In ‘The Cruel Prince’, the first in The Folk of the Air series, Holly Black has created a Faerie land which is dangerous, vindictive, exploitative and violent. It’s a far cry from any of the Disney fairies. The only fairy dust you’ll find here will be being wiped away by an enslaved and ensorcelled human, who likely believes herself on her gap year in the Maldives.
It reads like a first-person historical fiction, rich on the fine detail of what it is to grow up in the Faerie court circle, with all the associated intrigues and deceptions. Faerie folk cannot lie; however, they can hide a great deal, and all seem to be playing the long game.
Our heroine and narrator, Jude Duarte has a twin sister, Taryn, and an older sister, Vivi.
Within the opening moments, their parents have been murdered and they are taken by their murderer to be brought up in his home in Faerie. The plot is thicker than that though.
Growing up in Faerie, Jude and Taryn are among the only free humans, and among their circle of peers at the high-born school, and in court, they are brutally victimised for their fragile mortality, in a world where everyone else in their sphere is considered strong, beautiful and immortal.
However, Jude has greater ambitions for herself. Using her acquired skill with weaponry, her intelligence and her ruthless, headstrong attitude, she navigates this threatening and dangerous world, and begins to forge a life for herself, from which she may never be able to return, and in which, she will never be safe if her wits fail her.
There are a few cruel princes here, but none crueller to Jude than Prince Cardan. He is dark and dangerous, but weak, arrogant and obsessive. This is an interesting dynamic for any potential romance, but when and how it will come, who knows? The author, probably.
I love how Jude and Taryn negotiate this environment in their own ways. It’s difficult to remember that they are twins somehow, because they are so very different. They are too young to remember their old normal lives and the incongruence between themselves and the Faerie folk is so well expressed in this novel.
“Of course I want to be like them. They’re beautiful as blades forged in some divine fire. They will live forever.
And Cardan is even more beautiful than the rest. I hate him more than all the others. I hate him so much that sometimes when I look at him, I can hardly breathe.”
Holly Black writes beautifully, the world is rich and vibrant, the characters are vivid and emotive. It is tense, clever and enchanting. I really loved it, and am in complete agreement with what Victoria Aveyard said: “I require book two immediately. Holly Black is the Faerie Queen”.
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