The Wicked King
by Holly Black
After the jaw-dropping revelation that Oak is the heir to Faerie, Jude must keep her younger brother safe. To do so, she has bound the wicked king, Cardan, to her, and made herself the power behind the throne. Navigating the constantly shifting political alliances of Faerie would be difficult enough if Cardan were easy to control. But he does everything in his power to humiliate and undermine her, even as his fascination with her remains undiminished.
When it becomes all too clear that someone close to Jude means to betray her, threatening her own life and the lives of everyone she loves, Jude must uncover the traitor and fight her own complicated feelings for Cardan to maintain control as a mortal in a Faerie world.
Check out my review of The Cruel Prince!
If The Cruel Prince was an exploration in gaining power, The Wicked King is an exploration in how to keep it.
Now that she’s in charge of the High King of Faerie, Jude has more power than she’s ever had and she needs to keep it while also not revealing just how much power she has. This would be much easier if she had any idea who she can actually trust, especially when she can’t even trust herself around Cardan when the two of them are drawn to each other and yet disgusted by each other in equal measure.
Jude is still such a joy to follow around, and one of the first YA heroines I’ve followed in a while who is as morally grey in her actions as in her words. She’s not the kind of character who’s described as dangerous and yet never actually handles a weapon or never hurts anyone. She is dangerous and she’s fascinating to follow because, even though we’re in her head, we can never be certain what she’s going to do next because the land of Faerie is constantly forcing her into life-threatening situations.
Considering the second books in trilogies can often suffer from “second book syndrome”, The Wicked King, much like The Cruel Prince, was a really pleasant surprise. Not only does the plot continue to move, with yet more intrigue and back-stabbing, but Holly Black also used the opportunity to expand the world of Faerie and introduce readers to Faerie’s underwater realm. I love the world-building in this series, it feels so fresh and yet also so classic, like a 21st century Goblin Market, and for someone who isn’t always the biggest fan of mermaid books I loved how sinister they were in this book.
By far my favourite thing about this book, though, was the evolving relationship between Jude and Cardan. I have a slight hatred for those dark, brooding love interests so prevalent in YA, particularly YA fantasy (the Darkling, for example, irritates me to no end as a love interest), so it says a lot about Black’s skill that Cardan is someone I actually really like. Is his relationship with Jude healthy? No, not in the slightest. They’re both terrible to each other, and yet on some level they’re almost like two sides of the same coin.
I can’t judge Cardan by human standards because he’s not human, so as a fae I find him incredibly compelling and I love that both he and Jude have been underestimated by everyone else, and by each other, their whole lives. Black’s not afraid to explore an unhealthy relationship, but she does so without making Jude a victim. Jude isn’t like other heroines who are made to feel like they have to put up with a boy’s shitty behaviour because of his tragic past, because she and Cardan are both bad for each other and they both hurt and help each other in equal measure.
Ultimately, I find their relationship so refreshing because it’s not a man being romanticised even though he’s an abuser, it’s two people in a constant push and pull with each other. That doesn’t mean it’s the kind of relationship any of us should aspire to have, but it’s really refreshing to have a heroine who gives as good as she gets.
And now I have to wait until January for the next book, which just doesn’t seem fair!