The Cruel Prince by Holly Black can best be summed up by a quote directly from the book: “it’s exhilarating and terrifying, like so much of Faerie.” I read this book from start to finish with my heart racing and my palms sweating, not knowing what to expect. The story is exactly as the quote describes, and I didn’t want it to end. It’s one of those books that I can’t put down, but I find myself dragging my feet at the end, not wanting to finish and let go. I’m relieved that it’s a trilogy, yet disappointed already that there’s only three books and not more.
Jude is seven when a mysterious man appears at her door and murders her parents, whisking Jude and her two sisters away to live in the High Court of Faerie, where magic reigns but treachery does as well. A decade later, Jude wants to fit into her new home, but many of the residents of Faerie despise humans, and Jude struggles to find her place in this beautiful and dangerous world. Prince Cardan, the youngest son of the High King, and his small group of friends take pleasure in tormenting Jude. In order to secure a place for herself in the Court of Faerie, she must confront them, take dangerous risks, and face the consequences of her actions.
The author has built this elaborate alternate world, with mythical creatures. Some of them I’ve heard of, some of them sound vaguely familiar, and some are completely unknown to me. All of them are interesting and well thought out. Her attention to detail is stunning. The descriptions are incredible:
“Her skin is the bluish color of skim milk, and her hair is as white as fresh-fallen snow. She is beautiful but unnerving to look at, like a ghost. Tonight she is wearing green and gold, a mossy dress with an elaborate shining collar that makes the pink of her mouth, her ears, and her eyes stand out.”
“Nicasia’s limbs are long and perfectly shaped, her mouth the pink of coral, her hair the color of the deepest, coldest part of the sea. Fox-eyed Locke, standing silently behind Valerian, his expression schooled to careful indifference, has a chin as pointed as the tips of his ears. And Cardan is even more beautiful than the rest, with black hair as iridescent as a raven’s wing and cheekbones sharp enough to cut out a girl’s heart.”
I’m new to reading fantasy (outside of the Game of Thrones series), but I didn’t feel as though I was out of my depth at all. The author explained fairly well, especially for a world that was so involved. There are levels upon levels of development within the land of Faerie. The world involves different courts, both higher and lower, and circles within the courts.
There are so many different groups of creatures, if that’s the proper word, like pixies, nixies, selkies, trolls, gobs, carnivorous horses, giant toads that fly, and faeries, and they all come together to create this beautiful yet terrifying world where humans are at the bottom of the heap, useful as servants but totally vulnerable to the whims of the faeries they live with.
The most interesting part of the book for me was to see how Jude’s character evolved. She started out as a 7 year-old child in the mortal realm, and things changed quickly. Within a couple of pages, we meet 17 year-old Jude, and realize that she is a very different person. The man who murdered her parents adopts Jude and her sisters, and they each adapt differently to this situation. Initially, all Jude really wants is to fit into this world where she is clearly different and “less than.” She’s frightened all the time, which is understandable given her traumatic upbringing and circumstances. While that fear doesn’t really go anywhere, her desires morph into something a little different. Which makes sense, really, since that’s a normal age for people to start deciding the path they want to take in life and assert their independence. It’s interesting to sit and watch it happen, especially since Jude doesn’t really seem to notice that it’s happening until it has actually happened. She’s a complicated character, but I like her and find it difficult to judge her actions.
I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect from this book. I heard a lot of good things about it, but since I’m new to YA fantasy (and fantasy genre overall) I didn’t really have any preset expectations. The book pleasantly surprised me. It’s a lot darker than what I expected YA books to be, although in the grand scheme of books, I’ve read things that were a lot darker. Real life can be a lot darker as well, and doesn’t discriminate based on age.
I struggled between wanting to find out what happened and not wanting to finish it before I could get my hands on the next book in the trilogy. The lush descriptions and rich detail fully absorbed my attention, making it difficult to do anything other than read this book to completion. If you choose to read this, make sure you can devote sufficient time to it. It will suck you in like a strong current in the ocean, making you come up gasping for air but desperate to jump right back into the next wave until you’re too exhausted to swim anymore. This book is flawless.
As an extra bonus, there’s a special short story at the end of the book. It tells a snippet of the story from a different point of view, of a minor character who appears in just one quick scene. It’s a really cool change of pace that gives a little bit of insight into another slice of the Faerie kingdom, and maybe even what’s to come. I know I’m looking forward to what comes next!
People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn’t an upper limit.
Gasp Factor: 10
Categories: Book Review