assimilation. She tries to blend in, to follow the rules, and hope a Faerie marries her. Half-faerie Vivi has no plans of forgetting that her father killed her mother. She rebels, every day, in every way she can. She makes the life of Oriana, Madoc’s new wife complicated and revels in it.
The Cruel Prince is written from Jude Duarte’s POV, who constantly looks for ways to become powerful and immortal. Her regular humiliation at the hands of the youngest Prince Cardan is a motivation for her to become a Knight, to become a part of the Court so she can best them. Black spins a web so intricate you realize that its not about young girl falling in love with a beautiful Faerie Prince. Jude thinks she knows what power is, what it would mean if the roles were reversed, but she is completely out of her depth. Her vulnerability, her eagerness for achieving that power, her stubbornness and her single minded goal puts her in dangerous positions but it also makes her real.
This is dark, brutal fantasy story telling with complicated characters that have complex back stories and motivations which drive them. I like the book for its honesty, its metaphors for oppression, and its acceptance of all characters, even the subjugated Taryn who just wants to be loved and accepted.
Definitely recommend it for fantasy readers in search of a new series that isn’t too overwhelming or tiring.