The Wicked King by Holly Black

Title: The Wicked King
Author: Holly Black
Series: The Folk of the Air, #2
Pages: 336
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: January 8th 2019

      “You must be strong enough to strike and strike and strike again without tiring.
      The first lesson is to make yourself strong.
      After the jaw-dropping revelation that Oak is the heir to Faerie, Jude must keep her younger brother safe. To do so, she has bound the wicked king, Cardan, to her, and made herself the power behind the throne. Navigating the constantly shifting political alliances of Faerie would be difficult enough if Cardan were easy to control. But he does everything in his power to humiliate and undermine her even as his fascination with her remains undiminished.
      When it becomes all too clear that someone close to Jude means to betray her, threatening her own life and the lives of everyone she loves, Jude must uncover the traitor and fight her own complicated feelings for Cardan to maintain control as a mortal in a Faerie world.”

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      “I hope it unnerves them to know I am lying.
      After all, if the insult to me is pointing out that I am mortal, then this is my riposte: I live here, too, and I know the rules. Perhaps I even know them better than you since you were born into them, but I had to learn.”

The Wicked King, Holly Black’s highly-anticipated sequel to The Cruel Prince, is as intoxicating and heart-stopping as its predecessor as Jude tries to hold on to power in a world that makes games out of crushing mortals. Five months have passed since the end of The Cruel Prince. As Cardan, the new High King of Elfhame, sits on the throne, his subjects are unaware that it is Jude, a mortal girl who grew up in Faerie, pulling the stings, having orchestrated both his crowing and his vow to obey her every command. But with such a young ruler on the thrown and his older brother Balekin in prison, there are those in Faerie who believe a weak king and an alternate heir leaves room for another coup. Jude must find a way to counter the machinations of those hoping for a power grab while also keeping a vexing, yet alluring Cardan in check. With little allies on her side, Jude is tested at every turn and when she discovers someone in her confidence has betrayed her, it becomes even more imperative that she find a way to hold on to power.

Faerie is a world built on deceit. The Folk cannot lie, but they can manipulate, they can twist the truth and hide their true motivations. Jude has grown up in this world and has had to figure out how to survive when every Fae sees her as weak and vulnerable. She has become a force to be reckon. In this sequel, I loved seeing the shift in her relationship with Madoc, her ‘adoptive’ father. He raised Jude and Taryn to look out for themselves in this world of Fae, but he never quite imagined that either would grow up to influence his world in such a dramatic way. Madoc, like most Fae, puts his own desires first, but since these often clash with Jude’s own wishes, it pits them against one another and I love that they both manage to push the other to their limits. I also really enjoyed Jude’s shifting relationship with Cardan. Black writes the Folk in such a way that the reader is forced, like Jude, to sift through words and actions in order to find the truth underneath. There’s always another layer to a character that I thought I had figured out. After this novel, I feel like I have a better understanding of who Cardan is and what his motivations are. Jude and Cardan’s relationship is fraught with mutual contempt, but also a fascination with one another. In this second book, both take steps to understanding each other better and I see so much potential for an alliance between the two built on actual trust if they could only get there.

One of my favorite things about The Folk of the Air series is how Black continues to raise the stakes. Jude was able to manipulate Cardan in order to put him on the thrown instead of her little brother Oak, but in this novel, she doesn’t have an opportunity to rest. Power is fleeting in the Faerie world, especially for those who can’t stay vigilant. Jude is pushed physically, emotionally, and mentally in The Wicked King. She succeeds only when she is able to stay several steps ahead, but there is always the possibility that as a mortal, she is ill-equipped to the task. Female characters who want power for power’s sake are few and far between in fiction, so it’s refreshing to get a character like Jude whose motivation is to gain as much power as possible and who can’t help but delight in her newfound authority. Also there is something truly satisfying about seeing Jude, a mortal girl, get the best of these mythical beings.

Holly Black’s The Wicked King is a sequel that will no doubt delight fans of the first novel, its twists will keep readers on their toes, and its ending will have them begging for the next installment.

★★★★

(4/5)

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The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

Title: The Cruel Prince
Author: Holly Black
Series: The Folk of the Air, #1
Pages: 384
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: January 2nd 2017

      “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.

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“I thought I was supposed to be good and follow the rules…But I am done with being weak. I am done with being good. I think I am going to be something else.”

Holly Black’s The Cruel Prince features a complex heroine who is forced to become more ruthless than the monsters who surround her in order to survive. Jude was taken from the human world along with her sisters when she was a child and has grown up under the watchful eye of Madoc, the High King of Elfhame’s powerful general. As a mortal, Jude will never truly belong in the Faerie realm, but she has been so altered by its cruelty and majesty, that returning to the human world is unthinkable. Jude must find a way to earn her place in the High Court, to ensure her own safety and protection for those she cares about. But sparring with a foe who is stronger and more powerful than she will ever be will push Jude to her limits and could turn her into something even more terrible than than the Fae themselves.

Jude was such an interesting character in that she never wanted to embrace her humanity, but instead understood that she had to rid herself of her very human weaknesses in order to gain any kind of footing in the Faerie world. Her relationship with this world is rooted in opposing emotions. She hates these immortal beings for taking away her parents, for their cruelty, and the alienation she feels being a part of their world but not of it. But on the other hand, she has found a home in this strange and inhuman world. She admires their strength, ruthlessness, and power. Jude longs for the kind of power that no mortal has ever been granted. For the Faeries, mortal are playthings. There to amuse or serve them one minute and then to be discarded the next. It is for this reason that Jude is able to move undetected among them, it’s why her defiance is so provoking to those with more power, and why, though improbably, Jude finds a way to shape not just her own story but those around her.

I loved all the different relationships Jude has with each member of her family. Her twin sister Taryn very much wants to embrace the Faerie world, but in a very human way. She ultimate believes love will be her protection. She is everything that Jude might have been if she hadn’t been consumed by her own ambition. Jude’s older sister Vivi is half-Faerie and half-human. She longs to return to the human world where she has fallen in love with a human girl. Vivi hates her father Madoc for shattering her world and perhaps blames him for her sisters’ love for the Faerie realm. As far as side characters go, I thought Vivi was the most interesting and deserved more page time. For Jude, Madoc has always represented the best and worst part of the Faerie world. He murdered her parents, but has also shown her and her sisters a great deal of affection. He pushes her, but in many ways, also hold her back.

Making these vicious creatures romantic characters is always tricky. Faeries are inherently cruel and selfish. After finishing this first installment, I wonder if there is any goodness to be found in these creatures that you could call redeeming or if their nature is such that the morality we apply to human characters cannot be applied to them. It is for this reason that I found it hard to root for certain characters. Though it is revealed later that the motives of some may not be solely rooted in hatred, I still found it hard to forget the malice shown to the protagonist. I understood more what a Faerie might see in Jude in that she finds a way to overcome her own weaknesses despite her fragility as a mortal, but couldn’t quite see what Jude would see in someone who has been a thorn in her side. Still, I’m curious to see where the author decides to take a certain relationship.

Overall, Holly Black’s The Cruel Prince was a fascinating read that had me racing to the end with its startling conclusion.

4/5

★★★★