After seeing The Cruel Prince, the first book in the Folk of the Air trilogy, be hyped up so much on Instagram and TikTok I decided to give it a chance. If everyone loved it so much, surely I would to, right? Bonus points: it included some characters from the Modern Faerie Tales series I read earlier this year. (Read that review here.)
The Cruel Prince, written by Holly Black and published through Hot Key Books, is kind of the opposite of Modern Faerie Tales. There you had faeries living in the mortal world. Here there are mortals living in the faerie world.
When Jude was seven, a mysterious man–later identified as Madoc, the redcap–appeared at her door, murdered her parents and stole her and her sisters away to the world of the fae. Ten years later, Jude and her twin, Taryn, try in their own ways to belong to the faerie world but they are bullied ruthlessly for being human. Especially by Cardan–the beautiful, cruel prince. Jude decides that winning a place at court, maybe even being a knight, will earn her a rightful place in their world. But as her ambitions are high, she discovers betrayal and bloodshed in the court, right under her very nose. Will she risk everything to save a world that doesn’t care for her?
Holly Black has written over thirty fantasy books and has won the Mythopoeic award, the Lodestar award, and a Nebula. Her first book was Tithe in 2002 and her latest book is The Heart of the Moors, published in 2019. The Cruel Prince was published in 2018. Currently, Holly Black lives in New England with her husband and son.
The next four paragraphs is a quick summary of the whole book to remind those who have read it! If you haven’t read it, these four paragraphs contains spoilers so skip ahead!
The first quarter of the book sets the scene for Jude. She is stolen into faerie land and adjusts to those customs. Cardan and his friends endlessly bully her in class and outside of class, with pranks that could be dangerous if not lethal. Through it all, Jude wishes she was more powerful.
In the next quarter, Prince Dain appears to Jude, knowing her wish. He exploits that, and the fact that she can lie as she is human, and hires her to be a spy. He puts a geas on her that protects her from being magically controlled. Jude’s first mission is to sneak into Prince Balekin’s house and find anything incriminating–she finds a note about blusher mushrooms which can be a potential poison and also sees Prince Cardan get beaten by his brother. She also steals Cardan’s book and inside is note with her name written over and over. Jude brings the note of poison to Dain and meets the inner circle of spies–The Ghost, The Roach, and The Bomb. Afterwards, Jude decides to start poisoning herself to build resistance. Jude and Taryn also find out their older sister, Vivi, who is half-fairy has fallen in love with a mortal girl. Taryn declares she too will fall in love. Jude scoffs at this but she has also captured the attention of a fae boy, Locke, and they begin a flirtation, though he is Cardan’s friend. Meanwhile, another of Cardan’s friends, Valerian, tries to kill Jude but she stabs him. Wishing mortals had a better life, Jude sneaks back to Balekin’s house and sets free–or tries to–a human servant.
In the third part of the book, Prince Dain visits Jude and he is angry. Jude thinks he knows about the servant, but it is actually about the stabbing of Valerian. Though Valerian has recovered, Dain makes Jude stab her hand as reparation. After their meeting, the girls stepmother shows them their coronation dresses and warns Jude not to be the lover of royalty, especially Dain. Being a courtier of the royals is no easy thing and she would know. Jude balks at that–she never guessed that Oriana had been a king’s consort. That night, Valerian sneaks into Jude’s room and tries to kill her again. Jude, though, gains the upper hand and kills Valerian, hiding the body. The Roach picks her up for their mission, none the wiser. They go to find a messenger for their enemy, but the message only had one command–“Kill the Bearer of this Message.” They were played. Jude also notes that the messenger was wearing the colors of Madoc, her adoptive father. Trying to pretend everything is all right, Jude’s flirtation with Locke continues. She is also trying to guess who her sister’s lover is. Too soon, coronation is upon them. Jude is on the lookout for danger but also tries to have fun, dancing with Locke. Until he tells her if she loved him, she would let him go. That’s when she puts two and two together–Locke is her sister’s lover. Before she can do anything, they are shuffled into the throne room for the crowning. Just as Dain is about to be crowned though, Balekin and Madoc go on a killing spree. All of the royal family who refuse to crown Balekin is dead–except Cardan who is drunk and hiding. Jude finds him and captures him, taking him to the spies headquarters, trying to decide what to do.
