By CHRISTINA QUACH
From brushed over murders to abusive love, The Cruel Prince manages to conjure a muddied storyline that readers could have lived without.
Holly Black’s The Cruel Prince is one of the most popular young adult (YA) fantasy novels of 2018, and has garnered a significant following.
The Cruel Prince revolves around the life of Jude Duarte, a girl who witnessed her parents’ murder at the age of seven. Along with her two sisters, she is captured by the murderer and finds herself in the High Court of Faerie, a kingdom where humans are loathed. In an attempt to be accepted by the Court, Jude tries to join the knights; however, she is soon knee-deep in royal scandals and trickery. Not to mention, she has to deal with a constant thorn in her side: Prince Cardan (AKA the most evil prince in the court).
With its lackluster and, at times, frustrating characters and storyline, The Cruel Prince fails to live up to the hype surrounding it. However, the novel manages to chillingly portray the corrupt nature of the government.
One of the most aggravating parts of the book is Jude’s casual attitude in regards to her parents’ murder. Not only is this highly unrealistic, but it undermines their death, because it is just another plot device to make the main character’s backstory more tragic. Her siblings, Vivienne and Taryn, are furious whenever their deaths are even briefly mentioned; Vivienne even tries to annoy the murderer. However, Jude is seemingly okay with it as she does not flinch at the memory. The attitude she has is exceedingly annoying and it just puts a sour taste in the readers’ mouth.
Also, Cardan’s actions are unjustifiable. Just to reiterate, having a devastating past does not make it okay to be a jerk. He and his band of friends enchant Jude to strip in front of class and, at one point, they push her into a ravine full of carnivores. All of his mistreatments are seemingly pushed aside under the pretense of his abused past. Perhaps if this was addressed in more detail or handled better, this may have been a vital part of his character dynamic. However, with the way the author utilizes this topic, Cardan’s cruel demeanor towards Jude just weakens the plot.
Not only are the characters frustrating, but the romance has no build up. Jude is messily involved in this weird love triangle that includes—but is not limited to—her, her sister and Locke, a character who is in an arranged marriage with her twin. He flirts with Jude and dates her, because he wants to be in a love triangle for once in his life. After that chaos passes, Cardan randomly kisses her and she magically falls in love with him. With all these events happening so quickly, the love story just seems disorganized, which baffles the reader.
Moreover, Black’s world building is incredibly slow and cluttered, a common feat seen in fantasy novels. She adds random creatures that have no significance to the storyline, which ultimately complicates the plot. For instance, she explains a servant in extensive detail, however, she never appears again in the story. These mythical beings that she mentions are supposed to help the audience connect the dots in the storyline, but it only seems to makes the reader confused and disengaged in the fictional world.
Despite all these negative attributes, the book is a disturbingly enrapturing tale about the political scene in the High Court of Faerie. From corrupt princes to hired spies, the royal family only seems to get more and more morbid. The air of elitism we see from them in the beginning of the novel is merely a facade in hiding their true wickedness. Black successfully manages to string along a story that keeps the readers on the tip of their toes and makes their palms sweat with anticipation.
All in all, The Cruel Prince does have major faults, but the political aspect of the novel overrides them and explains why this book is considered one of the best fantasy novels, rather than one of the best fantasy romances.