Warning: Spoilers Ahead
Author of bestselling contemporary fantasy books Holly Black returns once again to the realm of fairies this year with a new series.
The first book of the series, “The Folk of the Air” is titled “The Cruel Prince” and plunges readers once again into a world of magic that holds both beauty and cruelty in the same regard. We view the story through the eyes of Jude, a young human woman who is initially introduced in the book as a child.
Alongside her, we witness the brutal death of her parents followed immediately by the abduction of her and her sisters, Vivienne and Taryn. The abductor/murderer Madoc is Jude’s mother’s ex-husband, who she fled with their child Vivienne before remarrying and giving birth to twins Jude and Taryn.
The brutal scene hits both the main character and the readers with a harsh dose of reality in relation to the story ahead. This is not your run-of-the-mill fairytale where you will be emerged in a realm of beauty and fantasy wrapped up in joy, but rather a land just as deadly as it is beautiful.
Jude, when reintroduced, is seen as a young woman who is living in the land of Faerie with her sisters, Madoc, his current wife Oriana and a completely fey (fairy) little brother Oak. In the sisters, we are introduced to three very different individuals who are somehow all relatable in one way or another.
Vivienne — who goes by Vi — while half fey herself at times feels the most human. Defiantly, she treats Madoc with contempt and does not care about their blood relation. She spends most of her time in the realm of humans. In a set of incredible scenes we get to feel her genuine love, not just for her siblings, but also her girlfriend, who is unaware of her fey blood.
Due to their age when abducted,Taryn and Jude almost feel disconnected from humanity, while still displaying traits that we know are all too human.
Taryn is the most kind and gentle of the sisters, wishing to simply fall in love and be accepted by the court through marriage. This she hopes will enable her to continue living the life she knows without the pariah of being human that follows her, keeping her from a happiness.
As readers, we recognize this strong desire to be accepted when the lack of acceptance is not our own inherent fault. In society people are judged by their social status, race, sexualty and sex. Reading Taryn’s strong desires and her own imagined dream that if she is just loved by one fey, she will be accepted or at the very least left alone, breaks our heart. Life is not so simple in the real word, and we know that it is not in the one woven in Black’s tale as well.
Jude represents another side of the coin. Rather than harboring the strong desire to be accepted through marriage, Jude’s defiance of the world is like a fire that cannot be extinguished no matter how much she is tormented. This too is something that is easily relatable for the reader. Rather than being swayed by dreams of total acceptance, we realize that the fact we are not accepted is wrong.
Much like Jude’s strong desire to prove she can fight as well as any fey and her brutal courage to stand up for herself and her sister, we too often have to stand against injustices in the world both for others and ourselves.
The title, “The Cruel Prince,” is one that feels like a riddle, as we are introduced to not just one but multiple princes who could all inherit a throne that the current king is looking to secede from. The princes vary in personality, from seemingly kind to brutish and arrogantly malicious.
There is more than one red herring however, but I will not spoil the identity of the true cruel prince for you.
The story follows Jude in her confrontation with three of the princes, but at several points puts the spotlight on Prince Carden, with whom she seems to have the largest rivalry as she stands against him. He and his companions try to embarrass, torment and force her to submit to them — all the while a deeper more complicated storyline slowly reveals itself in the background threatening both Jude’s family and the arrogant Carden.
“The Cruel Prince,” was thrilling to read, and much like Black’s other works left me excited, horrified and emotional. Throughout her books, Black spins a web that shows the interwoven connections between every one of us. We are who we are due to our own actions as well as the actions inflicted upon us by others. Good individuals are often products of the kindness of others, just as cruel people may have been tormented by another before transforming into the tormentor themselves.
Nichole Harwood is the culture editor for the Daily Lobo. She primarily covers alumni and art features. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Nolidoli1.