The Cruel Prince by Holly Black
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
First off, the descriptions are lovely. Like OH MY GOSH HOW DID SHE KNOW EXACTLY WHAT FAIRYLAND LOOKS AND TASTES AND SMELLS LIKE lovely. Very real, very vivid, very clear.
Not only that, but she captures the feel of folktales even while adapting them to the viewpoint of two mortal girls who were born and spent their childhood in our modern world, but have spent who knows how long among fairies in their own land. Little things, like turning your clothes inside out, and wearing rowan berries, are not only mentioned but the weaknesses of those protections are clearly stated. And the effect it has on the main character, Jude, is not lost in the lush descriptions.
Because, you see, Jude is a little bit crazy.
It’s not clear at first, but there are hints. Bits and pieces that something’s not quite right in her head. The biggest being that she is both attracted to and intensely hates Cardan, a spoiled fairy prince.
The second is that she does the stupidest things, and trusts at the worst moments, and is so desperate for power over her own life that she’s willing to hurt anyone and anything that gets in her way, even as her regrets pile up. And yet, in spite of her stupid choices and inability to see what’s right in front of her, I still loved her strong voice. I loved how she was willing to save others at the cost of her own life, and how she really does love her family. All of them.
Cardan also pleasantly surprised me. He’s a drunk, and a jerk, and an idiot sometimes, but he knows the game of fairy politics and plays it very well. And I had to admire what turns out to be his greatest wish. Not the noblest of wishes, but it wasn’t nearly as awful as I expected it to be. Let’s just say he and Jude are true opposites and leave it at that. And that they work surprisingly well together, when they do work together.
Madoc was also a true favorite as I read, and that didn’t change, no matter what he did. He is what he is, and yet he’s surprisingly vulnerable. I can see why Jude’s mother loved him so much and also why she ran away.
For those who want to know about the romance, this is not a lovey-dovey, warm and fuzzy kind of romance. Like everything in fairy, it has hidden tricks and an edge. Nothing ever seems to go right for Jude. Nothing. Not in love, not in life, not in the modern world. She fits nowhere, and yet she manages to not only accept this but overcome all the disadvantages a mortal has among fairies. For a price. There’s always a price.
But if I had to put a label to the romance aspect of this book, I would call it “sweet,” as in there’s kissing, but not much else.
As for the ending, this book doesn’t really end. It feels very much like one part of a very long book. In a good way.
Can’t wait to read the next book in the series, The Wicked King, and see just where Jude’s madness leads her next.