Saturday, April 7, 2018

The Cruel Prince - Holly Black

Reading 'Neverwhere' and 'Anansi Boys' left me in the mood for a bit more fantasy fiction along broadly similar lines. It's not a genre that I'm overly familiar with so it was lucky that I remembered Simon Savidge had been talking to Holly Black about 'The Cruel Prince', which sounded like it might be fun.

Young Adult didn't really exist as a category when I was in my teens (or at least I certainly didn't notice it if it did) so it's a label I find quite intriguing, not least because I think I'm more inclined to enjoy books like this now than I would have done in my teens.

'The Cruel Prince' is a modern tale of Faerie - one drowsy Sunday afternoon an odd looking stranger turns up on Jude's doorstep, kills her parents, and takes her and her sisters back to Elfhame. He does this because Jude's mother was his human wife who faked her own death to run back to the mortal world with her equally human lover, and unborn half fairy child, Vivi. Fairy notions of honour make him responsible not just for Vivi, but also Jude and her twin sister, Taryn.

Fast forward ten years and the human girls are trying to find their way in the upper echelons of fairy society. It's a cruel and dangerous world where everybody seems to despise them, and a lot of things would quite happily kill them. School is a particular problem. For Taryn the answer seems to be to find romance, for Jude it's to trade on her skills as a fighter. The half fairy Vivi is much more interested in returning to the human world where she's formed a relationship with a girl called Heather. For Jude and Taryn Faerie, for all its dangers, is the place they know and where they want to make their lives.

The attractive thing about a book set in Faerie is that it calls on folk tales that go deep into our collective past, and uses imagery that's been particularly popular since the Victorian developed a love of fairy paintings. Walking around town today it was also really noticeable how mainstream a fairy tale aesthetic is (from Alex Monroe jewellery to Ted Baker flower prints). It also means that Black spends a lot of time describing her world. It's one of the things that make books like this so compelling to fans - but it's also why I'm not a great fan of the genre. Endless details of fantastical dresses and unlikely beasts don't particularly interest me.

What I did like is what Black does with Jude, who is every bit as much of a mess as you would expect of a girl who watched her parents get murdered before going off to live with the man who killed them, whilst having to negotiate her way through all the cultural differences of the new world she finds herself in. I also like the way that you can pick your metaphors here, and the complexity of the relationships Jude has with her foster father and with her Cruel prince.

The prince seen through Jude's eyes is an arrogant bully who hates her, presumably because he sees her as a lesser, mortal, being. The presumption is in Jude's part, the reader suspects it might be more complicated. Happily the tension between the pair remains mostly unresolved, with an acknowledgment that physical attraction doesn't have a lot to do with your better judgment.

A bigger problem is that the relationship between the twin sisters seems off, and is under explored, also why introduce twins only to more or less ignore one of them? What we know of the girl's parents is troubling too, and seems to me at least as morally questionable as anything else that happens in the book.

I liked this enough to think that I'll read the next part (if I remember, it's not due out until January next year) but not so much that I'm interested in looking for any of Black's other books.


  1. As my daughter has grown up, I really got into YA books for a period of years, but now she's doing A-Levels, she's mostly reading adult books. Maybe because I'm not looking out for YA books she might like, but also because I'm fed up of all the copycat issue YA books, I've moreorless stopped reading them too. Fantasy would have been different - but she never took to it, so I rarely got to read books like this one.

  2. I enjoyed this whilst being quite aware of its faults, got hooked enough to want to read the rest of the series as it appears, but not so much that I want to explore her back catalogue. My guess is that if I looked at any of the things Amazon is recommending onbthe back of it I'd find a lot of repetition in issues. What I thought Black did really well though was explore very conflicted relationships. Her central couple are attracted despite a mutual dislike and struggle with that - which rings true, so we get tension rather than romance which makes a nice change. It's good to have read something outside my normal choice, and it gave me a lot to think about which is always satisfying.