The Cruel Prince by Holly Black Book Review

Continuing my read through of some more fantasy romance recommended to me through Instagram. This time, I’ve picked up The Cruel Prince by Holly Black, a well reviewed book that seems to be fairly popular. It’s another enemies-to-lovers young adult that takes place in the faerie realm that borders our own. Human versus faerie conflicts, a coming of age story, and political intrigue fill it’s pages. However, I think it falls into some dangerous and questionable areas when it comes to the likability of the main love interest.

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 fae 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.

One of the main reasons I picked this one up was due to its enemies-to-lovers story centered in Faerie. I’ve been more and more drawn to these, finding some of my favorite titles now fit that description in one way or another. Here, we have a young adult story where a young woman grows up in the fantastical and often cruel world of Faerie, trying to make a place for herself. In doing so, she gets embroiled in conflict with the royal family, one of whom, Prince Cardan takes an extra interest in tormenting her.

I don’t necessarily have a problem with their relationship starting off as one of bullying, I do have a problem with the fallout and justification the author uses to try and inject understanding into his character. Prince Cardan is shown to be a person who delights in causing havoc, short of killing anyone, getting drunk, doing drugs, and having sex with whoever he pleases. All characteristics of a spoiled prince. However, as the story progresses, we are made to feel some sympathy for his actions because we find out he is being abused by his brother, physically, emotionally, and mentally. It’s a hard claim to make that the abuse of him makes his abuse of her more justifiable.

“I am going to keep on defying you. I am going to shame you with my defiance. You remind me that I am a mere mortal and you are a prince of Faerie. Well, let me remind you that means you have much to lose and I have nothing. You may win in the end, you may ensorcell me and hurt me and humiliate me, but I will make sure you lose everything I can take from you on the way down. I promise you this is the least of what I can do.”

– Holly Black, The Cruel Prince

Maybe Black wasn’t trying to justify it like that, but that’s kind of what it feels like. Like she’s saying everyone is terrible, therefore Jude and Cardan are on an even field when they aren’t. It feels like the schoolyard, “oh, he only bothers you and pulls your hair because he likes you” nonsense. It left a bad taste in my mouth going through the rest of the story.

I did appreciate how much effort Black put into crafting her world and it’s politics. It was interesting to see Jude navigate through them and square off against powerful people using her strength and wits. She takes charge well, trying to craft a place for herself in this world with her own two hands. If things were different, I might have liked to have seen Cardan more of a clever supportive figure hidden behind a mask of cruelty.

I definitely gave a lot of thought to this book and whether or not I could continue on to the other two books in the series. As of right now though, I don’t think I have the kind of love for the characters I would need to want to read the second one. I think Jude and Cardan’s developing relationship is just too built on power and cruelty to feel right to me. But, if you are a fan, please let me know what you think of the series in the comments.

~~Thanks for Reading!~~

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