Book Review: “The Cruel Prince” by Holly Black

Cover of "The Cruel Prince" by Holly Black.

I’m back with a book review, and this time I’m reviewing “The Cruel Prince” by Holly Black! Here’s a summary so we know what it’s about:

“Jude was seven when her parents were murdered and she and her two sisters were stolen away to live in the treacherous High Court of Faerie. Ten years later, Jude wants nothing more than to belong there, despite her mortality. But many of the fey despise humans. Especially Prince Cardan, the youngest and wickedest son of the High King.

To win a place at the Court, she must defy him–and face the consequences.

As Jude becomes more deeply embroiled in palace intrigues and deceptions, she discovers her own capacity for trickery and bloodshed. But as betrayal threatens to drown the Courts of Faerie in violence, Jude will need to risk her life in a dangerous alliance to save her sisters, and Faerie itself.”

Trigger Warnings:

There is familial/domestic abuse of the main protagonist, as well as other characters involved in this book, and some scenes are in explicit violent detail, as well as a couple scenes where the protagonist either  gets drugged or put under control spells before getting manipulated by others briefly. There is also lots of murder. For those uncomfortable with this, most of this is in the first half of the book (though the murdering also takes place in the second half as well).

Plot Development: 3 out of 5 stars

I’ll be honest: There isn’t much of a whole main plot in this book for the first half. We have several plotlines such as Jude wanting to prove herself in the Fae Court as opposed to going back to the human world like Vivi, her sister, planned, as well as Jude’s dangerous servitude to Dain and being part of the Court of Shadows serving him, but none of it feels like one cohesive plot. Even by the time I reached the halfway mark in the book, I didn’t understand where the plot might be going or what was really going on other than the main Fae King getting murdered.

The good news is, however, there is more of a cohesive main plotline from the halfway mark onwards, for figuring out who will be the new High King. I enjoyed more of the political intrigue in the second half, as it was much clearer than the first half and made more sense overall. I just wish that sense of clarity was still there in the plot from start to finish. I also think the ending of the story made sense and was satisfying, and it’s left ambiguous and open enough for a sequel (and there is one).

Character Development: 3 out of 5 stars

I felt that we were introduced to too many characters right from the beginning of the book. We have Jude, who’s half-fae as well as her two sisters, and then we have Madoc, who virtually rules the Fae court, his other sons, and his second wife Oriana (the first wife was Jude and her sisters’ mother, who was immediately murdered along with her regular-human husband in the prologue). I struggled to juggle all these characters from the beginning onwards and figure out who was who, and it didn’t help that only one or two chapters after the first chapter that the reader is immediately introduced to even more characters, including Vivi (one of Jude’s sisters) having a girlfriend in the human world, all the other Fae that absolutely hate humans, and so on.

I just felt bad for the heroine, Jude, for the entire book. Honestly, the summary seems to imply that she’s suffering from major Stockholm Syndrome, because she actively wants to stay in the Fae Court, whose people 1. murdered her parents, 2. kidnapped her and her sisters and 3. the vast majority of them, if not all of them, treat her horribly. Her development of trickery and deceit in her personality, to get the upper edge in court, feels almost too sudden in the beginning. At first she’s stumbling into serving Dain and being part of the Court of Shadows, and then all of a sudden she’s a master at trickery and getting past being mind-controlled (or “glamoured,” as the book describes it). However, this development does feel less abrupt by the second half of the book, and she’s feisty and defiant against all that oppose her to the end.

Worldbuilding Development: 3 out of 5 stars

I enjoyed the visual descriptions of the Fae and the world they lived in (as well as the addictive fruit that Jude ate in one chapter). However, it was hard for me to figure out how the court system worked in this book, at least up until the second half. I just wish how it was organized was explained to me sooner. That was the main critique I had here.

Overall, I’m rating this book 3 out of  5 stars!

Ultimately, I think this book has good ideas; however, many concepts and developments could be explained sooner and/or started sooner to get a clear sense of what is going on in the book’s overall plotline.

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