In the last part of the book, it is all up to Jude to save the faerie land from a ruthless king. She’s not sure what to do, though. She has Cardan tied into a chair and revealed she was a spy. She makes a deal with the other spies to include them on any reward she can find. Jude goes home to see what Madoc has planned. Of course, though, she is distracted by her twin who stole her lover. They duel in anger, and that seems to be the final straw in their relationship. Madoc tells Jude if she knows where Cardan is, she will be rewarded greatly for turning him in and she considers it. However, after a meeting with Oriana, Jude finds out that her stepbrother, Oak, is actually another heir to the throne. She promises she can save him. Vivi also confronts Jude and tells her to run away to the mortal world with her. Returning to her prisoner, she finds out that Cardan is actually obsessed with her. She kisses him to annoy him but finds that she likes it. So they both hate that they like each other. At Balekin’s banquet, Jude’s plan with her fellow spies and Cardan unfolds. She takes Madoc out with a non-lethal dose of poison and tricks Oak and Cardan so that Oak crowns Cardan. Afterwards, Vivi sweeps Oak away to the mortal world to train him to be king someday. Cardan, however, is angry he has to be king until then, but he has sworn to be a servant to Jude for a year and a day. That’s where the book ends, with a king who doesn’t want the crown, a spy with a nickname The Queen, and a boy who didn’t know he was a prince whisked away.
Okay, the spoilers are done! If you had to skip those, you can come back now! You can also enjoy some of my favorite quotes from the book:
“If I cannot become better than them, I will become so much worse.”
“There’s always something left to lose.”
“We don’t need to be good. But let’s try to be fair.”
So what where my favorite parts? Can I say the whole book? Just kidding, but I did love this book. I love that there were so many plot twists and reveals I didn’t see coming. I loved that Jude was bloodthirsty and unapologetic about it, when so many stories have heroes who try to be unequivocally good. Yet, she will be bad if she has to. I loved the complicated family dynamics–though Madoc kidnapped her and killer her parents, she had come to love him as a father and she hated that. It made their story very interesting. I love that who I liked and who I didn’t trust changed and morphed throughout the book–that’s what makes betrayal so effective. I love Cardan’s sarcastic comments towards the end of the book–though I hated him for most of the book, I now love him for his sarcastic humor alone.
Was there anything I didn’t like? That’s hard to say. Like I said before, it was cool to see characters from Modern Faerie Tales. Another reference to Modern Faerie Tales was the appearance of Nevermore. But it was never explained how Jude knew to call it Nevermore, as that was a name coined by just a few mortals in New York from an earlier series. The fae don’t call it that, and that’s where Jude lives. It’s really not that important of a detail, but it is something that bothered me. I also didn’t like how the epilogue ended. It felt too abrupt and made it seem like Jude was selfish, only craving power, and not caring about the fate of others when that was the reason she did what she did. I suppose, though, I’ll see more in the next two books.
I also keep waiting for a romance to bloom based on fanart I’ve seen. I don’t know if it’s something readers ship that doesn’t happen or if it is a slow burn romance. I am all for slow burn romances, but I am impatient.
Overall, the book was SO GOOD. I was worried when I started it because I wasn’t too keen on Modern Faerie Tales, which was more Urban Fantasy. However, The Cruel Prince is high fantasy and enrapturing with ambition, action, politics, love, friendship, enemies, betrayal, and more.
5/5 stars!! Though I loved books I’ve read, this is my first five star book of the year so far. It was amazing. I highly recommend to readers of fantasy.
Some similar books to The Cruel Prince are
A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Maas
Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo
Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard
Holly Black’s Twitter here.
Holly Black’s Instagram here.