Book Review: “The Cruel Prince” trilogy, by Holly Black

A stunning, wildly intriguing fantasy novel— served with a side of romance!

Book+cover

Sara

Book cover

Plot

The Cruel Prince trilogy is a young adult fantasy series. Written by New York Times bestselling author Holly Black, the book follows the story of Jude Duarte, human in the fae realm. After the murder of her parents when she’s barely a child, Jude is taken by her eldest sister’s fae father to the lands of Elfhame, where magical creatures run wild. Now seventeen years old, her biggest dream is to become a knight for the High King Eldred, Lord of all Elfhame. However, there’s two tiny problems; first of all, her stepfather, Madoc, won’t let her; second, the High King’s youngest son, Prince Cardan, is hellbent on making her life miserable. Whether it be in classes or at tournaments, Cardan is a constant thorn in Jude’s side, and Taryn, Jude’s twin sister, advises her to simply not pay attention to him. Advice which Jude blatantly ignores. Her life seems to be reaching a normal— however normal life in Elfhame can be— until dramatic events unfold at the coronation and Jude finds herself caught up in political tricks and schemes as the seams of her world begin to unravel around her.

Characters

Jude Duarte

The main character of the trilogy, she’s a bold, ambitious, and incredibly headstrong girl who dreams to achieve knighthood. Despite being the polar opposite of her twin, Taryn, they’re bound at the hip and Jude in particular would do anything for her sister. She’s chestnut-haired with brown eyes and a full figure, which she loathes because of its stark contrast in comparison to the Fae’s slender, willowy bodies. A born strategist, she’s often found discussing tactics with her stepfather, Madoc, and when she’s not planning she’s training in the fine art of swordsmanship. Perhaps it’s her stubborn personality that makes her so willfully opposed to Prince Cardan’s antics, but either way, they’re constantly at each other’s throats wherever they may meet and simply cannot seem to get along.

Taryn Duarte

Jude’s twin sister: the pretty, poised daughter as opposed to Jude’s rebellious reputation. All she wants is to live a calm, as-normal-as-possible life, married to one of the Fae. She fruitlessly urges Jude to ignore Cardan’s jabs and snide comments but she herself ends up falling for one of Cardan’s closest friends. A tame spirit un to a certain degree, she didn’t inherit the talent for strategy but manages to effortlessly adapt to the ins and outs of the High Court of Elfhame.

Vivienne Duarte

Eldest of the Duarte sisters, she’s half-fae, having ears with furry tips and yellow-tinged slitted eyes to go along with her lithe, almost petite build. The most defiant out of all three in regards to Elfhame and particularly towards Madoc, she often sneaks back to the human world and even has a relationship with a certain pink-haired mortal, Heather. She’s friendlier and more widely accepted amongst the circles of the High Court, particular with Princess Elowyn and her Circle of Larks, namely those who enjoy music, crafts and the arts in general. She’s not particularly close to her sisters, but occasionally tries to convince them to escape back to her beloved human world together.

Cardan Greenbriar

Son of King Eldred of Elfhame, he’s widely regarded as the cruelest of them all and is a constant torment to Jude whenever they cross paths. Icy yet beautiful in his own right, he has jet black hair and charcoal eyes, which highlight his sharp features and pale skin. He delights in wine and revelry and in causing other people’s pain, but his nonchalance and sadistic behavior are a mask to hide the true face of the neglected youngest prince. Political life is of no interest to him, but when he finds himself caught in twisted plans and devious schemes he’ll reveal a new side of himself— while, of course, delegating the majority of it to Jude. After a shocking turn of events, however, lines between friends and enemies will start to blur and Cardan won’t be sure what’s perfectly right and what’s horribly, deliciously wrong anymore.

Madoc

High General of Elfhame’s army and close to Balekin, Cardan’s older brother, he’s Vivi’s biological father and the twins’ stepdad. He’s a redcap, a particularly violent type of fae, which gives him a large, gruff appearance with his mottled green skin and snaggleteeth. He’s bloodthirsty in battle and an excellent strategist, passing his talents on to Jude. However, it’s uncertain where his loyalties lie, as Jude will find out when her fragile reality starts to come apart at the seams.

Locke

One of Cardan’s closest friends, Locke is a cunning and wily fae. However, Jude will find out that he’s not as mindlessly cruel as the rest of them— or so she thinks. Tall, lean, with red hair and tawny eyes, he’s described as having sharp, fox-like features which give him a sly look. He’s mischievous and is always looking for a new story to twist to his pleasure, reveling in dramatic turns of events. One of the first to reach out to the twins, his mischievous nature will eventually kickstart a story much larger than what he initially intended.

Recommendations

We enjoyed this book greatly— fast paced and intriguing, with just the right mix of fantasy, adventure, and romance. The characters were each expertly written and their personality arcs developed constantly throughout the series, like a matryoshka that just kept getting bigger and grander. Furthermore, the worldbuilding was next-level and contributed to setting a realistic scene— however realistic a book about the Faerie Folk can be. We’d recommend it to any fans of fantasy or enemies-to-lovers, but perhaps it’s not for younger, more sensitive audiences.

Here are a few other books we liked, similar to The Cruel Prince:

  • Shadow and Bone, Leigh Bardugo (series)
  • To Kill a Kingdom, Alexandra Christo
  • Daughter of the Pirate King, Tricia Levenseller
  • A Court of Thorns and Roses, Sarah J. Maas (series)
  • Throne of Glass, Sarah J. Maas (series)
  • Shatter Me, Tahereh Mafi (series)
  • From Blood and Ash, Jennifer L. Armentrout (series)
  • A Curse So Dark and Lonely, Brigid Kemmerer (series)

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