Sunday 28 January 2018

#CBR10 Book 4: "The Cruel Prince" by Holly Black

Page count: 384 pages
Audio book length: 12hrs 36mins
Rating: 4 stars

When Jude was seven years old, her life and those of her sisters, were irrevocably changed. Lord Madoc, the Faerie King's general, showed up on their doorstep, intent on claiming back his long-lost heir and Jude and Taryn's parents were murdered as a result. Madoc took them and his daughter Vivienne to Elfhame, where they were all raised as part of his household.

Most humans in Elfhame are servants (or even slaves) be-glamoured not to realise that they're trapped in a magical realm. That Madoc has demanded that Jude and Taryn be raised alongside the children of the Fae, and treated as his own kin, is highly unusual. Vivi, his actual daughter, still does her best to provoke and oppose her father and scoff at Faerie traditions as much as she can. The twins, on the other hand, always so very aware of their otherness, do their best to fit in and adapt. Ten years after the death of their parents, Jude is wanting to fight in the trials to prove herself worthy to become a knight, while Taryn wants to find a faerie lord to marry. Vivi, on the other hand, keeps sneaking off to the mortal realm and has a human girlfriend who she's keeping secret from Madoc and her stepmother.

While many of the Faerie youths that Jude and Taryn are educated alongside are happy to mostly ignore them, there are others who don't like humans, and resent that the twins are given such elevated status. They take extra pleasure in torturing them and making their lives difficult. Chief among these are Cardan, the High King's youngest son, and his little band of hangers-on. When Cardan discovers that Jude wants to compete in the Knight trials, he steps up his harassment. He wants Jude to promise to bow out, and she only becomes more determined to defy him. As Taryn just wants to be left in peace, she keeps trying to persuade her sister to bow to the prince, to no avail. The sisters start growing apart.

Madoc has no intention of allowing Jude to become a knight, he says she's not ruthless enough. So when Jude gets an offer from one of the older of the High King's sons, an offer that can help keep her safe from Cardan and some of his more ruthless allies, she accepts, even if it might put her in danger of a different kind. Then there's an announcement that the High King will step down, and cede the throne to one of his heirs. Will this trigger a power struggle among the King's children?

The first Holly Black book I ever read was Tithe, back in 2010. While my absolute favourite of her books is about vampires, Ms Black has written about faeries a number of times, and they are not the pretty and romantic kind, but rather the dark, dangerous, yet oh so seductive ones that humans should stay far away from, but rarely can. So when I heard that her new series was also going to be about the Fae, I was excited.

When I say that these are not your nice, delicate sort of faeries, that's no joke. Even in the prologue of the book, defenceless children see their parents brutally struck down and then they are abducted by their parents' murderer. Some of the stuff that Cardan and his cronies put Jude through in the book was genuinely difficult to read about and while Prince Cardan is eventually given just a little bit of depth and backstory to make you understand both his strange hatred of Jude and his malicious cruelty (probably because he's clearly going to become a much more central character in the sequel), most of his friends seem to be just sadistic creeps.

There's also several descriptions of the very callous treatment the majority of faeries have for humans in general. While under the current High King, there are rules about making bargains with mortals before they can be lured away to Elfheim, it's also made clear that this was not always the case, and there are many who would love to go back to the old ways, where humans could be easily lured away and exploited, until they waste away for lack of rest and proper nourishment. Humans are playthings to most of the Fae, and it's really only the high position that Madoc has at court and his power that means he can demand that his faithless human wife's offspring be raised as his own flesh and blood.

While I liked Jude a lot, I would have loved a bit more characterisation of her two sisters. While as someone who is extremely averse to conflict myself, you'd think I'd sympathise with Taryn, she comes across as almost too cowardly and willing to submit, and Vivi's chief trait seems to be sullen defiance. I hope we get more insight into both characters in the sequels, as I the stubborn and headstrong loner protagonist, without friends or support of any kind get a bit boring after a while. To be fair, Jude does find herself some interesting allies as the plot progresses, but it would be sad if she becomes entirely estranged with her actual sisters.

This is not really a romantic book (unlike several of Black's previous novels), but there are absolutely hints of possible romantic interests in the books to come. The main story in this book is Jude's desperate struggle to amass enough power and influence for herself that she can survive in Elfheim without being harassed, while having to deal with increasing amounts of complicated intrigue along the way. She's certainly in a very different position at the end of the book than at the beginning, with all manner of interesting implications for the books to come.

Judging a book by its cover: There's a Barnes & Noble exclusive cover for this book, where the background is black, rather than white, and I think that one looks a lot more striking. It's not that I mind the white, but black and gold seems so much more dramatic, and there is a fair amount of drama in this book. They could also have put a more elaborate crown in the picture, the one described in the book is quite a lot more intricate than the one pictured here.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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