The Cruel Prince/The Wicked King
Grade : A

The Cruel Prince and The Wicked King are the first two books in a fantasy series by Holly Black. I advise you to quit reading this review and, instead, find a way to get your hands on both books.

Still here? OK. That's on you.

Prior to reading these cracktastic books, I'd read one other Black book--The Darkest Part of the Forest--and had liked it but hadn't been inspired to pick up another. (So many books, way too little time.) But then Bec McMaster began raving about The Cruel Prince on Facebook so, when it was recently an AAR Steal and Deal, I bought it. I began reading it on a plane and, let me tell you, the nation has never flashed by so quickly.

Why? Well, to begin with: Jude. Jude is Black's protagonist and, for all but the prologue of each book, their narrator. She is splendid. She's everything I want in a character--complex, thoughtful, flawed, smart, and compelling. As the first book begins, Jude is verging on adulthood in the world of Faerie where, unlike anyone else, she and her twin sister Taryn are human AND members of the High Court--their adoptive father Madoc is the the General to the High King and has raised them as though they were his daughters in truth. Jude and Taryn have lived in Faerie for just over ten years and are profoundly aware that being a human in Faerie is no easy thing. The fey see humans as less than and, for Jude and her sister, that's meant a decade of danger and daily humiliations.

Jude--an utter bad ass--dreams of becoming a knight so she will have her own--and not Madoc's--power and will thus be accepted as a permanent member of the Court. Her sister Taryn seeks another path to inclusion: marriage to a fairy of the High Court. The paths the women pursue will, over the course of the series, put them at risk and at odds. Though they've been lived the same lives in many ways, they don't see the fey the same nor do the wish to wield power in the same way. Taryn is curiously subtle, more interested in kisses than in politics. Jude is ambitious--in no small part due to watching Madoc scheme. Thus when the current High King announces his retirement and his heirs--only a child of old Mab's blood may rule--strive for the throne, Jude sees an opportunity for herself to ally well. And therein begins a story of violence, politics, love, fear, and magic.

That's all I'll say about the plot. I want you to have the joy of reading just as I did. #nospoilers

This isn't a romance - I am still rooting for an HEA by the end of the series - although there is Cardan, the youngest of all the High King's sons, inhumanly beautiful and routinely, horribly cruel. His relationship with Jude is perplexing and deeply dangerous to Jude... and perhaps to himself. Cardan and Jude are determined to protect what they want for themselves and for the kingdom and the ways they do so are keenly informed by complicated, compromised ethics.

The Faerie of The Folk of Air, as the fairies of the High Court are called, is traditional and not. It's a world where Vivienne, Jude's older half-fairy sister, is in love with a mortal girl, fairies have alliances with humans and fairies of either sex, and weeds can be made into flying steeds. There are no cell-phones or TVs or fish sticks or bras. The magic the fairies have gives them the ability to do almost anything and yet they cannot lie and simple wards can rob them of their power. Jude, human by nature and fairy by nurture, uses her knowledge of both and maneuvers her way to... well, that would be telling.

I don't think I've conveyed well enough the skill with which Black tells her tale. Readers looking for supple storytelling set in a singular world will be thrilled with The Folk of Air.  The third book in the series, The Queen of Nothing, comes out on November 19th and I will be reading it immediately. You should too.

Buy it at Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes and Noble/Kobo

Reviewed by Dabney Grinnan
Grade : A
Book Type: Fantasy

Sensuality: Subtle

Review Date : October 27, 2019

Publication Date: 01/2019

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Dabney Grinnan

Impenitent social media enthusiast. Relational trend spotter. Enjoys both carpe diem and the fish of the day. Publisher at AAR.
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