The Cruel Prince
PublisherHot Key Books
Date Published26 July 2018
Price£ 7.99

The Cruel Prince

by Holly Black

When Jude and her sisters saw the man murder their parents, they could not have realised the assassin would become their father.


Jude, her twin sister Taryn and older sister Vivienne, are lazing in the living room when a man knocks on the door. Jude doesn’t recognise him. But her mother does and is justifiably terrified. In minutes, she and her husband are dead, and the murderer has abducted the three children and taken them to the world of Faerie.

Ten years later, Vivienne really is the daughter of Madoc, their mother’s assassin, and has faerie blood in her veins, but she is the one who resents him the most. Jude treats Madoc with respect and affection.

Jude adapts to survive in the magical world where she and Taryn are mere mortals. Their surrogate father has fingers in many of the Royal Court pies, meaning they have unwanted, daily contact with the self-entitled aristocrats. However, Jude is also ambitious. The Royal Tournament is only days away. It could be the answer to her aspirations, if she can get Madoc to let her join in – and if she can keep the arrogant, vicious Prince Cardan from crushing her dreams.

I might have passed the half-century mark, but I will never outgrow devious fairies, a rich fantasy world and magical court intrigue. Throw a couple of mere-mortals in the plot and I am buzzing with anticipation.

Holly Black’s writing style is a heady, almost edible, combination of gritty and ethereal. She has built a magical world in which I would love to immerse myself more. Without reams of description, she sprinkles just enough detail to ignite the reader’s imagination and bring those otherworld beings to life.

However, I didn’t fall in love with the characters. The reader is expected to believe Jude’s behaviour and introspections without question; most young adult readers are not that shallow or naïve. While I appreciate the existence of Stockholm syndrome and a need for conflict on every page, Jude’s claims of love and respect for Madoc do not gel with either her actions or her past. I would like to have witnessed Madoc’s manipulations (or how he genuinely earned her love) rather than the author telling me. Jude is also rather whiny and repetitive.

Cardan is unoriginal. The neon sign on his forehead – bad-boy here, guess who I fancy and why – detracts from the plot. Swoon-worthy does not require overdone abusive behaviour to plump up a character.

I cannot believe Taryn is Jude’s identical twin. Those special twin connections have gone missing between these two sisters. Taryn is just an unpleasant person. However, I like Vivienne. She is the most convincing of the characters because she is true to her word. She hates Madoc, and that does not change.

This story is not short on violence and viciousness and lies and spies, let alone nasty self-entitled, self-serving people. All these give the plot legs and a large dollop of guilty pleasure to the reader. Sadly, it is a bit lacking on creative magic. And for immortal beings, there seem to be lots of ways one can get rid of the faeries.

Although for the moment, Jude annoys me, I hope to continue this journey with her. I would like to see this vague anti-heroine develop into someone more substantially good or bad. I hope the Jude-Cardan relationship will not be as predictable as it feels.

Reviewed 01 June 2019 by Kati Barr-Taylor

Kati Barr-Taylor lives in her ‘cosy pigsty’ in the Dordogne. She satisfies her literary cravings by translating, writing, editing and reading.