3 stars · book review

review: The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

The Cruel Prince (The Folk of the Air #1) by Holly Black

★★★☆☆ // 3 out of 5 stars

Goodreads review: here

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This is like Fairy AU Hana Yori Dango fanfic, y’all. I mean it’s hella entertaining, but I got some problems. And it’s probably not what you think they are.

Is it bad that my take away is that Madoc sure surrounds himself with the least trustworthy family and I felt bad for him despite him being a parent murderer? And how is it that we spend the entire book with Jude and end up being more sympathetic towards Cardan the Schoolyard Bully because Jude reeks of “the protagonist can murder so it’s morally complex and therefore deep” which doesn’t get an automatic pass from me?

Don’t get me wrong, this book was really entertaining because for the most part it plays out like Fairy Hana Yori Dango. And if you’re a fan of Hana Yori Dango, this book even has its own F4 (Fairy Four)! While I didn’t see all the twists and reveals coming, when they happened I wasn’t entirely convinced of how grounded in fact they were because Jude has a tendency of making wild speculations that ended up being validated in the story … just ’cause? Like I don’t believe Jude is capable of knowing what’s best for Faerie when she wasn’t even interested in politics but decided to throw herself into it because she was deeply upset by other, almost unrelated stuff.

Maybe I missed something, but the sense of urgency that Jude had to find her place in Faerie before the transition of power to the next High King wasn’t fully baked. If the POV character were anyone else, I feel like we would have had a better sense of the world of Faerie while sacrificing a human POV. It almost felt like Jude didn’t *need* to be there as a POV character since she had so little knowledge of the court’s inner workings and all the reveals came so easily to her it was like her lack of knowledge didn’t matter. At one point she straight out asks Cardan to tell her court information like he’s doing her homework for her. Pretty convenient. In the end everything played out very conveniently for Jude and there was no satisfaction from seeing her have almost no problems succeeding.

Yeah, on top of that I hate Jude’s presumptuous ass. Come at me (don’t. bc I don’t care).

As for the relationship between Cardan and Jude, it boiled down to:

Cardan: I bullied you because I was jealous your daddy loves you and spoils you and my family sucks ass. I actually like you despite all my instincts including good taste.

Jude: well you’re hot and I like your smoochies but I still won’t forgive you for being mean to me so here have a crown you don’t want.

Both: smooch in accordance to the YA gods

Yeah, I wasn’t into it. I don’t think this book glorifies bullying -> romance because the bullying is portrayed as obviously BAD, but it was tre, tre strange that Holly Black went for this budding romance between a bully and the bullied when there was so little development of their actual relationship. There was actually so little development for Cardan until after this scene where he and Jude kissed. So I guess since he’s the love interest proper now, he should have a tragic backstory reveal *cue small violin music*

Cardan himself is much more enjoyable when he’s actually allowed to have a personality after Jude captures him. He makes conversations with his brother’s spies like it’s nothing and even wants to be friends with them after a game of cards. He’s sassy and stylish, doesn’t wanna be king and “is no killer.” I’m very surprised we had to wait THAT long for him to show off more sides of his personality. Then again, Jude’s POV does delay us from seeing this because of how much she hates his guts. Maybe he had a personality all along. But since Cardan’s the titular character, it as awfully strange to have to hold out for the majority of the book to actually see the man for who he is. I’m not excusing his bullying. We kind of forget about it all when a whole bunch of fae get merked later on and it just looks tame antics in comparison. This gives Jude’s motivations even less credit in my eyes ’cause that girl has trouble grasping different levels of severity for sure.

While we’re talking about the relationships in this book, I knew Locke was trouble from the start because he was the Rui of the Fairy Four and lemme tell you spoilers, Rui and the MC in Hana Yori Dango aren’t endgame. If Holly Black was on some sort of HYD craze while drafting this book, it was very evident Locke’s getting dropped.

Now, I guess it’s time to confess, I’ve always had a Rui bias. I’ve alwas had a fox bias. Locke is our resident Rui fox fairy boy and I wish fox-boys wouldn’t be done dirty like the YA story gods have a vendetta against them Zootopia-style, but I have no idea how Jude wasn’t suspicious of his fuqboi ass when she was sooooo on point and suspicious of her fucking dad and everyone else. Locke’s backstory was tragic and he has that No Mom Energy™, so he’s my type in theory and he had so much potential if it weren’t for the fact he was a throw-away character to heighten the drama in between Jude and Taryn, which was wholly unnecessary. The love geometry in wild in this one. Also I hate Taryn. Madoc didn’t raise you to be a traitourous ass, tsk tsk.

The family dynamics were by far the best aspect of this. Madoc is honestly my favorite character, despite the maddening amount of inconsistencies and convenience in characterization… and everything in the ending. And you know he’s a parent-killer and war-monger, too. He’s actually a very good dad and honorable, to boot. I honestly was *almost* (bc obviously the story frames him as the bad guy, but srsly he’s been thru enough) completely on his side when Jude decided to be r00d and poison him and act like he didn’t shelter her, clothe her, feed her, and tell her her taste in fuqbois was Bad out of love. Like cool for once the murder-happy villain(?antag?) of a YA fantasy is coincidentally a good dad for once because I always complain about this, but something about Madoc’s duality doesn’t sit right with me. I was never convinced the murder-happy and the good dad were in harmony, instead it felt like there were two Madocs. That could be Black’s intention, which is all well and good, but the development of it was underbaked.

The beginning was a great introduction of the three sisters and each were distinct in personality and in life views. Vivi is my favorite and a cool big sis. tbh I’d rather have her POV instead of Jude’s because she actually *is* half-fairy. And even though in the canon, she is the least concerned about the state of Faerie, I feel like it would be more powerful to have a half-human half-fairy character talk about how she doesn’t really fit in either world – almost like an allegory being in a bi/multi-cultural household or something on top of being queer. Just saying. I mean it’s interesting to see how people really latch onto this book and resonate with the fish-out-of-water experience in fairyland but like might not extend similar sympathy to real ppl who have faced that sense of not belonging anywhere when they have claim to multiple cultures. Or something. Idk. Hmmm.

– Taryn – I thought her opposition with Jude was interesting at first, but she’s a traitorrrr
– Oriana’s cool too despite being inconsistent in characterization.
– Oak? I don’t know him. He’s really barely a character and more of a plot device.
TLDR: The verdict is that I thought this was pretty entertaning but felt half-baked. The world-building was interesting but was muddled by a bullying storyline turned brewing coup where all the problems the MC faced were solved a little too quickly and easily for me to suspend disbelief. Felt like the plot was dictating the character’s moves and changed their motivations to suit the story’s needs.

  • Pretty entertaining Hana Yori Dango Fairy AU
  • Didn’t like Jude and Taryn. Their drama was not my taste.
  • My fox boy Locke was a fuqboi and I knew he was gonna be but I still have a bias.
  • Madoc was my (highly problematique) fave. He was an honorable daddy and didn’t deserve to be poisoned by his uppity daughter who knows jack shit about fae politics but thinks she knows best.
  • Cardan’s instalust “I bullied you because I’m jealous and I like you, you filthy human” was not a good look, but somehow I sympathized with his bully ass more than the POV character. He’s sassy and stylish and ihs tragic backstory kicks in quicker than you can pick up the world’s smallest violin.
  • Vivi’s cool, but I wish the “I have one foot in each world” concept was done with her instead of Jude.
  • Oak was a plot device
  • lots of inconsistencies that bothered me plot and character-wise
  • Jude succeeded too easily
  • Not worth buying 4 copies of with different covers each, but I wouldn’t blame you because the cover’s nice.

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