I remember being very curious about The Cruel Prince when it first arrived. Readers everywhere were raving for it, and it has an amazing cover. But in a hardcover book like this one, there’s a small excerpt from the book, or some praise, or both, which this one had, but anyway, the excerpt talked about how angry yet adorable the prince was. My hesitation began, because the swoon reminded me too much of Lucinda Price’s attitude towards Daniel Grigori in Fallen, a series that has page-turning value but also head-slapping decisions. But I knew I’d eventually read this series, unable to resist the hype, and I’ve finally started.
I took a liking to The Cruel Prince relatively quickly. Forgive me for not being up to date with the universe of Holly Black, but her bio in this book says she previously wrote Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale, and “faeries” are who primarily inhabit the world of Elfhame. So I suspect this takes place in a universe from a different trilogy of books she wrote from 2002-2007. According to Goodreads they’re quite famous, so sorry if it’s popular fact that faeries can’t lie. But I found that to be a genius idea for the book because I never had to distract myself second-guessing what everyone was telling Jude, and the book seemed to stay focused on where it was going.
Oh wait, the summary. Jude’s the protagonist. Jude Duarte. Alongside her sisters Taryn and Vivienne. Ten years ago all Jude had was a normal life with normal parents – until a strange bulky man named Madoc crashed down their door, murdered both of them, apparently their mother being a deserter of the faeries, and stole away all the children. However Madoc supplied them with all kinds of luxuries and eventually became known as their willing guardian. In Elfhame, Jude and her sisters are, just like Madoc, able to travel back to the human world if they wanted, but they now see this world their home. Well, Vivienne doesn’t completely. But Jude’s been mocked for being an outsider, a non-pure faerie named Carden alongside his posse of perilous pranksters. But something’s coming that will make the pranks seem like penny lootings.
So not only was the book seemingly focused on its progression, the book’s format is also unintimidating. The mild 370-paged length, especially compared to other big fantasy books that have a giant hardcover printing, made me feel the book wouldn’t be too overbearing or underwhelming. The semi-long chapters are also the perfect length, knowing when to keep the pace going another 5 pages so it can make its mark and just when to have everything settled for the next big thing coming up. The way this book was put together really helped my enjoyment. However, that can’t take away the fact when I put it down I did find some cluttered moments stuck out.
One thing is we hear about all these lords who are in charge of particular gangs, as well as some complex political history, and not only did it feel like too much of an info-dump too early on in the story (is there supposed to be a test on all this?), but a lot of it felt more and more irrelevant as the book went on.
Another thing that dampened my experience involved Jude’s situations. On a positive note, whenever Jude was being bullied or manipulated, you couldn’t make me stop reading if there was an earthquake. I really cared about Jude being able to prove herself to the spoiled, cocky faeries and I respected her when she dared to resist and make powerful enemies. When confronted about it later and told she shouldn’t have resisted, she says “No”, that what they’re saying is ridiculous and she couldn’t just let them hurt her. And this thing didn’t take away the excitement from these scenes. It’s just, oftentimes I hear dialogue from Jude that seems…kinda weird. She seems too nonchalant to those who’ve really hurt her. And she discusses how Faerie has been cruel to her, but the world is still hers and where she grew up. I can somewhat see her reason, because when you live somewhere long enough, it’s hard not to get sad at the idea of never seeing it again. But it’s much easier to resist the sadness when that place treats you like dirt. From all the abuse Jude says she goes through, in ten years no less, I feel she shouldn’t have shown so much affection for the place.
There’s also the case with Madoc. I’m sorry but when I was seven years old, I loved my parents more than anything. They raised me. They protected me. Even if I lost them and hadn’t seen them in ten years if they died that long ago, I would never lose my memory of them or see their killer as a fatherly figure no matter how apologetic or generous he was, and Madoc isn’t much of either of those things.
I realize this is a lot of criticism, especially for a positive review. So let’s jump back on the positives. The chapter involving Sophie’s rescue was masterfully frightening. I like how Cardan is the obvious love interest the more we read on, but Jude does not swoon over him the way I thought she would from the back-cover excerpt, and does not flat-out forgive him for the abuse he is a part of. I can tell things between the two of them are going to be complicated, probably violent, and I really want to know how it happens. There’s a chapter involving Jude rescuing another human from enslavement, and it had the sort of unpredictability, stealth, and fear of exposure that exciting books were printed for.
The Cruel Prince is a cluttered first entry for the series, but it’s more refreshing than a lot of other books I’ve tried out recently, primarily because following Jude Duarte through her trials and tribulations of Elfhame manage to be entertaining on a very good mode of storytelling; the situations being more down to earth and tightly personal than the collapse of the entire universe.