Review: The Cruel Prince – Bad Fae Boys Don’t Do Romance (Or Much of Anything)

cruel prince

Title: The Cruel Prince (The Folk of the Air 1)
Author: Holly Black
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: January 2nd, 2018
Genre(s): YA Fantasy
Subjects and Themes: Fae
Page Count: 384

Rating: 6.0/10

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Me: I should just write a mini review. Writing a detailed review for this is probably like doing an hour-long seminar on why Pixels doesn’t work as a commentary on video game culture.

Also me: Hey all, enjoy this 1200-word review! Also, here’s some crappy fanart!

(Warning: I wrote this in December when I was in a really ranty mood. Apologies to anyone who loved the book. :P)


I finally caved into hype’s cold, seductive embrace and cracked open this beauty. And what I found inside was…well, more or less what I’d expected. But also less.

A word of advice: if you’re looking for a fae story that’s built from the ground-up, with in-depth exploration of fae culture and social hierarchy and gritty characters, then look elsewhere.

But if you want Boys Over Flowers: Fae AU (kudos to Alice for mentioning the BOF comparison), complete with all the eyeroll-y drama, then turn your sweaters inside out and hop on over to Faerieland because Holly Black’s got you covered!

Part 1 is a story we’ve all seen before ad nauseam. A plain, outsider girl butts heads with the most infamous and popular clique at school and she’s the only one daring (and stupid) enough to defy them. They make her life a living hell, their leader gets off on tormenting her (because he’s an emotionally challenged asshole who doesn’t know how to express interest in a healthy way), but she ends up in a relationship with one of the members who’s so kind and so different from the rest, and all the while the tension between her and the leader ramps up.

Part 1 is like a shoujo high school story that got sloppily ported over to a fae setting. And I wouldn’t have minded the cliche of it all if the main characters had something going for them (one of my favourite things to experience is a story with an overdone plotline that absolutely works because the characters make it work–hello, Fullmetal Alchemist). This, for the most part, didn’t.

Let’s go down the list, shall we?

Jude is…something. I’m still not exactly sure what because book doesn’t give me much about her beyond hating Cardan, wanting more power, and being “badass” for the sake of being badass. It would have been nice if, in the beginning, we were shown what growing up in the fae as an orphaned human was like (how her parents’ murders affected her childhood, how she had to adjust to fae customs, etc), because right now she feels rather hollow and her connection to the fae world tenuous.

As for our titular character, we don’t actually see much of him. In the first half of the book Cardan pops in every now and then to bully Jude, and the second half he spends lounging around in the background like some pretty upholstery. And what we do see of him I found disappointingly tame. I wasn’t expecting a Joffrey-level of sadism but something meatier than what we got would have been great.

It’s like Holly Black wanted to write an enemy-to-lovers story starring a human girl and a bad boy fae but she couldn’t make the boy too bad because she wanted their romance to kickstart in book 1, so that the readers have something to hook onto before the sequel, and she didn’t want it to be a lopsided abuser-victim relationship. So Cardan ended up being this lukewarm, all bark and no bite character. Like a chihuahua with a nice fashion sense.

What I’d hoped for was a del Toro/Brom type of fae–the kind whose “cruelty” derives from the fact that they’re literally inhuman and view the world through a stranger lens than ours. Instead I got a middle school bully cosplaying as a fae. Yippee.

And because Cardan is such an underwhelming antagonist, the vitriol Jude throws at him feels a little overblown and misplaced. Why does she show more hatred towards this school bully than the man who murdered her parents in cold blood?

Oh, and their romance? It’s less of a romance and more:

“I hate you”
“I hate you more”
*furious lip-mashing noises*

Let’s also talk about Locke, the fox-eyed (literally) not-like-those-other-bullies faerie that Jude ends up swooning over. As someone who’s spent a decade on the receiving end of callousness and disdain, you’d think she’d be a little more, I don’t know, cautious about throwing herself heart-first into a romance with one of the Big Bad Four.

The silliness of this subplot is compounded by the fact that she harps on every chance she gets about how much she hates Cardan (“That doesn’t sound like Cardan, whom I despise” — I think my lady doth protest too much). So why does fox boy here get a free pass?

Three facts that make it glaringly clear that he’s terrible boyfriend material:

  1. The boy hangs out with Cardan and co. That makes him, at best, an enabler.
  2. He straight-up tells her in the beginning that it’s fun and easy to be terrible people. I figure that should set some alarm bells ringing.
  3. At one point he has her dressed up in his dead mother’s clothes. I’m not saying that that’s sociopathic, Norman Bates, get-out-of-there-girl behaviour but that’s exactly what I’m saying.

