Thank you to Edelweiss and Little Brown Books for Young Readers for the Arc in Exchange for an Honest Review
The lifeblood of inspired stories includes antagonists that we love to hate and protagonists that are flawed enough for us to relate to. Creating villains so demonically evil that we love to hate them without question takes a scalpel not an ax. The same is true when creating a protagonist that is heroic but not perfect.
First… a quick recap of The Cruel Prince
Jude, Cardan and the cast of characters in the Wicked King are in a stratosphere altogether <— I don’t even know what that sentence means. Take 2.
Three children are the witness to the violent and malicious murder of their parents at the hands of Madoc, the biological father of Vivienne (unbeknownst to her), one of said children. After watching Madoc brutally murder their parents all three children are forced to leave their home and live with him at another world known as Faerie. Ten years later, the twins (not related to Madoc) have come to like life in Faerie, and seemingly forgiven Madoc for his crimes, while ironically Vivienne has zero bucks for faerie life.
Throughout the Cruel Prince you have the push and pull between Prince Cardan and Jude. Cardan a well crafted antagonist; a hateful, spiteful, vengeful waste of faerie space. Just when you think you couldn’t hate him more than your alarm clock going off in the morning, his story arc is upended by Jude, the human protagonist. He tortures Jude for most of the book and slowly to his own disgust finally admits that although she is human, he is falling for her and they kiss. This mutual feeling shifts his character arc and starts to bring them both around to trusting each other enough to hatch a plan. The endgame of which is to keep Cardan’s older brother from becoming king because…
and securing it for Oak after he’s had a few years as a normal child with Vivi, who has decided to not live in Faeri.
One catch, of course. For this to work, Cardan must bind himself in service to Jude for a year and a day. In his newly found trust and want of Jude, Cardan agrees. So the plan is hatched and this makes the end even more gut wrenching when Jude betrays Cardan. In order to protect Oak and still ensure his rightful place as king she betrays Cardan by having him named King outright, instead of Oak. And Cardan thought he would get his happy ending? Poor child. You haven’t met Holly Black, have you? Neither have I, but I know enough to know better because…
Holly Black yells *PLOT TWIST* .
And Jude, dear Jude <cue the Beatles> betrays Cardan and sends him reeling as she was the sole reason for wringing any shred of humanity out of Cardan. And suddenly we are all living in bizzaro land where we can’t help but feel empathy for the antagonist we loved to hate and quite a bit of empathetic disgust for the protagonist.
This brings us to the Wicked King… five months later.
And we start all over again… but worse off. Your protagonist? Jude. Antagonist? Cardan. If you thought Cardan was .. well you know.. before? Well… he’s brought it to a whole new level. Mind you this hasn’t stopped the sparks from flying between Jude and Cardan at all.
Both are still knee deep in a seething cauldron of attraction, mistrusting affection of something between I’m going to kill you or… well I’ll let your imagination run with it. To make it worse, because of their deal at the end of the Cruel Prince, they are quite literally tied at the hip for a year and a day.
This on-going battle of the wits, fight for preservation, sanity, and their hearts makes it impossible to know just who you are rooting for throughout the book. At least in the Cruel Prince you knew for most of the book where to pitch the loyalty tent. I suggest you just buy a Winnebago while reading The Wicked King, because you will be changing lanes constantly. In the beginning you think it is an obvious decision. Don’t be so sure. From plot point to twisty plot point you will change your mind. I promise. You will shock yourself.
And through all of it … Who is protecting Faerie, I ask you? There are threats coming from all sides. No one is safe. Everyone is so busy protecting themselves from both perceived threats based in paranoia and actual threats rooted in some semblance of logical reality that even the Court of Shadows is too busy running around aimlessly to do any real good.
Is it any wonder that #emotionalflailing sets in for the reader, for the characters (don’t expect time to breathe, the characters sure don’t), or for all of Faerie. I had to remind myself I was reading from a laptop to keep from launching it across the room (like watching a hockey game, reading a great book can often become a contact sport for me and scare the cats).
Not surprisingly the O.M.G moments come mostly out of the blue (there were a couple I saw coming but most of them left me gasping, yelping and grabbing for wine). The ending fed the cats (i.e. I puked a kidney).
In one of Holly Black’s true talents, she not only maintained the level of wit and banter between all the characters (Faeries are one sarcastic, snarky bunch of cheeky monkeys, aren’t they), but she doubled down on it. Without losing any of the dramatics, climactic plot points or somber moments, Ms. Black lets it come fast and furious.
Cardan: For a moment, I wondered if it wasn’t you shooting bolts at me.
Jude: And what made you decide it wasn’t? He grins up at me. “They missed.”
Nicasia: “You don’t understand…….She wants us to be married”
Jude: I was so surprised that for a moment I just stare at her fighting down a kind of wild, panicky laughter. “YOU JUST SHOT HIM”.
However, when Jude returns to Cardan she does not tell Cardan of her conversation with Nicasia or anything she’s learned. Oh, Jude! No! Why? Just as we would always like to think the best of ourselves. That doesn’t always end up being the case with dear Jude. We will watch her fight between the feelings of power that bubble up after being tortured, her parents being murdered and the idea of revenge on those that caused it, versus what her original plan was in The Cruel Prince: to protect the throne for Oak.
We will watch her and Cardan battle to either find their way back together (which is what we all want for them) or to the death. And that cliffhanger at the end? It will leave you reeling, suffocating and bewildered.
Being we all know the title of the third book is The Queen of Nothing, I don’t think it is a spoiler to speculate.
- That title is of little comfort nor gives any hope after the cliff hanger that ended the Wicked King.
- Much like Spider-Man said in Infinity Wars… how can you be a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man if there is no friendly neighborhood? How can you be a queen if there is nothing to rule?
- Who is the title referring to exactly, even? Based on the cliffhanger we don’t really know, do we? That is up for some serious speculation.
- Why did the cliffhanger happen? I can’t say too much because it’ll give the cliffhanger away. I just wonder if it happened because of the true character(s)’ nature or out of spite?
I, for one, can only hope that no matter what may come, Jude is able to hold onto her moral compass, her original plans to protect her family, and do what she always sets out to do: best the Faeries and help Cardan find a better version of himself along the way.
However, Holly Black is a better writer than to put such a neat little bow on the trilogy and give us such an easy, happy ending to ease our hearts. Her characters, climax and ultimate resolutions have yet to be that clean cut.
Hold your faerie wine close because when this trilogy wraps-up, I predict it will be a complicated knock-out fight between good and evil, heartbreak, and joy. Neither will win out right and no-one will get exactly what they want. Not the characters nor the readers.