When they were young, Jude and her twin sister witnessed the murder of their parents by their older stepsister’s father, Madoc. Feeling some responsibility for the girls, Madoc took all of them to live with him in the High Court of Faerie. Bullied by the fae nobles, and made to feel like a worthless mortal, Jude learned that’d she’d have to fight to survive. Now she’s scrappy, ambitious, clever, and an opportunist. But she still has a soft side.
It took me a while to warm up to The Cruel Prince (2018), the first novel in Holly Black’s THE FOLK OF THE AIR series for young adults. There are two reasons for that. The first is that Jude is pretty one-dimensional for a significant part of the novel. She is angry. Very angry. Angry about her parents’ murders, angry about being bullied, angry that she’s mortal, angry that her sisters don’t act like she wants them to, angry that she’s not allowed to be a knight… angry about everything. I don’t blame her for being angry about these things, but the sameness becomes irritating and the intensity of Jude’s anger is exhausting. The second reason is related — not that much of interest happens other than Jude being bullied and expressing her feelings about it during the first quarter of the novel.
Finally, things pick up when Jude gains an ally and is given a surprising palace job. From there she gets involved in fae secrets and political scheming, which turns ugly. A romance is blooming, too. The plot finally starts to get exciting for the last quarter of the novel. There are a couple of dramatic scenes, a few unexpected plot twists, and a change in Jude’s personality due to her discovery that she has some power after all. She starts to fight back. I liked her better at the end and now I want to know what happens next in book two, The Wicked King.
The Cruel Prince is a finalist for the Locus and Hugo Awards for Best YA Novel. It’s not very original (set in a pretty standard faerie court, though that’s kind of Holly Black’s thing), and it relies on a couple of YA fantasy clichés (e.g., love triangle and bad-boy-turns-good), but it’s fairly entertaining, especially at the end.
If you plan to read The Cruel Prince, I recommend Hachette Audio’s version. Caitlin Kelly was well cast and gives a very nice performance.