Is it pretentious to add a subtitle to this review? The Cruel Prince by Holly Black, Or: How Your Perception of What a Book is Going to be Like Can Be Completely Different From Your Actual Reading Experience of Said Book.
Yeah it’s pretentious.
From the moment The Cruel Prince was released (and I now realise, it has only been a year and a half), I’ve been hearing wildly contradictory things about it. It’s either hated or adored. And most importantly, the one thing I knew about it is that the main event, the topic fanartists are obsessed with, is the relationship between the titular cruel prince and our heroine. He’s cruel, she’s his victim, they fall in “love”.
That’s not what The Cruel Prince is about. I picked it up by sheer hype-exhaustion and a form of unhealthy curiosity. I was supposed to reach 20, 30% and consign it to the DNF pit of hell while ranting about YA and its toxic love affair with Bad Romance.
I finished it in one day.
The Cruel Prince is about a traumatised mortal girl, Jude, who – along with her two sisters – has been abducted and brought to the Court of Faeries. They live with their father figure, a general at the court, aka the dude who murdered their family. Yes, that’s fucked up. Jude and her mortal twin sister are abused by the fae scions because they’re imposters, mortals among “superior” beings, and yes, that too is fucked up. The ringleader of the abusive clique is none other than the Cruel Prince himself, Prince Cardan. But Jude is over that shit, and starts scheming and plotting to get the upper hand and carve herself a sizeable piece of “fuck-every-single-one-of-you” power in the treacherous Court.
The story is bloody and messy and, you guessed it, fucked up on so many levels. I have been living on wholesomeness and fresh air for the past…few months, reading-wise, and boy did the whiplash hurt. But it was honestly a compelling read, if you can accept that Everyone in This Book is Terrible (except Vivi, Jude’s eldest sister. Vivi is the best).
I understood Jude. I didn’t like her, but she’s not supposed to be liked. She becomes this ruthless power player, a former pawn emerging from a chrysalid of trauma and ambition. It’s fascinating. Her character arc made complete sense.
Prince Cardan is first shown as a sociopathic brat, and I’d like to say that he grows on you but we just don’t get to see him much. The title is misleading, and I understand the need to present the story as a sexual-tension-y conflict between a Big Bad Hot Fae Prince and a human, from a marketing point of view. But it’s mostly about my girl Jude getting power-swole and doing her thing. Her thing involves poison and stabbing.
The secondary characters range from interesting to “Villainous Jerk #3”. I loved how messy and complex Jude’s relationship with her “father” was, how complicated and understandable her feelings towards her twin sister became.
I was also pretty taken with the setting. The Faerie world is brilliantly crafted; everything from the different creatures inhabiting it to its magic is just fun to read about. Also, I’m a sucker for court intrigue and this book has it in spades. Plotting and backstabbing and poison and royals scheming for power? Yesyes, more of this please.
While The Cruel Prince is hardly flawless, it took me completely by surprise. I had a tremendous amount of fun reading it, not the “root for the characters” kind of fun, but more like “watching a violent melee of terrible people and sipping Pinot waiting to see who’s going to emerge victorious from this hot mess”. If that sounds like your kind of book, pick it up!