The Cruel Prince, by Holly Black
3 Stars | ★★★
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.
Pages: 384 (hardcover)
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Published on: 2nd of January, 2018
After being wowed by The Darkest Part of the Forest and White Cat, I was sorely disappointed by The Cruel Prince.
Holly Black’s writing style in this book didn’t really appeal to me. I felt like there were a plethora of grand statements made by the narrator, Jude Duarte, but the statements all had limited contextual content to justify its level of dramaticism. Those flowery, often short and choppy, sentences only served to characterize Jude as a person who over-dramatizes her life. For example, this is quite dramatic:
We are getting older and things are changing. We are changing. And as eager as I am for it, I am also afraid.
However, to identify why that quote seems out of place, we can’t look at the quote in isolation.
Before the quote:
She throws up her hands. “What do you mean, what does fun entail? It’s fun!”
I laugh a little nervously. “You have no idea, either, do you? Fine. Let’s go see if you have a gift for prophecy.”
After the quote:
Taryn pushes herself off my bed and holds out her arm, as though she’s my escort for a dance. I allow myself to be guided from the room, my hand going automatically to assure myself that my knife is still strapped to my hip.
Both passages describe activities that do not really warrant the sudden expression of dramaticism from Jude. A little warning in the form of narrative build-up would be nice. Even though I didn’t like Black’s new writing style as much, it is very quotable. Suffice to say, Jude’s flair for dramaticism wasn’t a quality that made me like her.
Jude also seems to have a penchant for assigning herself duties. I think nothing shows this aspect more than the following:
Her job is to help him care about things other than power, and my job is to care only about power so I can carve out room for his return.
Jude has a messiah complex in the sense that she feels very responsible for assisting the aforementioned returner. Let it be known that the returner has not asked for Jude to do what she has decided is her current life mission. However, Jude’s dominant mentality is not her messiah complex, but her distinct inferiority complex. This sense of inferiority makes complete sense to me, since Jude is a human that has grown up amongst the seemingly perfect fae, and Black has welded this inferiority together with Jude’s defining power-hungry trait in a way that helps to make Jude’s character engaging.
A character not as engaging as Jude was the titular cruel prince. Personally, I think that Cardan’s actions were not enough to receive the label of cruelty. If anything, Cardan was extraordinarily petty. Exactly like an immature preschooler. Tit for tat. In what I suspect was an effort to develop Cardan’s character, Black decides to peel off this cover of cruelty. I had detected a falseness to Cardan’s defining characteristic (cruelty), and I was hoping that Black would make this cruelty more concrete rather than doing away with it altogether. After all, the book is named The Cruel Prince.
Some characters I did really appreciate include Madoc and Oriana. As I have already mentioned in a few reviews, I do like Black’s general portrayal of the fae.
The romance in this novel was an anti-climatic guessing game where Jude ended up with the person I expected at the beginning. The romance between Jude and her endgame love interest mirrors what happens when a kid “likes” another kid but cannot express themselves in an appropriate way. E.g. pulling pigtails, tripping… Also known as attention-seeking, borderline bullying activities. Perhaps the nature of this romance was supposed to reflect the participants’ unusual upbringings, but all I could ever view the romance as was a combination of attention-seeking, borderline bullying activities.
The plot of the story was most decidedly an interesting but predictable aspect of the novel. Although Black did not develop the plot much at the beginning, I enjoyed the opportunity to get to know the setting. The story got a lot more exciting as the climax approached, but the climax was quite near the end, which is reminiscent of Black’s novel Tithe. There is a lot of court politics involved, but Jude is left out a lot as she is an outsider who cannot easily communicate with the influential members of the court. Thus, the novel encompasses an outside-sort-of-rebel-group intrigue rather than court intrigue.
To sum this novel up in five words:
The Cruel Prince is okay.