“The Queen of Nothing” by Holly Black, the conclusion to one of the greatest young adult series of all time, comes out very shortly. November 19, here we come.
“The Cruel Prince” by Holly Black and its sequel, “The Wicked King,” are two of the best YA fantasy novels of all time. Even fans who don’t usually appreciate the genre can be captivated by the beautiful world-building, scandalous romance and familial tensions.
For those still on the fence about reading, here is a (sort of) spoiler-free review. (The next FIVE paragraphs ─ but ONLY the next five paragraphs ─ will be completely safe to read.)
Heroine Jude Duarte knows she doesn’t fit in, but she is trying her best to assimilate the only way she knows how: through violence. Jude is a human, born to human parents in the human realm. However, her mother has a secret past that gets both her and her husband killed. Her mother used to be with Madoc, the real father of her sister Vivi, who is fae. He comes back to her, shocked to find out she’s alive, and when she fights back, things get ugly fast. Her ex-lover murders the wife and husband, then, feeling a sense of responsibility, takes in Jude and her two sisters.
Thus Jude, her human sister Taryn and her half-human sister Vivi are thrust into the world of the fae.
The fae are exquisite; they are manipulative, magical, marvelous. They cannot lie, so what they do say is warped. They are infinitely dangerous.
Jude aspires to become a war general like her Uncle Madoc, the man that has raised her since she was seven. However, the royal court of the faerie realm is more complicated than she can imagine, despite her 10 years immersed in it.
She has plans and dreams. Some work out. Some blow up in her face. Jude will have to work hard in the third book to get what she truly desires.
Warning: This is where the spoilers begin.
“The Folk of the Air” is an excellent trilogy, but there’s a lot to unpack in the first two novels. Here’s one last chance to look away before Holly Black’s genius plot is told to you.
“The Cruel Prince” takes readers on a wild adventure of backstabbing, trickery and deceit.
In class, Jude excels, having both brain and brawn. This endlessly annoys Cardan Greenbriar, her enemy and her tormenter. He’s the most beautiful of all the fae and the meanest classmate to her, hence the nickname the “cruel prince.” Every time she does something outstanding, he seeks retribution.
In addition to being constantly hurt by her nemesis, she is being hurt by her own family. Vivi has a secret life and a secret girlfriend in the human realm, and her twin Taryn is clearly keeping secrets.
At the end of the novel, we discover the secret that Taryn had been keeping all along. Taryn was in a secret relationship with Locke, a member of Cardan’s inner circle and Jude’s boyfriend. However, while Jude tells Taryn about her newfound romance, Taryn keeps her lips locked. She later shocks her sister with the announcement of her engagement to Locke.
But Jude is able to find her own place in a secret court of Prince Dain, the son most likely to become king. She works with other nefarious outcasts to learn how to properly spy. The novel is neatly set up at first to provide an understanding of a court under Prince Dain, but things go awry when his malevolent sibling Prince Balekin murders his family to try to get the crown.
By chance, Jude finds Cardan and is able to corral him into her plan. It certainly helps when she finds out that he’s been helplessly attracted to her the entire time. Jude and Cardan are “enemies-to-lovers” perfection.
Holly Black unfolds this beautiful subplot of the novel. It’s not quite a romance plot ─ it’s very clearly more lust than love ─ but it captivates readers in the same way a romance plot would.
At the end of “The Cruel Prince,” in a shocking twist, Jude is the one to backstab Cardan. She gets a leg up on him, getting him to vow to be in her command and then crowning him king.
It’s no surprise then that book two is titled, “The Wicked King.”
Here readers follow Jude as seneschal of the court, advisor to the king. She and Cardan certainly still do not get along, but they have reached an uneasy alliance as he is hers to play with. Enemies forced to work together.
He’s as vile and as gorgeous as ever. Jude may technically have the upper hand, but she often struggles to keep it. Her uncle Madoc is continuing to teach her sword fighting. She’s no longer talking to Taryn, whose wedding is quickly approaching. She’s sort of running a country, and she’s still thinking about her kisses with Cardan.
Those kisses move to the front of her mind after Cardan drunkenly asks her to kiss him again.
She refuses but can only hold out for so long. When he “practices” his seduction techniques on Jude, she realizes that she is actually starting to fall for the man who has tormented her for her entire life. They’ve both committed unforgivable acts, yet they might be starting to forgive.
Things get even messier at Taryn’s wedding when Jude is kidnapped. She is taken to the bottom of the sea, the homeland of Cardan’s ex-girlfriend, who almost assassinated him not too long ago. She is questioned and tortured until finally Cardan offers a ransom to get her back.
Jude is certainly surprised about this; with Jude gone, Cardan would have full control over himself. But now Cardan seems to genuinely care for her. He cannot tell a lie. When he asks Jude to be his wife, she realizes that she can get the position she has craved and the man that her body wants. She releases him from his original vow and instead takes on a marriage vow.
Her honeymoon is ever short, as the next morning he throws her out of the kingdom, ordering soldiers to kill her on sight. She was queen of the realm for a night, but now she is queen of nothing, which brings us to the third installment of Holly Black’s series. Holly Black is nothing if not an incredible storyteller.