The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

In my personal experience, there are two kinds of Holly Black books: the ones I like and the ones I don’t. And the whys and wherefores of which book will be which are not always obvious. I bounced hard off of the Tithe series but love The Darkest Part of the Forest, for examples. The Cruel Prince is by and large the kind of Holly Black book that I do like; it’s spikey and vivid and brilliant and full of interesting tensions between characters.

One of the strengths of this book is the relationship between Jude, the narrator and main character, and her sisters. I’m very much a fan of books about sisters and female friends, so any story with that theme is generally a draw for me. Here, Black gives us a complicated and sometimes tense history between Jude, Taryn, and Vivi. All three sisters have their own goals and agendas, and they intersect and conflict with each other in a way I found believable and effective.

I also really loved the details of this fairyland; I’ve said before, I think, that I’m most interested in fairylands which are all about what is dangerous and beautiful woven together, fairies who convincingly don’t think or react in human ways. Black delivers on that here, with details of the customs that are ancient but not unchanging, political minefields that Jude can only half-see because, as she remembers and reminds us throughout the story, she doesn’t belong here. At the same time, there’s a beauty to the descriptions of the food, clothes, and the society that help sell Jude’s fascination with the fairies and her desire to be part of their world.

That fascination and ambition drive the plot of the book, as Jude attempts in to earn her place in fairy society in several different ways. I really liked how ambitious she’s allowed to be, and while the story doesn’t exactly reward that, she’s also not punished for it. Too often female main characters are only allowed to want things to a certain degree, whereas here the conflict comes in large part because other characters also have their own goals and ambitions that don’t sit easily with Jude’s. I also really liked how she cares about her sisters but doesn’t necessarily change her course of action based on that care.

There is a big old However looming here, and that is Carden. I’m simply less and less interested in this kind of male character, in the guy whose cruelties are waved away because of his own pain. This goes double when there’s any question of his being the love interest. Black treads a really fine line here and does it semi-successfully–I did not throw the book across the room, and I will most likely read the next one. But that’s in spite of Carden, not because of him. (I do want to acknowledge that I’m not a teen reader, but I also feel like modelling healthy masculinity is important in teen books? And also that we do teen girls a disservice by assuming that they’ll only be interested in jerks? I don’t know; I went back and forth on this point a lot.)

So, The Cruel Prince: fascinating world, surprising twists and turns, and mostly compelling characters, with a few points where I remain Dubious.

Other reviews of The Cruel Prince:
The Book Smugglers
Emma @ Miss Print
Rachel Pfeiffer @ The Young Folks

Other Holly Black reviews here:
The Darkest Part of the Forest
The Iron Trial
Doll Bones
White Cat
Red Glove

Previously:
The Changeover by Margaret Mahy (2011)
Ursula Le Guin Reading Notes: Voices

8 Comments

Filed under bookish posts, reviews

8 responses to “The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

  1. I can’t wait to read this one! 😀

  2. I liked this book — and I love this author! — but I was not in on Jude. I also didn’t love Carden, but I wasn’t in on Jude and I found her whole schtick really frustrating, and I wanted the book to be about litrally any of the other characters besides her. I’m hoping the next one will be about Vivi or Taryn?

  3. My long-awaited hold on the eaudiobook of this just came in – so I’ll be reporting back with more opinions. In fiction and in real life, though, I agree with you that everyone is poorly served by glorifying cruelty and especially male cruelty. Ugh!

  4. I’m that way about Black’s books, too, but this was one that didn’t work for me. I quit halfway through, partly because of Carden but mostly because of Jude. I liked her ambition but then it just started to seem so pointless, and she started turning from mildly annoying to fairly nasty, and I decided I didn’t want to be in her head anymore.

    Totally agree with Jenny that Vivi would have been a great protagonist.

    • alinaccl

      This was my exact reaction too, but because it was a review copy I finished it and then mentally threw it across the room. I felt like almost all of the characters (including the protagonist) were just spending all their time being nasty to each other, and I especially hated how things turned out with her twin. It’s weird, because I do like court intrigue and sneaky ambition and all those things, but the characters in this one were just too awful for me.

  5. Pingback: A Conspiracy of Truths by Alexandra Rowland | By Singing Light

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