The Cruel Prince review

Happy Valentine’s Day! I’m posting a day early with an often controversial YA romantic fantasy. Heard a lot about it and wondered whether it was for you? Read my The Cruel Prince review below.

A review of The Cruel Prince, by Holly Black

Based on what I’d heard, I didn’t expect to like this book. A cruel love interest? Not my cup of tea. Yet I finished reading this brisk, pulls-no-punches read in about three days and snatched up book two.

The Cruel Prince is unputdownable, sometimes because of the many bad things that come MC Jude Duarte’s way (the train wreck phenomenon, if you will). Other times, it’s because it genuinely sizzles and hooks the reader. What a strangely effective mix of exciting, high-stakes plot developments and dread! Like the cruel prince himself, it’s a little bit manipulative and a lotta bit addicting.

Part of why this works is because Jude is easy to identify with. One of the few humans in fairy, she is an outsider who has a love-hate relationship with her father figure, stands up to bullies and just wants some say in her life, for crying out loud. She’s a typical teen with familiar problems, only dropped into a wicked, dangerous world where she is constantly at a disadvantage and her mortality is shoved in her face. Except for Jude, the threats she faces are nothing compared to what her protective fae father, the blood-soaked General Madoc, would do in a rage. She chooses to greet them in silence.

The Cruel Prince cover

I don’t care for books that handle violence—especially against the weak—callously. Verging on grimdark, the casual viciousness of The Cruel Prince’s fae world was almost too dark to keep me reading. Jude’s situation feels as hopeless as it is complex, but just as she’s headed on a mission of self-destruction through challenging Cardan, the cruel prince of the title, she is offered not only agency but a real role in fairy. One that’s not “cowering human.” The way she develops saves the book from wallowing in darkness and dread, without making everything sunny or allowing her an unlikely amount of power.

The chemistry between Jude and Cardan relies on both tropes and a promise: Jude is the girl from the wrong (human) side of the tracks whom Cardan is both repulsed by and attracted to; the reader is regularly reassured that if fairy wasn’t a vile place of twisted politics and people, Cardan would be a pretty cool dude. Whether or not the last part is believable will vary by reader, but there’s real heat behind their forbidden attraction dynamic.

Like any “good girl” drawn to a “bad boy,” the fact that Cardan is an enigma leaves both Jude and the reader to imagine him as someone better than he may actually be. Knowing that Jude is not and does not wish to be the good girl (in fact, she can’t be in this unsettling interpretation of fairy, if she wants to thrive), makes it more than a little frustrating at times.

So will these two schemers learn to plot together? Or will the unwritten rules of the fae leave them plotting against one another forever? Only one thing is certain: don’t expect the answer to come anytime soon.

My rating:

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