Monday, January 28, 2019

The Wicked King - Holly Black

I read, and enjoyed, Holly Black's 'The Cruel Prince' last year. It's young adult fiction which is a category that didn't exist when I was a young adult, and isn't one I'm particularly familiar with now, but that's no reason not to make the occasional investigation.

What I find particularly attractive about Black is the way she uses fairies that feel like they're straight out of a Richard Dadd painting with all the unsettling darkness that suggests. When I read 'The Cruel Prince' I was new to her work, since then I've picked up a few of her books so have a much better idea of the themes that interest her. She's a much better writer than I first appreciated.

Being the first part of a trilogy 'The Cruel Prince' did a lot of scene setting, and the main characters felt more young than adult (I think they're about 17). 'The Wicked King' starts 5 months after the end of the first book and now they feel like they're really at that stage where you have to take on adult responsibilities ready or not.

It turns out that Black explores damaged and damaging families quite a lot. Her books are full of bad parents and the effects that has on their children. Not necessarily abusive parents, but neglectful, selfish, careless, uninterested parents, as well as foster families, step parents, and adopted families who are equally imperfect. This is worthwhile territory to explore especially with the relatively light touch that Black brings to it.

Twin sisters, Jude and Taryn, have had a crappy childhood and it shows. They're both a mess, making bad decisions and getting a lot of things wrong. The window dressing of fairy land aside, making poor relationship decisions, trust issues, a desire to take control, and not be powerless, and a capacity for self harm are universal issues.

Black doesn't fix things easily for her characters either, Jude (the main focus) remains emotionally immature. Constantly reacting with anger and a lack of foresight, and not at all good at understanding what motivates other people  or able to open up to them, she lurches from crisis to crisis and it all makes sense. How else could she behave under the circumstances? The question is, will she be able to gain the self awareness deal with her issues so that they don't come to define her?

The answer to that is probably yes, I'm expecting a more or less happy ending for book 3, but it will be interesting to see how Black gets there.

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