I fully intended to get this blog up and running again a bit sooner, but life happened. And uni happened. And mental health problems happened. So, sorry about that.
The Cruel Prince is Holly Black’s latest folklore-inspired book, and I’ve been impatient to get my hands on it. I first encountered Holly Black’s work when I was twelve and I borrowed Tithe from my sister’s bookshelf while she was away (she thought I was too young for it); I’ve yet to be anything other than delighted by one of her books.
The moment I saw The Cruel Prince on NetGalley, I knew I had to request it. And when I got approved, I genuinely punched the air (to the confusion of my flatmate, who was sitting nearby). But then I held off on reading it for a couple of days. November was a bad month for me in terms of reading, and while part of that was because I was busy with uni and NaNoWriMo and so on, it was also because my mental health was rubbish. I didn’t want to ruin this book for myself by reading it when I wasn’t in the right headspace to enjoy it, you know?
It could’ve gone either way: either it would cheer me up, or my low mood would stop me from enjoying it.
I don’t know as it actually cheered me up, but I definitely didn’t find myself unable to enjoy it: quite the opposite. I half-heartedly told myself I wouldn’t read the whole thing in an afternoon, because I had so many other things I was meant to be doing (like actual work), but I did. I couldn’t stop myself.
And of course, as someone who lovels all of the Holly Black books I’ve read so far, but especially the fairy ones, I was bound to enjoy this. This is not in any way an unbiased review. Her books hit me on two levels: on the one hand, they indulge my folklore nerdery and love of any intriguing portrayal of fairies, and on the other hand, they speak to my twelve-year-old self who was blown away by ‘Tithe’, so I get all nostalgic as well.
Speaking of that nostalgia, although this book primarily features a new cast of characters, there are guest appearances from those featured in previous books: Kaye and Roiben (from ‘Tithe’) appear, which made me very happy, as well as characters from ‘The Darkest Part of the Forest’. I think it *is* worth reading those first; it’s not 100% essential, but it’ll definitely add more to the scenes where those characters appear, and besides, they’re great books, so why wouldn’t you?
Other things I enjoyed about this book:
- Once again, like ‘The Darkest Part of the Forest’, it features female characters who are both feminine and 100% ready to fight at all times. I enjoy this. I like the idea that being a knight doesn’t mean not wearing dresses or enjoying looking nice now and again.
- Sibling relationships that are complicated and messy but essential to everyone involved. I’m a sucker for siblings and just complicated family dynamics generally, which this book has in spades. I mean, it doesn’t get much more complicated than the man who raised you being the same person who murdered your actual parents, does it?
- The worldbuilding, and a fairy world that is beautiful and bloody and decadent and twisted and entirely removed from conventional human moralities and ways of working.
- The fact that the characters actually felt young, despite the fantastical setting, and that although they live in a world which magic, they still have to go to school (even if it’s a school run by fairies). I don’t know. It was odd, the school element, because occasionally it felt incongruous, but in the best way. Like it helped to set the story apart from more conventional stories featuring schools and also from more conventional fairy worlds.
- Also it meant there were multiple levels of tension, from everyday cruelty and bullying to big political machinations and systemic disruption of the status quo, which helped to keep things interesting
And seriously, the political machinations are — they’re quite something. The plot is so tied up in the character development that you never see it coming, because if you tell someone who has only read the first chapter what happens at the end, they won’t connect with it at all, because you don’t expect to care about the people involved. And then you do. And it catches you completely off-guard how much. There are feelings, guys.
This is already getting long, and I guess the impression I’m trying to give is that I really liked it, of course I really liked it, I was never not going to like it — but I’ll leave you with a few quotes I enjoyed.
“I live with that fear, let it settle into my bones, and ignore it. If I didn’t pretend not to be scared, I would hide under my owl-down coverlets in Madoc’s estate forever. I would lie there and scream until there was nothing left of me.”
“Faerie exists beside and below mortal towns, in the shadows of mortal cities, and at their rotten, derelict, worm-eaten centers. Faeries live in hills and valleys and barrows, in alleys and abandoned mortal buildings.”
“Hitting him was the most honest thing I’ve done in a long time. I feel better than great. I feel nothing, a glorious emptiness.”
“I cannot seem to contort myself back into the shape of a dutiful child. I am coming unraveled. I am coming undone.”
“Maybe there’s something broken in me from watching my parents being murdered. Maybe my messed-up life turned me into someone capable of doing messed-up things. But another part of me wonders if I was raised by Madoc in the family business of bloodshed. Am I like this because of what he did to my parents or because he was my parent?”
“He’s a monster, so if I want to do a very bad thing, he’s not going to judge me for it. Much.”
So yeah, I enjoyed it. And although it distracted me from work for a fair while, I still wished there was more of it, because I wasn’t quite ready to leave that world and those characters yet.