Review: “The Cruel Prince” by Holly Black

Before anything else, I promise, this isn’t a story about a weirdly beautiful “evil” prince whose heart suddenly aches and then everyone realizes he’s actually just misunderstood. At a first glance, The Cruel Prince is easily presumed to be an amateur story of young fairies, mortals, and typical YA fantasy fiction. Nonetheless, it becomes a triumph of political court, backstabbing, and sensational betrayal. The Cruel Prince is just the kind of book you pick up, read a couple chapters of, and put down, though only so you can immediately search online if there’s a sequel. In a phenomenal manner, Holly Black creates a complex mythical world which only glues a reader’s hands to the bind.

The Cruel Prince follows 17 year old Jude Duarte, who witnessed her parents’ murder as a child. Taken by their killer to an opposite world, mortal Jude and her sisters enter Elfhame, a High Court of Faeries and mythical creatures. Jude, raised among fey, is desperate to prove herself in a society despising humans. The youngest prince of the court, Cardan, is determined to make Jude’s life a living hell. Though Jude becomes wrapped in much deeper than the surface. Between deceptions, scandals, and bloodshed, Jude slowly becomes a phenomenon in the High Court of Faerie, and is tasked with a life-threatening alliance to save not only her sisters, but the High Court.

For starters, Holly Black’s creation of the beautiful world of Elfhame is absolutely magnificent. Where magic hides the horrors inside, Black’s very own Elfhame is jam packed with intricate details, various structures, creatures, and rules. With so much to unpack, Black manages to give just enough to the reader without being so heavy with exposition. It’s extraordinary. Not to mention, the aerial writing and realistic dialogue make for the most entertaining action sequences. There is never a dull moment in the entire novel, even in the smallest moments, Black’s prose is flowy and spectacular, constantly bringing vivacity to the darkness in the story itself.

The epic plot of The Cruel Prince is simply undeniable.

The epic plot of The Cruel Prince is simply undeniable. Half way through the novel, it’s impossible to trust any character. With constant twists, if you think you know something is going to happen, I promise you, it’s not (though something even crazier will). Between betrayal and surprises, The Cruel Prince keeps your nails short and your palms sweaty. There truly is not a single scheme you can predict, or say you saw coming.

With beautiful writing and an epic plot, the characters really put the cherry on top of The Cruel Prince. Jude is a striking character to have as a protagonist. With her incentives constantly battling between good and selfish, it’s nearly impossible not to like Jude. One of her best quotes declares, “If I cannot be better than them, I will become so much worse.” (Black 210) She absolutely empowers her mortal self and never lets her guard down. Jude’s family dynamic is intriguing, particularly with her father figure, otherwise the man who killed her biological parents. His role is fascinating, and easy to learn to love. Nonetheless, it becomes inevitable to not adore the young prince, Cardan. With a devious and cruel attitude, Cardan’s character development and backstory is majestically unfolded throughout the novel. The Cruel Prince will leave you admiring cunning and heinous characters that you swore you’d never even think of liking. 

In short, a marvelous fantasy fiction crafted with both intrigue and deception, The Cruel Prince conveys the terrible faults of magic, while yet still making you wish for it. Unpacking a dark fantasy can be heavy, but Holly Black makes it feel effortless.