The Cruel Prince
by Holly Black
One terrible morning, Jude and her sisters see their parents murdered in front of them. The terrifying assassin abducts all three girls to the world of Faerie, where Jude is installed in the royal court but mocked and tormented by the Faerie royalty for being mortal.
As Jude grows older, she realises that she will need to take part in the dangerous deceptions of the fey to ever truly belong.
But the stairway to power is fraught with shadows and betrayal. And looming over all is the infuriating, arrogant and charismatic Prince Cardan . . .
Well, what a pleasant surprise this was!
For a long time I told myself Holly Black and I were never going to see eye to eye. She’s always seemed like a lovely person, but I really didn’t like The Coldest Girl in Coldtown and I couldn’t get into her short story in My True Love Gave to Me either. I initially had no interest in checking The Cruel Prince out but I kept seeing so many rave reviews that I figured I’d give Black and I one more chance, and I’m so glad I did!
Taking part in Faebruary has helped me realise that while I never used to be all that interested in Faerie books, they’re certainly something I’m more interested in now and I think a lot of that is because more authors are writing these creatures as they are in our original folk stories, rather than sexy, Twilight versions of them. The realm of Faerie that Black has created, with its politics, various creatures and warring factions, is so well realised and well written and felt a little like what I imagine licking a poisonous mushroom feels like. There’s something Wonderland-y about Black’s Faerie, where the world is seductive and sinister in equal measure.
In this world we have our heroine, Jude Duarte, a mortal girl raised by Madoc, the immortal man who murdered her parents in front of her. Jude’s mother was once in a relationship with Madoc and bore him a daughter, Vivienne, only to fake their deaths and escape to the human world. After settling down with Jude’s father and having Jude and her twin sister, Taryn, Madoc eventually tracked the family down and killed both parents before he took all three of the girls back to Faerie.
It’s a messed up family that’s brimming with secrets, and yet it’s also a very compelling, believable family. We know Jude should hate Madoc, and she does, and yet she also loves him because he’s been her father for the past ten years, and has treated her and Taryn with as much affection as he’s treated Vivienne. Madoc isn’t human, so he can’t be judged by human standards, and that makes for such an interesting relationship when it’s clear that he’s particularly fond of Jude, too.
Sadly, being the daughters of a powerful general in all but blood doesn’t make life in Faerie any easier for Jude and Taryn. They’re far more susceptible to spells and curses, and they constantly find themselves the target of bullying from Prince Cardan and his cronies.
What I ended up really loving about this book is that it has YA fantasy tropes galore, and yet they’re done so well here that I didn’t mind. Cardan is dark and brooding with a tragic secret that makes his treatment of other people strangely understandable and usually I can’t stand characters like that, but Black makes him believable. Like Madoc, Cardan isn’t human and faeries are traditionally cruel, so while he is a vicious, spiteful little bastard, by the end of the novel he’s also annoyingly likeable.
Jude was my favourite character by far, however. The great thing about her relationship with Cardan is how similar they are and how much Black plays on that. Jude isn’t a particularly nice person, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t a likeable or understandable person. Given the turns her life has taken, the kind of person she is makes perfect sense; she’s been thrust into a world of cruelty, and the only way she can survive it is to be cruel, to fight twice as hard to constantly be one step ahead of everyone else in this land of bloodshed and court intrigue.
Jude is such a juicy, can’t-look-away kind of heroine because she has no easy choices, even when she has opportunities to go to the human world and stay there. How could she possibly fit back into the life she might have had when she’s been raised amidst myths and monsters? She’s never going to be completely part of Faerie, but she’s too much Faerie to be completely human now, too.
This book has spies, betrayal and murder galore, and I had so much fun reading it and immersing myself in the world Black has created. Bring on The Wicked King!