The writing ranges from okay, with some weird word choices here and there (I’m still not sure how anyone’s handwriting can be classified as “arrogant”), to awkward and unintentionally funny. Let’s just say that there are some passages that, had I been reading this as an ebook, would’ve made me wonder if I’d bought a fake fanmade copy.

Some of the highlights:

“She’s clearly shocked by my behavior. She should be. My behavior is shocking.”

“Just tell me why you hate me. Once and for all.”

“All I want to do is nice things that make you happy. Sure, I’ll make whatever bargain you want, so long as you kiss me again. Go ahead and run. I definitely won’t shoot you in the back. (What is even going on with this paragraph? Why does it have a cadence that makes it sound like angsty song lyrics?)

And my absolute favourite:

“Because if I scream, there are guards in the hall. They’ll come. They’ve got big, pointy swords. Huge.” (Truly a threat for the ages. “They have ALL the swords. The BEST swords. HUUUUGE and bigly.”)

“Wow, Kathy, so much hate. And you still gave it a 6 out of 10?”

Right, here comes a confession: I didn’t actually dislike it. Was I annoyed? Definitely. Baffled? Sure. But I was never bored which is more than I can say for a lot of the other books I read in 2018.

The Cruel Prince is definitely not the start to the next great YA fantasy as some would have me believe, but it’s got marketability and a weird addictiveness that (almost) overrides my annoyance. It has everything that makes the Boys Over Flower formula popular with the added benefit of a protagonist who’s not a doormat which is, admittedly, cathartic (even if she does lack a personality). And Cardan does have potential to be interesting so I’m holding out on the hope that maybe–maybe–he plays a more active role in the sequel.

Oh, and Black’s descriptions of the food and fae clothing are pretty great. It doesn’t really contribute to the overall quality of the book–it only makes me wish the other elements of the story were as detailed–but it’s a nice touch.

So all this backhanded praise is to say its many faults won’t stop me from reading Book 2.

…And it won’t stop me from drawing Cardan, either (attempting to, anyway). Because aesthetics–this boy has ’em. (And no, I don’t know what’s going on with the “thorns” around him either. I got tired and lazy. Sigh.)




30 thoughts on “Review: The Cruel Prince – Bad Fae Boys Don’t Do Romance (Or Much of Anything)

  1. Tammy says:

    Ha ha, well you aren’t wrong about anything you mentioned! I guess your level of enjoyment hinges on the sort of story you want to read, versus what Black has written. I loved both books, but The Wicked King wasn’t as good, IMO. Just preparing you!


  2. acquadimore says:

    I love this review. I agree with everything you said, including the part about reading the second book – it may be a mess but it’s an addicting one.

    I was disappointed by Cardan too. There’s nothing I love as much as overdramatic somewhat-villainous characters, even when they’re cliché, but here I got… a bully. Jude herself didn’t seem to have much personality either (and I like to pretend that the whole Jude/Locke/Taryn plotline didn’t happen, it was so unnecessary).

    “She’s clearly shocked by my behavior. She should be. My behavior is shocking.”
    I either missed or didn’t remember this when I read the book, but reading it out of context makes it sounds so unintentionally funny (it sounds halfway between “edgy 13-year-old diary” and me when I try to write a review in English and immediately forget all synonyms) that I don’t know how I missed it, even with the context.

    Also, that’s a nice Cardan!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky says:

      Oh boy, Cardan as a flouncy, overdramatic villain would have been SO much better! And what bothers me the most about the Jude/Locke/Taryn triangle is that it sets up a girl-hating-girl-because-of-boy conflict–between two sisters at that! Like, why is this a thing that needed to happen??? Ugh.

      And it’s been a while since I last read Holly Black so I can’t remember if her writing was always like this (I mean, most likely), but yeah…I can safely say I’m not the biggest fan of it. 😛


  3. Vera says:

    He he, fair points Kathy. I did enjoy the book but absolutely get where your well articulated frustration is coming from. 🙂 I think Black’s lack of characterisation is probably one of my biggest problems with this book as well. We get to know Jude and that’s it. The other characters’ and their motives are a mystery and that’s a bit of a shame. I guess Black tried to address it with her e-novella The Lost Sisters, which tells a story from Taryn’s perspective as she is practising an apology to Jude.. but still, I want to know more about Cardan, Locke and Taryn.

    To me, this book was about a teenager that is desperately trying to belong and works out that the only true belonging is actually belonging to noone but herself. But maybe I was in a particularly philosophical mood that day and completely made all of this out he he, that’s totally possible too! 😉 I’m known for these stages… 🙂

    Lovely drawing by the way, I’m digging those thorns! 🙂


  4. PerfectlyTolerable says:

    Wellllll … when you put it that way … haha yea this book has a lot of issues, but like you said you were never bored 😀 Haha I really liked this book because it sucked me in and I had a lot of fun reading it!! No, I don’t think its the next Harry Potter, but its fun to be pulled in by the hype and fangirl and obsess over the book 🙂 Great review! And I love your art! Its really good! (And I wouldn’t have thought twice about the thorns if you hadn’t have pointed them out! They look good!)


