Fantasy Fiction Young Adult

Book Review: The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

At seven years old, Jude Duarte’s parents are murdered. She abruptly finds herself carried off with her two sisters to live in Elfhame with her parents’ murderer. After ten years, Jude no longer has a desire to return to the human world. Despite the fact that it’s a dangerous place to live for humans, she realizes she wants to rise and find her place in the High Court of Faerie. But Jude’s proud and headstrong personality attracts the attention of Prince Cardan, the youngest and most cruel son of the High King, and his friends. They’re used to getting their way and make life hell for those who don’t conform to their demands. To win a place at Court, Jude must plot, scheme, and decide who to trust as she navigates through young love, betrayal, and threats against her life.

This book has been on my radar for a while, ever since I picked up the A Court of Thorns and Roses (ACoTaR) series, and it didn’t disappoint. I feel like the blurb on the back of the book doesn’t do the plot justice. This is an urban fantasy in which Jude and her sisters, Vivienne and Taryn, are whisked away from their home in Maine and brought to live in the land of the fey. They spend the next ten years living with their parents’ murderer, Madoc, whom they learn to call father.

Naturally, this evokes a lot of complicated emotions in Jude, her twin Taryn, and Vivi, which we see manifested in how they try (or not) to acclimate to their new home. Vivi wants nothing more than to return to the human world and isn’t shy about letting Madoc know it. Taryn wishes to stay in Elfhame and so works to please everyone in order to find her place. Jude also wishes to stay, but refuses to acquiesce to the notion that humans have no business at the High Court, which she quickly finds makes her life more difficult.

This book also has a lot more court intrigue and political scheming than I expected. Whispers of the High King wishing to pass on his crown to one of his heirs tests other courts’ ties of loyalty and breeds plots abound to ascend to the throne. There were definitely a couple of moments in the book that surprised me. One particular character’s life choice and betrayal definitely frustrated me. I suspected this person’s betrayal for a while, and hoped it wouldn’t come to pass; but it still upset me for Jude when the truth came to light.

Though The Cruel Prince is the first book in a trilogy, I think Black did a great job with the world-building. Rather than describing every little aspect of Elfhame, we learn about it through Jude’s interactions with others and her surroundings. I feel like this kept the pace moving without bogging the reader down with long descriptions of the different beings or settings in Elfhame.

I also enjoyed Black’s writing style. It’s to the point, but not dry. I recall encountering a few words that I don’t think I’d ever seen before. Kudos to introducing me to new vocabulary! If you read my reviews on the ACoTaR series, then you know the author’s writing style frustrated me at times (even though she’s great at portraying complicated emotions). So I also feel I should mention when the writing style is enjoyable, if that’s an aspect you as a reader like to know.

Overall, I highly recommend this book, particularly if you enjoy reading about a strong female protagonist, scheming, and stories set in a world with elves. Though romance is not a central component of the plot, what does manifest is slow-burning, which I personally prefer.

Reading format: Paperback
Content Warnings: murder, blood, violence
Rating: 4.25/5

Product Details
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publish Date: January 2, 2018
Pages: 384
Type: Hardback

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