5 stars out of 5
“Nice things don’t happen in storybooks,” Taryn says. “Or when they do happen, something bad happens next. Because otherwise the story would be boring, and no one would read it.”
But, Mad, you say: I thought you didn’t like faeries?
Oh, fear not: I don’t — not really. As I say in many a review: it’s not so much a dislike as a general…annoyance. Usually it’s nothing more than apathy. We all have our things that we get excited for, and faeries/the fae/the Fair Folk just aren’t that for me. Unfortunately for me, they’re really in vogue right now, so it seems that everywhere I look I see faeries and goblins and elves and whatever else you can imagine.
Yet there are exceptions to every rule, and Holly Black is one of the few authors who 100% breaks my general rule of “I just don’t give a toss about faeries.” Holly Black, you see, tends to write fiction I enjoy. She gives me dark, twisty tales that do not shy away from violence and cruelty where necessary.
And cruel this world is — cruel, scheming, dangerous, and yet still magical in its most twisted, terrible way. Not a single character can be trusted, for no character is as they seem. Also, I mean, one should never trust faeries, especially not if they’re appearing in a Holly Black story, because you’re just begging for tragedy. So I tried — I really tried to keep every non-human character at arm’s length. I tried to not get attached…I failed.
I want to win. I do not yearn to be their equal. In my heart, I yearn to best them.
Our protagonist, Jude, is the type of protagonist I love: she’s violent and angry; she’s highly protective of her sisters, but also has a complicated relationship with them; she’s brave and terrified. She is a character with greater ambitions than I think she dares to admit even to herself. While her character does not necessarily change dramatically over the course of the novel, she does still change. It is small, incremental change, which excites me for the rest of the series, and I hope this means we’ll see a consistent incremental change in Jude over the course of the next two books. Because I likeher. I like her a lot. And I especially like that her interpersonal relationships are all very, very complicated.
For example, her relationship with Madoc. Here is the faerie that, in the very opening of the novel, murdered her parents before her very eyes, and yet then took her in to raise her in Faerie as point of honour. Yet, at the same time, one cannot help but feel that he genuinely cares for Jude and her twin sister Taryn. Vivi may be his blood, but Jude and Taryn are not, yet I swear to the gods, their relationship was very much like that a father and daughter and seemed like it had something like affection, perhaps even love, in there. And I’ll be damned if it doesn’t leave me conflicted — hell, it leaves Jude conflicted. She has long-since repressed such conflicts within her, and yet over the course of the novel, she must confront such conflicts within herself more and more. And her every-developing, ever-shifting relationship with Madoc was one that I found incredibly compelling.
“I am your elder sister,” she says. “You don’t need to protect me from my own decisions.”
Really, all of the family dynamics and family relationships were compelling and fantastic — and one of the great highlights of this novel is the strong, yet complicated relationships between the three sisters. Vivi, Jude, and Taryn are all incredibly different from each other, and no matter how much they may fight (with swords drawn!) and argue and disagree, there is no question about whether or not they love each other. Holy hell, I loved the family dynamics of this story, especially between the sisters, because I loved seeing their differences, and yet how not a single one of them thought themselves better than the others. They were just different, had different interests and attitudes towards the faeries.
Almost every relationship Jude has outside of her family is some form of an antagonistic one, and the one that is the most antagonistic is her relationship with the titular “Cruel Prince”, Cardan. Oh man is this kiddo an absolute asshole. I mean, to be fair, almost every faerie is some form of an asshole — which makes total sense, given they are not human and operate by an entirely different set of rules — and while he is certainly a grade-A asshole…Cardan is definitely not the worst person in Faerie. Somehow, he is not the worst. And if that doesn’t give you a clue as to how incredibly dangerous the fae are, I don’t know what will.
The story of The Cruel Prince is full of schemings and betrayals. I’m sure there’ll be more than one part that surprises readers — I’ll say that Holly Black even managed to get me at least once, but the rest of it I managed to figure out pretty well. Black certainly doesn’t telegraph her plot as many other authors do, but she leaves just enough hints and breadcrumbs to lead you to whatever twisty conclusion she has concocted.
I never thought I’d find someone who writes the fae in a way that would engross, entertain, and enthrall me. I guess I just like my faeries with a helluva lot of darkness, cruelty, and violence.
There’s always something left to lose.