Review: The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

“What could I become if I stopped worrying about death, about pain, about anything? If I stopped trying to belong? Instead of being afraid, I could become something to fear.”

I read ‘The Cruel Prince‘ back in June and while I have since read and thoroughly enjoyed the two follow-on books, this one still has me on the fence. I didn’t quite love it even though I know people that said it was right up my alley. The writing was good but the plot took a long time to get going. I also didn’t particularly care for the characters either. But before I get into my full thoughts, here’s the description from Goodreads:

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.

Jude was seven when her parents were murdered and she and her two sisters were stolen away to live in the treacherous High Court of Faerie. Ten years later, Jude wants nothing more than to belong there, despite her mortality. But many of the fey despise humans. Especially Prince Cardan, the youngest and wickedest son of the High King.

To win a place at the Court, she must defy him–and face the consequences.

As Jude becomes more deeply embroiled in palace intrigues and deceptions, she discovers her own capacity for trickery and bloodshed. But as betrayal threatens to drown the Courts of Faerie in violence, Jude will need to risk her life in a dangerous alliance to save her sisters, and Faerie itself.

Sounds really interesting, right? And it is… Mostly. Like I said, the book started out really, REALLY slow. I was over 40% of the way in before it started to grab my attention. The beginning basically just sets up the background and shows how horrible Jude and Taryn are being treated. Like bordering on sadistic and attempted murder horrible. Because they’re both mortals, the Fae think they can do whatever they want to them without consequence. The sad part is it’s true. Mortals are a dime a dozen so if one dies, oh well. Grab another one from the mortal realm and bring it back to “play with”.

Taryn, Jude’s identical twin, has more or less come to accept her lot and does her best to not make waves. If she can skate through without being noticed, all the better. Jude, however, has had a chip on her shoulder ever since watching their parents be murdered by her mother’s Fae ex-husband. She refuses to stand down to any of them and has dreams of becoming a knight in the royal court. Maybe then, they’ll at least leave her alone, if not respect her. Because of Jude’s hair-trigger hate for all the denizens of Faerie, Taryn spends a lot of her time cautioning Jude against her actions. Unfortunately, it usually goes unheeded and Jude’s retaliation backfires; making the repercussions infinitely worse.

Jude and Taryn’s adopted fae father (who incidentally did the murdering of their parents) finds Jude’s anger amusing. As the High King’s general, he decides to train them, but especially Jude, in the art of war and strategy. He has no intention of allowing Jude to compete to become a knight and considers it a joke. After losing the opportunity she held so dear, Jude eventually takes all of her training, combines it with her ability to lie (something the fae can’t do), and joins one of the prince’s spy rings.

“I am going to keep on defying you. I am going to shame you with my defiance. You remind me that I am a mere mortal and you are a prince of Faerie. Well, let me remind you that means you have much to lose and I have nothing. You may win in the end, you may ensorcell me and hurt me and humiliate me, but I will make sure you lose everything I can take from you on the way down. I promise you this is the least of what I can do.”

Enter Cardan Greenbriar and his band of asshats. Yes, I said it. Prince Cardan is rude, privileged, and twisted. He never outright does anything to Jude and Taryn, other than what he considers “harmless” pranks, but allows his friends to do whatever they want unchecked. One even goes so far as to nearly kill Jude. We learn towards the end of the book that Cardan is the way he is because he was more or less abandoned as a child. As the youngest of the High King’s children, it was foretold that Cardan would bring a curse upon Faerie if he were ever to take the throne. So the High King banished Cardan’s mother. To keep Cardan from running around the Court like a wild dog, the most abusive of the High King’s children chose to take Cardan in and raise him.

What ultimately sets this trilogy on an interesting trajectory and caused me to continue it is the end of ‘The Cruel Prince‘. The High King has chosen to hand over his throne to one of his children. But as the ceremony is taking place, a bloody coup leaves half the royal family dead. With nearly every one of the fae gentry having a stake in who is going to wear the crown, Jude and her “Court of Shadows” must take the lead to save the Greenbriar line… By crowning Cardan as the High King.

“What they don’t realize is this: Yes, they frighten me, but I have always been scared, since the day I got here. I was raised by the man who murdered my parents, reared in a land of monsters. I live with that fear, let it settle into my bones, and ignore it. If I didn’t pretend not to be scared, I would hide under my owl-down coverlets in Madoc’s estate forever. I would lie there and scream until there was nothing left of me. I refuse to do that. I will not do that.”

I think this was supposed to be the set up for an enemies-to-lovers trope. Personally, I just didn’t buy it in this one. There was too much animosity between Cardan and Jude. But the intrigue and secrets that wound through the Court was interesting. Honestly, I think it would’ve been fine without the billing of a love story.

Since I didn’t care for Cardan or Jude, the pacing was uber slow in the beginning, and I thought the “antics” were a little too malevolent to go unchecked, I gave this 3.5 stars. Okay, but not great. Like I mentioned before, ‘The Wicked King‘ and ‘The Queen of Nothing‘ are much better. You just have to get through this one first.

Trigger Warnings for physical and mental abuse, murder, attempted murder, drugging minors, bullying, and potential rape.


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