  5. Mel says:

    I’m sorry you didn’t love this one, but I am also very glad to have found someone else who was not a fan of this book. I just found the hating of each other between Jude and Cardan so…boring? Like, nothing happened that was super shocking or surprising. I also did not ship them at all and found Cardan’s overall presence in the book to be…lacking.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky says:

      Haha don’t worry, I’m not too torn up about it! 😛 Though Cardan definitely was a disappointment. From the way people were talking I thought he would be this super charismatic (but still hateable) character.

      And a relationship based only on mutual hatred IS boring–I thought there’d be something more interesting between them.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. A Storm Of Pages says:

    Snap, that DOES sound like Hana Yori Dango! Or Boys Over Flowers~ Are there even four guys in the group of bullies? Seems a bit close to F4, haha. Now I adore HYD (though very dramatic, there’s a large nostalgia factor as well, it was one of the first things I saw!) but I was not and am still not very interested in this book, and this review sort of confirms that I was right in my gut feeling, hype or no hype~


  7. Gemma says:

    Ha! I enjoyed the book mostly for that ending. But you nail the continuing problem with Cardan. (Unfortunately also in book two.) He’s supposed to be this cruel prince, the wicked king but also… a love interest. He’s also definitely an abusive bully. It feels like a lot of the same problem with bloody Kylo Ren. She wants to have it both ways with him but at a certain point you got to pick. Sorry to ramble! Still sorting out my thoughts and your excellent review made me want to go on 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky says:

      No no ramble away!! I love that so much discussion can be generated from this series. 😀 And damn it Cardan, I was rooting for you! It’s definitely the same problem as Kylo Ren. I feel like it’d be a much better (and richer) experience if the books just focused on making him a better person first, and *then* worry about whatever romance might surface.


  8. Gerry@TheBookNookUK says:

    Mwah ha ha ha! There’s so much to unpick on your review!

    It’s a shame you didn’t love this one because I kind of did and gave it 4/5 but I’m living for your reviews and can still see and agree with everything you’re saying. It is such a strangely compelling book isn’t it? Even if its frustrating at times.

    I need you to read The Wicked King now just for your review (I’ve not read it yet so I have no clue what its like). I also feel like I need to get you to read and review a book I hated just in the hopes you hate it too and write a review like this one about it!

    Can I hate rec a book? Is that a thing? That feels like an awful thing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kathy @ Pages Below the Vaulted Sky says:

      AHAHAHA omg YES, I would totally do a mutual hate review with you!! (Hate recs should definitely be a thing XD) Preferably one of those bad books that makes you want to write a 20 page essay on why you didn’t like it, not the ones that make you shrug and go, “Eh, I just didn’t like it” 😛

      And is it bad that I kind of *want* The Wicked King to be bad just so I can write another rant? It probably is. But it’s so cathartic!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Gerry@TheBookNookUK says:

        Ha! No sometimes I love to hate a book but I think I’m the opposite as I want The Wicked King to be awesome because I’m quite liking it so far 😛

        I actually really enjoy reading people’s rants about books they didn’t like. I appreciate that that style of review is not for everyone but I genuinely don’t mind. I also genuinely don’t mind if its about a book that I enjoyed either. I understand that the world would be dull, dull, dull if we all loved and hated the same things and I like seeing perspectives from the other side.

        I even like having someone disagree with my opinion if I can have a chat with them about it. I recommended to one of my good friends to read The Hunger Games and he was like, ‘it was shit and I hated it’ which hurt my Katniss loving heart but then he didn’t have anything else to add. That was just got boring because I would have liked the debate!

        I think rant and negative reviews are definitely something that book bloggers are not unified on though, it’s one of ‘those’ areas.


  9. sjhigbee says:

    lol… I LOVE this review! I’d looked at the cover and decided it wasn’t for me – glad that my instincts were right:)). And yet… it really got under your skin, didn’t it? Because that is a wonderful portrait:)).


  10. Wolf Moon Zyx says:

    Thank you so much!
    I felt like the only person that didn’t enjoy The Cruel Prince so much, everyone was hyping and I felt meh about it.
    I miss the raw cruelness of Tithe tho. Holly Black said non-nice things about this triology, but it had more nerve and argument 😦

    Liked by 1 person

  11. steph says:

    “All I want to do is nice things that make you happy. Sure, I’ll make whatever bargain you want, so long as you kiss me again. Go ahead and run. I definitely won’t shoot you in the back.” (What is even going on with this paragraph? Why does it have a cadence that makes it sound like angsty song lyrics?)

    I just want to say you are SO right and this is so funny to me.


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