Modern Fantasy · Review · Young Adult

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black | Audiobook Review

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black, read by Caitlin KellyNarrator: Caitlin Kelly

Series: The Folk of the Air, #1

Publisher: Hachette Audio

Pub. Date: 2018

Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult

Length: 12.5 hours

Rating: 4 of 5 Stars

Jude Duarte is trying to find a place for herself in the High Court of Faerie, where she grew up after her parents were murdered. She wishes she was like the fey so that she can belong, but she lacks immortality, unlike her oldest sister. She tries different paths so that she can belong, and that often means defying the nobility, especially Prince Cardan. This brings fey cruelty down on her head. As she gets involved in the political games of the fey, she finds that she’ll have to use her own cunning to survive. The Cruel Prince, by Holly Black, is an intriguing book about finding out where you belong and using your wits to survive.

After seeing so many praise-filled reviews of The Cruel Prince and after wanting to read and love a Holly Black book, I checked it out from the library. I went for one of the audiobook editions because I’ve read several great audiobooks in the last year. I was surprised by how good it was because I didn’t like one of the books Black co-authored. It’s been a long time since I loved a faery book, and this one had the right balance of cruelty and royal politics to hold my interest. Except for one instant that described differences in handwriting, listening to the book instead of physically reading it made me invest myself more in Jude’s adventures.

Caitlin Kelly’s voice grew on me as she read the book. At first, I didn’t like her performance, but Jude’s story became so interesting that I soon forgot that I was listening to an audiobook. When that happened, I started to love Kelly’s narration, and that is also when I could connect her voice to Jude’s. I think this connection was hugely helped by me reading it over three months.

The Cruel Prince is surprisingly character-driven and doesn’t follow an obvious plot. I love that it isn’t clear where the story is going or if you’re approaching the climax of the story until you’re almost there. As Jude learns more about everyone around her, their motivations become clearer, and it’s amazing how all of their choices have affected everything in the High Court. The intrigues remind of Game of Thrones for all that is going through others’ minds and the political maneuverings that can make you lose everything.

Jude’s growth is as surprising and satisfying as the plot. She starts out as naive but brave, and then she gathers her wits about her for the long-term game of survival. Her growth involves confidence and cunning as well as a choice about loyalties. I also liked seeing the conflicts and changing relationships within her own family.

It was a great surprise to see character growth and interaction outside of the sisters and the bullying nobility. I liked getting to know her colleagues/friends. More importantly, I liked seeing character growth in one of the antagonists and Jude’s sort-of stepmother. Because this is about a girl who plays the game of thrones, I like that it shows Jude discern others’ motivations and true reactions. However, I was confused about a love interest (note: romance is not a major genre this book belongs to) causing such grief in the book.

I took away a star because of Cardan. I picture him as the one who is supposed to be the titular character, but he strikes me as more mean than cruel. I’m also not sure I bought the apparent romance between him and Jude. While he was obsessed with her, as seen on the paper where he wrote her name over and over again, it never seemed romantic or sexual, and Jude never seemed to have any feelings of the sort until it was thrown out in dialogue.

On the subject of love interests, Jude’s half-sister, Vivi, has a human girlfriend named Heather. Heather isn’t present for much of the book, but it should be mentioned that there is F/F representation in this novel.

The way Black crafted the world of Faerie and the types of fey is brilliant, and I love how it’s introduced. I like how the dangers of glamours are shown through one of Jude’s interactions with her little faerie brother. I like the descriptions of the fey she encounters, down to their appearances and their assumptions about humans. The magic system is extensive and scary-wonderful. Every instance is introduced at the perfect time so that it isn’t truly an info dump. My primary disappointment is that the audiobook doesn’t show the map that is in the hard copy (below). It’s beautiful, though I’m not sure that it would have helped me in the end understand where everything is.

Map of the Shining Isle of Elfhame from The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

The world feels like it’s much larger than just what is in this book. That is due, in part, to it’s talking about lower courts and wild faeries; it has also been written about in other books. Holly Black, in an interview with Goodreads, admitted that the world of The Cruel Prince “overlaps with the Modern Faerie Tales and with The Darkest Part of the Forest.” That actually makes me more interested in reading those books too, as well as giving me more appreciation for how developed the Land of Faerie is.

This is a great book for anyone who likes reading about other worldly creatures who aren’t quite human. I also think you will like this if you like reading about girls who learn to fight and about girls who get involved in the game of thrones. If you’re a fan of Holly Black, you’ll likely love this book.

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