Title: The Cruel Prince
Author: Holly Black
Publication Date: January 2, 2018
Age Range: Young Adult
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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 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.
As Jude becomes more deeply embroiled in palace intrigues and deceptions, she discovers her own capacity for trickery and bloodshed. But as betrayal 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.
TW/CW: bullying, death of a parent, murder
Writing this review was significantly harder than I was initially expecting. It’s hard to think about this book without thinking of the insane amount of praise or hate it has received. I don’t think I’ve seen a book take the community by storm the way this one has since the classics of the late 2000s or early 2010s.
When actually reading this book back in 2018, I was swept in by the hype and watching my friends that had advance copies sing this book praises. Upon my initial read, I thought the story was okay, but I didn’t feel the intense love that I was expecting to feel. Two years later, now that the hype has died down a bit, I wanted to revisit this book to see if it’s actually worth the intense praise it’s received over the last two years and to finally continue on with the rest of the series.
So, let’s talk The Cruel Prince.
“If I cannot be better than them, I will become so much worse.”
The Cruel Prince follows Jude, who after the murder of her parents is brought to Faerie. Jude and her twin sister Taryn are shunned by many of the inhabitants as they’re mortal, despite being under the protection of one of the generals of the high court. Jude has dreams of joining the royal court, hoping that this will allow her to earn the respect of some of the fey, and along the way, she learns about the betrayal and politics of the fey courts.
The first half of this book really missed the mark for me. During this part of the book, I appreciate Holly Black trying to show how brutal the world and the fey are, though as this is a YA book, I found myself not believing the brutality. Even with on-page murder, this book never felt as dark as I wanted it to be.
When learning about why the infamous Carden is referred to as The Cruel Prince, his actions never felt as brutal as I was expecting them to be. Carden was no worse than a schoolyard bully, other than he had some extra power.
During my time reading this book, I realized that I tend to prefer adult fae stories as the level of brutality that is described feels darker. Reading an adult book and seeing the brutality from a character allows me to believe how much more this character could do. I’ve seen this character do this heinous acts on-page, how much more are they capable of?
YA books, by nature, have this cap to how brutal they can be. You can show me all the horrid actions, but I don’t have that same worry of how much worse can it get, rather I find myself believing that I’ve witnessed the extent of the horror these characters are capable of. Instead of this brutal and powerful fey, I just saw a mean rich boy.
I don’t know why this point stood out to me as much as it did, but it was something that was hard to shake during my reading experience.
As the story went on, I was able to fall into the world a bit more and enjoy the story. I liked several of the side characters that we were introduced to and really enjoyed following along on the spy mystery that Jude found herself wrapped up in.
Before my reread, all I remembered was the conclusion of the mystery and the associated twist, so it fun to see all the pieces coming together. The clues were sprinkled throughout the book pretty well and the readers were given enough information to piece things together themselves.
Now, I know I went on a minor tangent about the tone of this book above, but I do want to acknowledge that I enjoyed the tone shift that happened between books one and two. Upon my first read of The Cruel Prince, I had a feeling that something like the event that happened here, was going to happen in the book, but just closer to the end. I liked that it was put closer to the middle of the book, as book two was what saved this book for me.
“Most of all, I hate you because I think of you. Often. It’s disgusting, and I can’t stop.”
Okay, let’s talk about Cardan and Jude.
So, I like hate to love relationships as much as the next person, but I have complicated feels about Jude and Cardan.
And by complicated, I mean I don’t buy this romance.
Jude and Cardan’s relationship felt like the worst combination of he’s mean to you so he totally loves you and ~you don’t know the real me.~
Don’t get me wrong, I’m trash for Maas. I stan Bryce and Hunt & Feyre and Rhysand and love a good bad boy romance. But other than one scene where things started to sway me a bit, I’m not sold. As this is only the first book in the series, I’m willing to give the relationship time to develop and sell me on it.
Okay, I feel like this review can give you guys whiplash, sorry friends.
I have incredibly complex feelings on this book as it’s simultaneously something I’m probably going to forget quickly and a series I’m desperate to continue.
To address the questions from the beginning of this review, I definitely think the hype is warranted as I can definitely see why this got as big as it did. While this is not a book I fell in love with, I can see how 14-year-old me would probably have stanned this series. This is one of those series that feels targeted to mid to upper YA. As for adult readers, I feel like if you know what you’re getting into, or if you want something to read to kill time before the new ACOTAR book, then this is definitely one worth picking up.
I can also see why some readers would hate this book. The first third of the book set up dark characters, despite a light tone and was a bit on the slower side. Also, this book isn’t free from problematic elements and contains a romance that isn’t the most believable.
Personally, I’m excited to finally continue on with the series and see what I think of the series as a whole, though I’m sad I didn’t enjoy this one as much as I was hoping I would.