The Cruel Prince (The Folk of the Air #1)
By Holly Black, Narrated by Caitlin Kelly
Published by Hachette Audio
Unabridged: 12 Hrs & 36 Minutes
Genre: YA Fantasy
Of course I want to be like them. They’re beautiful as blades forged in some divine fire. They will live forever.
And Cardan is even more beautiful than the rest. I hate him more than all the others. I hate him so much that sometimes when I look at him, I can hardly breathe.
Jude was seven years old when her parents were murdered and she and her two sisters were stolen away to live in the treacherous High Court of Faerie. Ten years later, Jude wants nothing more than to belong there, despite her mortality. But many of the fey despise humans. Especially Prince Cardan, the youngest and wickedest son of the High King.
To win a place at the Court, she must defy him–and face the consequences.
In doing so, she becomes embroiled in palace intrigues and deceptions, discovering her own capacity for bloodshed. But as civil war threatens to drown the Courts of Faerie in violence, Jude will need to risk her life in a dangerous alliance to save her sisters, and Faerie itself.
The Cruel Prince was an anticipated release for me in 2018. Many favorable reviews were already circulating, and I am a huge fan of all things fae. This was a deviation from my current reading challenge, as I picked it up simply for me. Unfortunately, I may have fallen into the minority when I found myself lacking the same enthusiasm as many others. But there were so favorable moments. For the sake of this review, I will be addressing my time with the audiobook.
The skinny: A young Jude finds herself and her two sisters ripped away to the land of the fey after the viscous murder of her human parents. 10 years later she is struggling to cope with her own mortality and disgust her peers (the fey) harbor towards humans. She does not belong. Not in the high court of the fey nor among the humans. She attempts to seek knighthood and a spot in the court, challenging those around her, but soon finds it does not come without great risks and costs.
Sounds fun, right?! So what went wrong…
Those characters though: They fell into two categories for me. Over the top or 2 dimensional. I found the decision-making to be questionable during the best of moments, but did allow leeway in regards to the extremity of our protagonist Jude’s circumstances. Yet, I did not ever successfully connect with her. I do understand this is YA, but often found characterizations and responses to be too juvenile and simplistic. Without avoiding too many details here, I did feel the story offered a suggestive look at possible Stockholm syndrome with Jude’s constant struggle to come to terms with her “now father” Madoc. ⇐ I cringe as I write that knowing it may receive some very negative backlash, but this is my experience. I am not actually going to offer much more in terms of characters aside from stating that I did find Cardan’s development to be of the most interest here.
What about the story: While there were some unique elements in play, I found the main themes to be tiresome. I have reached a point where forbidden love and the victimized, not belonging, female protagonist making her mark no longer offers enough for me. It can work, but I need more. There was a lack of depth and complexity that seemed to constantly promise to surface only to slip away each time. A twist would occur but then manage to fall into the predictable. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the somewhat disjointed pace picked up around the last 15% leading to a more satisfying conclusion. Bonus points for that!
But that world building: This was one of the major highlights for me. I enjoyed Black’s description of the fey and their high court. Being introduced into their lives was fascinating and managed to compel me onward even when the story-line faltered. The incorporation things such as glamour and fairy fruit with details of the effects on humans was a welcomed addition. World development felt complete and immersive. Black takes the magical and lends an air of credible life to it. That alone will nudge my rating of this one.
Writing & Narration: Holly Black’s writing is crisp and smooth. She manages a fine balance between description and precision that serves a fluid experience. Caitlin Kelly’s narration was punchy and entertaining, lending life to the story and creating an easy listen.
Setting aside my own issues with The Cruel Prince (which lie mainly in a storyline that didn’t work for me), it is still easy to pick out the elements that find an audience within. If you enjoy story of the fey and overcoming the odds, I highly recommend exploring this one for yourself.
Enjoyed with a cuppa vanilla chai tea and cinnamon.