[while the rating still reflects what I think of this book, my thoughts on *why* I’m giving this rating are different. Read here if you’re interested in something far more accurate.]
The Cruel Prince is the first book in The Folk of the Air trilogy, and it’s one of the most hyped releases for 2018. I thought it was overhyped, and I have a lot of mixed feelings.
The Cruel Prince is the third fae book by Holly Black I’ve read. I hated her Tithe trilogy – it was 90% shock value and 10% actual characterization and worldbuilding – and I liked The Darkest Part of the Forest, mostly because of its atmosphere, but it was somewhat forgettable. However, Holly Black wrote one of my favorite books of all times (The Coldest Girl in Coldtown) and I like her writing style, so I’m always willing to give her another chance. I had mixed feelings on this book, but I will read the sequels – the ending had a lot of potential, and I want to know what happens.
What almost ruined this book for me was the pacing. The action doesn’t start until 60% in, maybe even later. All the hype was for the second half, not the first – during the first nothing happen, unless you count “Jude being bullied by fairies”, of course, which… I don’t.
I loved everything about the second half but one scene (which was the most romantic one, no one is surprised) so I’m not that disappointed, but it was slow. Keep that in mind if you want to start this.
The Cruel Prince follows Jude, a human girl who is living in Faerie because of complicated backstory. She’s not even half as morally gray as reviews led me to believe. None of her decisions were that questionable in a fae book setting, not in that sense – I mean, she even tries to save a human girl she doesn’t know when it’s clear it’s a terrible idea?
In-universe, she’s a good person in both means (yes, killing that one character was… survival instinct, not moral grayness) and goals as of this first book.
But I do like her. She makes a lot of bad decisions, but I don’t have a problem with that. She’s a teenager, and I understood why she made them. That’s enough for me to like her. Maybe I’ll love her in the sequels; right now I don’t, but she has potential.
What I didn’t like was the romance.
Look, your terrifying faeries shouldn’t feel like magic high school bullies, but that’s what I got. It was clearly intentional, and a bad choice, in my opinion – because this leads to two tropes I hate, which are the bully/bullied person romance and the fake redemption arc.
Stop spreading the idea that bullies are bullies because they like you. That’s not how it works. Yes, that character admits he had a lot of insecurities, but does he ever make up for his actions…? No! He tells Jude that his main motivation for the bullying was the crush, instead.
This is a fake redemption arc. There’s one in Shatter Me, and there’s one in A Court of Mist and Fury, and I don’t know why this trope is so loved.
How a true redemption arc would work, in this situation: male mc hurts female mc. Male mc somehow makes up for those actions, grows up, and you have redemption.
How a fake redemption arc works: male mc hurts female mc. female mc hates male mc. Male mc explains to female mc that what he did wasn’t as bad as she thought, so she shouldn’t hate him this much. He did all of this because he loved her! Girls always overreact! And we discover that male mc is actually a tortured soul who was abused by his family (this was so Cassandra Clare it hurt to read). Readers (and female mc) are supposed to forgive him now. This trope is both lazy and manipulative, and I want it to disappear.
I liked that by the end they aren’t a perfect healthy couple in love, because that would have been really unrealistic. Will we get a true redemption arc in the sequels? I don’t know. For now, I don’t love this setup for the romance, but I like the character themselves, even the love interest, who was a walking cliché.
And let’s not talk about the Taryn love square/plotline. That was so unnecessary and predictable it was actually embarrassing to read. If you want to read about sisters who share a strong bond and don’t fight over a boy… you choose the wrong book.
I had mixed feelings on the political intrigue – I saw coming too many things, but I was totally into what happened. So, not a negative part for me. And I loved Madoc. He’s truly a morally gray character, and everyone both loves him and hates him.
I have to say that the side characters were really well-written; most of them were as developed as they needed to be. (Not Locke. Let’s pretend that plotline didn’t happen.)
I really liked the atmosphere! I wanted more descriptions, and I hope there will be more of them in the sequel, but I loved what I got. There was a really creepy, really violent scene I loved, and it had the best writing.
It was also nice to see characters from The Darkest Part of the Forest and Tithe again here. I even liked seeing Roiben again, and I hate him. There’s also a side f/f couple.
My rating: ★★★½
Have you ever read a book written by Holly Black? And, if you’ve read this book: which prince was the cruel prince?