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

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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)

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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.)

 

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Top 5 Wednesday – 2019 Releases that I Didn’t Care About But Am Now Tentatively Anticipating

“Top 5 Wednesday” is a weekly meme currently hosted on Goodreads by Sam of Thoughts on Tomes in which you list your top 5 for the week’s chosen topic.

Oh boy oh boy. It feels like I haven’t done one of these in forever.

So, this week’s prompt was “2019 releases that I don’t care about.” But apathy is something that I actively try to fight off on a regular basis (thanks, depression), so dedicating an entire post to talking about things I don’t care about felt…I don’t know, counter-productive.

So I’m doing what I do best, which is complicating simple things, and changing it to “2019 releases that I didn’t care about but am now tentatively anticipating.” Now it starts off negative but ends on a sort-of positive note. 😀

 

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

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This one has been hyped to hell and back and for good reason. It’s thick, it’s got dragons and intrigue and possibly-interesting female characters, all wrapped up in a stupidly good-looking cover.

All of which made me shrug and think, “Yeah, this is too good to be true.”

But. It’s a door-stopper epic fantasy written by a female author with feminist themes, and I could stand outside my local mall all day holding up a sign that says “WE NEED MORE OF THOSE.” Plus I feel like it’d be a crime not to try out any book with that as a cover.

 

The Wicked King by Holly Black

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Okay, to be fair, this one had the “I don’t care” stamp before I’d read The Cruel Prince. And now that I have read it, while I’m not bouncing-off-the-walls excited (my anticipation levels for this book are about as lukewarm and kind-of-there-kind-of-not as Cardan), I am mildy curious to see how things pan out for Cardan and Jude.

 

Sherwood by Meagan Spooner

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I adore the original Robin Hood legend. My love hasn’t really been reciprocated in the past decade or so, however (not until recently with a certain series which I will most definitely ramble about in a separate post). Every adaptation that comes along swearing that it’s giving RH a fresh and interesting look is 1) neither of those things, or 2) something so weird and outlandish that it shouldn’t even have the “Robin Hood” title (looking at you, 2018 film).

While Sherwood isn’t the “gender-bent Robin Hood falls in love with Maid Marian” story that I was hoping for–it’s got Maid Marian taking the Robin Hood mantle while Robin’s off doing God knows what–I’m willing to give it a try.

 

Seven Blades in Black by Sam Sykes

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While I do love Sam Sykes as a person, I just couldn’t get into his Bring Down the Heaven series. There’s something about his writing that didn’t click with me. So Seven Blades in Black initially went in the “maybe I’ll try it one day” pile. 

I don’t remember why I moved it to the “anticipated” stack (probably because I caved into Sam’s Twitter charms), but it’s there now and hopefully I’ll take to it better than his previous books.

 

The Familiars by Stacey Halls

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I turned my nose at this one because the cover made me think it was a fable-y, magical realism story featuring witches and their familiars, but then I found out it’s actually about a woman dealing with pregnancy in the 17th century (with a witch hunt backdrop), which was decidedly less interesting to me.

But I do enjoy historical feminist stories, and there’s something super magnetic about that cover, so I’ll give it a shot!

 

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Are there any 2019 books that you’ve had a change of heart about?

Top 5 Wednesday – Books I Want to Read Before 2019

“Top 5 Wednesday” is a weekly meme currently hosted on Goodreads by Sam of Thoughts on Tomes in which you list your top 5 for the week’s chosen topic.

This week’s topic is “Books You Want to Read Before 2019.”

Short answer? All of them. But I don’t think a list of five different spreadsheets cataloguing my TBR was quite what you had in mind.

So here’s the abridged version!

(On a separate note, I would like a few words with whoever okay-ed this new editor interface because it is maddening. Why the heck is everything hidden??)

The Shadow of What Was Lost by James Islington

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A friend recommended this months and months back and I ended up reading 1/4 of it before stopping. Not because it was bad! That just happens to me sometimes; if I take a break in the middle of a book, it’s hard for me to pick it back up again.

The beginning of the story is kind of like Harry Potter but with more stabby action and sketchy treatment of magic users (reminiscent of The Circle in the Dragon Age series). It’s good stuff!

 

Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak

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My most anticipated read of the year that I said I was going to read as soon as I got my hands on it.

Except I didn’t.

Then I said I was going to read it by the end of October.

Except I didn’t.

And now I’m saying I’ll read it by the end of the year.

…Third time’s the charm, right?

 

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

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All the hype around this one has made me keep it at arm’s length, but I have to say, I’m SUPER curious–about the dynamic between Jude and Cardan, in particular. I’ve heard a few people say that the romance is borderline abusive, and I’ve heard others talk about it with starry eyes and hands clutched to their chest.

 

Fallen Princeborn: Stolen by Jean Lee

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In rural Wisconsin, an old stone wall is all that separates the world of magic from the world of man—a wall that keeps the shapeshifters inside. When something gets out, people disappear. Completely.

…Welcome to River Vine, a shrouded hinterland where dark magic devours and ancient shifters feed.

The lovely Sarah from Brainfluff raved about this one in her review, and it sounds absolutely brilliant and 100% up my alley. It’s got shifters, fae, troubled protagonists, and a whole lot of dark, rich worldbuilding. Get in my brain!

 

Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett

I adored Bennett’s The Divine Cities books, and while I understand Foundryside is a more traditional fantasy story, I’m still eager to give it a try. There’s also a sentient key character (as in, a character who is a key), and I’ve heard nothing but praises for it!

What are some books you want to get to before the end of the year?