Thank you, Holly Black, for making “The Queen of Nothing” the perfect closer for your “Folk of the Air” trilogy. This novel wrapped up loose ends, while still surprising readers through stunning character growth all around.
This novel has been highly anticipated by fans of the series, but, rest assured, expectations were met. The first two books in the series were very strong. “The Cruel Prince” had fans thrust into this world of Elfhame, full of magic, fairies and manipulation. However, readers were captivated by the extravagance and the backstabbing in a world full of beings that cannot lie. They are vicious and brutal, endlessly interesting.
“The Wicked King” was a strong second novel, avoiding the often dreaded middle book problem: that it would be nothing but a link between books one and three. The second book was just as captivating as the first, maybe more so because it ended on an even more gut-wrenching cliffhanger. Fans were counting down the days until the “The Queen of Nothing” release date, worried about what was going to become of their favorite characters.
Going in, fans were most concerned about the relationship between the main character, Jude Duarte, and her enemy/love interest, Cardan Greenbriar. Thankfully, “The Queen of Nothing” set some things straight.
(BEWARE OF SPOILERS!)
Anyone who has read the series was haunted by the ending of the second novel, “The Wicked King,” when Cardan exiled Jude from the kingdom that he had just made her queen of. Finally, the two were starting to get along, starting to embrace the fact that they genuinely cared for each other. Right when their relationship started to look like it might work, Cardan backstabbed her. At least Jude thought he backstabbed her. His exact wording was that she was exiled until permitted by the crown, by the royalty of Elfhame. Jude took that to mean just Cardan, as he was the king, but he actually meant until Jude wished to come back, as just hours before this exile proclamation, he crowned her queen by making her his wife.
Cardan’s speech was nothing but a riddle that Jude was too blinded by her anger to figure out. Once these two idiots in love finally figure out that they’re both in love, Black decides to make them work just a little bit harder for it. Cardan finally, FINALLY, confesses his love for Jude. Let’s be real: We all knew that he would be the first to say it, but immediately after, he is turned into a giant, deadly snake. Despite his newfound skin, Jude still tries to protect the man she loves. She doesn’t want to kill him, even though he told her not long ago that the reason he trusted her so much was because she would prevent him from causing too much damage. They really are a perfect match.
Jude saves the day by chopping the head off the snake, thinking she’s killing Cardan, but knowing it means saving all of Elfhame. It is revealed that Cardan wasn’t the snake, but rather just living inside of it like Jonah with the whale. After three novels of pining, Jude can confess her love back to Cardan, making them the best power couple and the greatest rulers their kingdom have ever seen.
It’s kind of crazy to think that their happily ever after started because Taryn killed her husband. The very beginning of “The Queen of Nothing” starts with Jude struggling to survive in the bland mortal world until her twin sister Taryn, who has backstabbed her so many times that I’ve lost count, reveals that she murdered her husband and needs Jude to stand in for her and lie in front of the court.
Jude, reckless Jude, misses the court too much to say no. Her whole situation quickly goes awry when she realizes that she’s not as good at playing gentle and timid as she thought. Everyone quickly figures out it was her, from her stepmother Oriana, to her uncle/stepfather Madoc, to her husband Cardan, who is surprisingly excited to see her. Jude is at first shocked that he hasn’t killed her on sight. After all, he did promise he would in his exile speech to her. But, as we now know, that speech was nothing more than a riddle he thought the smartest girl in the class would easily figure out.
Maybe even more surprising to Jude though, is that both of her sisters come to rescue her when her mission starts to fail. Vivi hates faerie world even though she’s the only one of the trio that actually belongs (as she is half fae). Taryn has led Jude into numerous traps, but she is finally playing hero instead of villain. The two are even smart enough to bring backup in the form of Grima Mog, a bloodthirsty fighter that even the most powerful of faeries are afraid of. It doesn’t hurt that Grima Mog now respects Jude since she earlier bested the fighter in combat.
Holly Black really let “The Queen of Nothing” be led by all the women, reducing men to side characters. While the male characters may have been important for the plot, the true stars of every single scene were always women. Even when Madoc comes in and tries to start an uprising against Jude and Cardan, it is Jude’s quick thinking that prevents the fight from ever happening. Even when Cardan is confessing his love, it is Jude’s reaction that we are focused on. Black lets women be leaders and knights, warriors and mothers. She doesn’t pin them into one box; she lets them all be multi-dimensional. Taryn, potentially the most hated character in the entire series, even gets a redemption arc that is well executed.
To be honest, the entire novel was well-executed. “The Queen of Nothing” was a solid conclusion to the series, wrapping everything up with a nice little bow. Cardan is embracing his title as king with the girl he loves by his side. Taryn is learning that her position in society is not as important as her family. Vivi is staying in the mortal world to try and win back her ex-girlfriend Heather, confident she’ll keep her this time. Jude has finally gotten everything she has always wanted: power, respect and sense of belonging. It doesn’t hurt that she’s got the hottest man in all of Elfhame as her husband either.