I read two really great books in a row (before The Cruel Prince I read The Hazel Wood), and I’m actually kind of a bit annoyed that I read these awesome tales and now I have to wait an entire year for not just one sequel, but two. When all I want to do is CONTINUE READING. I do have two new authors to put on my list, and that is always great. I’ve sort of held off Holly Black for years. I have the first book of her Magisterium series as an arc that I just never got around to reading. I know her through the awesome Zombies vs. Unicorns but that doesn’t have a story of her own. But the premise of The Cruel Prince sounded too good to pass up. I adore a great hate-to-love trope.
Let me first say that I am in absolute awe of Holly Black creating characters that come so unmistakably alive through their emotions. Every member in the core family is tense in their own skin, and tense with the people around them. And that flows so naturally from the way they are connected to each other. I just can’t stop thinking about it. Especially the relationship between Jude and Madoc is so well written. I could bathe in the feelings of duality and infinite conflict. I think that this is a big part of the reason I loved The Cruel Prince so much.
But it’s not only that. The way the story is built has something I can only describe as being a bit Faerie-like itself. You are used to a certain pace and certain events following others, but Holly Black makes greater jumps than that. Jude knows what she wants and is willing to make commitments that have her moving quickly into adulthood. But at the same time, she is still a teen at heart and reacts like one who has been thrown into the deep too quickly. But then again, she has been ever since she arrived in Faerie at the age of seven. Jude can actually hold her own against the Fae, even be outright better than them in some regards, and that makes it a refreshing read.
Just like the way Holly Black makes readers think Jude is going down one path, finding her way, and then throwing a wrench into it. Jude finds a way to adapt, and it’s all in service of the actual path she is going to take, but I didn’t see it coming. In YA I find that a very admirable quality, because a lot of authors can become a bit complacent. I know all of us mostly know where it’s going to end up, but that doesn’t mean you have to get there in a straight line!
What I also liked is that the reader sees deeper layers than Jude does. I like to think it was on purpose, and it’s sort of great to see how someone can interpret actions solely in one way while you see the broader spectrum. It lifts the story’s complexity a bit more. I have to compliment Holly Black on the way she prevents Jude from coming across as annoyingly naive. It’s clear that she is not: she is just so focused on the overt threats that she fails to recognise the undercurrents of the more dangerous, covert ones. When it comes to Faerie mindgames, she is still out of her league. As she comes to realise this, it sets her up perfectly for the events of the second book.
But I also have to talk about the things I liked less. Jude’s relationship with Cardan feels a little bit underdeveloped. In the first half of the book, they are both still in school and his threats to her keep to a school bully-level. The jump to adult, life-threatening events does feel believable, but it makes the school bully threats seem quite empty. Holly Black can’t follow through on them yet, staving off for later and that shows a bit. But these events are nonetheless still used to give the reader insight into the duality of Cardan’s feelings towards Jude. For that purpose, the scenes work wonders as they really can be interpreted in two ways. It’s clear why Jude sees it the way she does.
When events unfold in the second half, Jude and Cardan have to put their hatred for one another aside (temporarily). And their dynamic changes because of that single minute in which they strike a truce to get out of the room. Unfortunately, because of that, the solidity of who they are in their respective relationship to one another, wavers and slightly dissolves. I couldn’t really connect second half Jude and Cardan to first half Jude and Cardan and I missed that relationship.
Another small thing is that when events speed up, we lose a bit of background story that is such a strong part of Holly Black’s writing. I completely understand, because a lot is happening and there is not much room. But I could have done with more insight into Madoc’s motives and Jude’s reaction to it. I also could have done with a lot more insight into Taryn and her decisions, because I think there is a whole story there we didn’t get to explore. Taryn as a character remains flat, as happens when there is a lot going on and you have an extensive cast. Someone’s motives have to give, and those were Taryn’s, while they are as interesting as those of the others. Maybe a bit more, as Jude’s twin sister.
What I want to end with, is this: The Cruel Prince was a book I tumbled into, and had to climb out of in the end. Although I mentioned a lot of points more towards the negative side, it still only took out half a point in scoring. These are little things, and they stem from the fact that I seriously just want more. I do have to admit I really am a huge fan of the love-to-hate trope. It’s possible that pepole who don’t, find it less enjoyable than I did (as I have with love triangles, which annoy me). But the writing is really strong, and it’s a great mix of superb story, strong emotional elements and a bit of guilty pleasure reading. I can’t want to see what happens in book 2, which I guess will be far more political. I would love to see what Holly Black will do there.