Note: This is a series review, meaning that I will be reviewing all three books of the series (The Cruel Prince, The Wicked King and Queen of Nothing) as a whole and will also be rating the series as a whole.
I rarely enjoy stories about the fae–despite their popularity, especially in the YA fantasy genre, very few writers have managed to properly encapsulate their terrifyingly violent and yet comically whimsical nature. The only good fae story, really good fae story that comes to mind is Julie Kagawa’s Iron Fey series. If you haven’t read it, you are absolutely missing out–it is one of the best fantasy novels that I have read and will forever cherish in my heart.
(And yes I have read Sara J Mass’s Court of Thorns series. No, I did not like it one bit)
Here is the synopsis for the first book:
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.
Trigger warning: Physical abuse, emotional abuse, manipulation, bullying, blood and gore, graphic violence, mild sexual scenes, toxic relationships
Recommended age group: 18 and above (no graphic sexual content, but the relationship portrayed might make it unsuitable for impressionable readers).
This book does not hold back when it comes to portraying the viciousness of the fae, and that was one of the reasons why I loved it so much. Faeries have always been considered to be incredibly dangerous in every folklore since the beginning of time–I hate how pop culture have reduced their violence and cunning to pixie dust and glitter. Holly Black did them justice–each of the fae characters were well-developed. I loved how perfectly she portrayed their diversity: the redcaps with their manic bloodlust, the influence of faery kings on the land itself, the ruthlessness of the Undersea folk and so much more. This is a book where all the characters are so finely crafted that they feel real until you put it down.
THE WORLD BUILDING
On the other hand, I have mixed feelings about the world-building. It felt rather bland, like your run-of-the-mill magical forest. This was very disappointing to me because fae stories are the kind of stories where you can truly push your imagination to the limits. Some fae stories with incredibly vivid, immersive world-building are Kagawa’s Iron Fey series (of course) and Sarah J Maas’s Court series (I may have hated the story, but the world-building was stunning to say the least).
THE PLOT AND THE CHARACTERS
The pacing of the story was also rather slow, especially in the first book. I understand that a huge chunk of the first novel was solely for character development, so it was fine by me. But if you don’t like character-driven plots, the first book might be a challenge for you.
The second and third books however pick up the pace very quickly, so I daresay you’d be missing out if you don’t power through.
As for the plot itself, this series is a wonderful, brilliant story full of political intrigue, wicked schemes, wholesome family love and also disturbing family drama, and very toxic and manipulative romance.
Pheeeewww that’s a lot of contradictory statements.
It is true though. What makes each book in this series such a thrilling roller-coaster ride is how every character and every relationship in this book has a flip side. Black cleverly keeps her readers on the edge of her seat by truly driving home the fact that you cannot trust anyone here, but because all of her characters are so well-developed–flawed but also with just the right amount of redeeming qualities–that not once do they seem like they are acting unnaturally.
The romance though. That I have issues with.
It is easy to get swept up in the romance portrayed in all three books of this series, which is also what bothers me incredibly–impressionable young readers might be influenced by the romance portrayed in this book and end up making the wrong choices in their personal lives.
Now let’s get something straight: the media we consume has a very strong influence in shaping us, and even directing our personal life choices. And so, when I see an influential writer writing about a physically and emotionally abusive romance and not properly acknowledging the abuse, let alone making the abuser struggle to redeem themselves…well, that’s wrong. Artists, critiques and content creators all have a certain responsibility when they are putting their work out for the world to see: it is to make sure that they are not promoting harmful behavior and that their work is not hurting or causing someone to relive traumatic experiences.
The romance portrayed in this novel is both physically and emotionally abusive. And both the people involved play the roles of abuser and abused interchangeably, as if their relationship could not be more toxic.
It isn’t until the third book when the writer finally acknowledges this, but barely. And this coming from such a reputed and well-known author as Holly Black was truly disappointing.
I am all in for enemies-to-friends romance, but trust me when I say that this is not one of those stories.
Thankfully the romance is only sparingly shown throughout the series. The main focus of the entire series is always on Jude and her desire for acceptance among the fae, and I loved that.
So in summary, I loved most of the things about this book except for the romance which made me grit my teeth, I won’t lie. Due to the amount of violence, abuse and questionable life choices portrayed in this book, I’d recommend it for mature readers only.
But I’d recommend it, that’s what I am saying. If the trigger warnings don’t bother you, and if you believe you have the intellect and maturity to distinguish between a realistic healthy relationship and a fantastical, toxic one, then I daresay you will not regret reading this series.