“I stand in front of my window and imagine myself a fearless knight, imagine myself a witch who hid her heart in her finger and then chopped her finger off.”
I feel personally attacked by this book. I fully intend to through down my glove at it and have it meet me outside for a duel at dawn.
Why, though? On the outside, it looks perfectly agreeable. Nice cover and all that. Nice use of golden yet barren branches. Edgy. I like it. And a crown is always good. It’s a YA fantasy with princes and royals after all, right? Just put a crown on it.
And I read The Cruel Prince from beginning to end – or listened to Caitlin Kelly read it aloud, which I count as reading it. It has words, and sentences, and characters, and plot, and all the things that typically make up a book. There’s even punctuation, which is always nice.
Wow, right? I know, what a stellar review I’ve got going here. I know at least twelve whole words, I’ll have you know, and I’m not afraid to use them.
But anyway, back to the business at hand: feeling victimized by Holly Black’s mind-creation.
My central thesis of this review is that this book has no chill. None. Emotions are tuned to their highest pitch, characters behave very badly, blood is spilled and spilled again, the colors and imagery are lurid and vivid almost to (and sometimes over) the point of ugliness, and It. Was. Great.
In a weird way, The Cruel Prince reminds me of Hana Yori Dango. For those not in the know, HYD (also called Boys Over Flowers) is a shoujo manga published over about a decade from 1992 to 2003 and adapted and re-adapted numerous times in anime and live action form in Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and China. It’s kind of a big deal. It centers on an angry-as-hell girl of working-class origins who clashes with a clique of spoiled, mean rich kids who rule the roost of their school, and who she doesn’t want to be cowed by.
In Holly Black’s hands, that becomes an angry-as-hell human girl who clashes with a clique of spoiled, cruel fairy children who are literal nobility or royalty and who she refuses to be cowed by. See why it reminds me of it? I don’t draw that comparison to say that I don’t like it or find TCP unoriginal. No, this shit – this high-stakes, soap opera-level drama between an embittered heroine and the petty machinations of smug, privileged bullies – is my super-indulgent kryptonite. My snickerdoodle cookies or raspberry truffles, if you will. I ate it right up and loved it the whole time. Just give it to me, Holly Black. Give. it. to. me.
Actual footage of me, Eating That Shit Up:
If you’ve read Holly Black’s older Tithe series, you’ll be familiar with how she approaches writing the Fair Folk: with no small measure of casual cruelty, ageless pride, and wild breathless monstrosity that’s as much a part of their appeal as their magic or beauty. There’s the offhand brutality of a human being fed hallucinogenic fruit just to humiliate them, or taking what starts off looking like schoolyard bullying to near-death scares. There’s the masks layered over masks that those of faerie wear. There’s the knowledge that her faeries, despite being unable to lie directly, will twist whatever words they can if it would gain them a measure of power over someone else (or prevent that someone from gaining power over them). Black’s fae folk can be intoxicating, but they’re never to be taken at face value, and never to be underestimated.
The Cruel Prince is very much in keeping with Black’s faerie traditions, opening on the scene of the protagonist’s parents being murdered in cold blood before her seven-year-old eyes. Jude (and thus, the reader) never forgets that awful scene, and she doesn’t forgive her adoptive faerie father, even as she becomes attached to the world of faerie in which she’s raised. It causes her a lot of internal strife and something akin to survivor’s guilt as she grows up.
There’s about a million rave reviews out there for The Cruel Prince already, so I won’t go on for ages about the characters. I’ll leave it at this: each character – each! one! – is complex, multilayered, and fully realized (yes, even Taryn, who I didn’t hate like seemingly everyone else). Holly Black isn’t afraid to let her characters be truly nasty (including Jude). Characters definitely fuck up and act like…you know, people. And the characters’ actions make sense for the story and setting. The moral greyness of the cast in this novel was fantastic.
I had one little nit-picky thing I didn’t love as much, characters-wise. Like, the trope of the mean rich dude who’s been bullying a girl because he likes her? Nah, not my jam. Especially since there’s a backstory excuse for him being a douchecanoe that Jude conveniently finds out about so that he doesn’t have to redeem himself to her through anything he actually does. I liked Cardan alright by the end, and I think I’ll like him more in book two – since Jude and him actually talk to each other outside of the context of him threatening her now – but I still didn’t love him quite so much as many fellow readers seem to.
The plot was a tad slow at the start, but it felt necessary so that readers could get their bearings in the setting Black created, and establish the protagonist’s internal struggles. Once the plot picks up, though, it goes from about 0 to 60 in the span of a few pages. I was listening to this in my car and hollering about the shit going down in a certain section. I’m sure my fellow commuters, if any happened to look over and see me, thought I was possessed.
Oh, and the writing’s great, descriptively and otherwise, rest assured. Holly Black used imagery to great effect here, and the sights, sounds, tastes, and smells of faerie were super vivid as she depicted them.
Overall, I think most readers (especially actual teenagers and young adults, rather someone like me who’s slightly above the target audience’s age) will eat this novel up and wait breathlessly for the next installment. Myself, I honestly can’t believe the publisher saw fit to bestow upon me an e-ARC through Edelweiss, and I can’t wait to read it.