The Cruel Prince (The Folk of the Air #1) by Holly Black

curelQueen of the faedark – Holly Black has returned with another intriguing tale of the fae.  You could almost imagine that Ms Black is one of the fae herself with such a name and the way she writes of these fantastical creatures it wouldn’t be too great a stretch of the imagination to believe it to be so.  For me this is an author who has made the fae her own.  When I read her books I know that I’m going to be immersed in a dark world, full of court machinations, populated with creatures that are as cruel as they are beautiful and with plots that twist in unexpected ways and the first book in the Folk of the Air is no exception.

Firstly, a brief overview.  We start the story with an introduction to Jude as she witnesses the murder of her parents.  To cut a long story short Jude’s older sister is half fae, her human mother fled with her a few years ago but her fae father, a general within the fae realm known as Madoc, has finally caught up with them and having killed their parents takes his own daughter and her two half sisters back to his home in the realm of the fae.  The story then jumps forward ten years.  Jude and her sister Taryn are still desperately trying to find a place for themselves in this strange world.  Of course, being fully human leaves them rather at the mercy of the other fae who they mix with and who love nothing more than to bully and taunt them.  Jude and Taryn are twins.  They share a deep bond and yet it seems that both have chosen different routes to follow in terms of being accepted in this strange world.  Jude has picked the path of the warrior.  She longs to be accepted for her fighting abilities and to take part in the trials that might grant her a place at court.  Her sister Taryn, tired of constantly feeling out of place believes that marriage to one of the fae will secure her a place in their hearts.  Both are a deal misguided.

I don’t really want to go too much more into the detail of the plot.  On the face of it this seems to be a fairly straightforward storyline and yet the reality of the read is far from that.  The fae court is heading for unrest and with the High King about to step down and name his successor the back stabbing and scheming is running amok.

So, why did I love this.  For a number of reasons that I will elaborate a little on.  Namely, the characters, the story writing, Holly Black’s ability to place you deep into the land of the fae and to make the place have a sinister fairytale feel but more than that the motivations.  And, the combination of all these elements that makes for an incredibly satisfying read.

The characters here are great to read about.  None of them are perfect and that includes Jude but all of them managed to provoke entirely different and very strong reactions in me whilst I was reading.  Jude and Taryn.  They both have bad memories but one of them has chosen to hold onto the hatred and use it to fuel her ambitions, the other has chosen the path of least resistance.  They have a complicated family dynamic and in fact the relationships between them all are intriguing and much more convoluted than at first appears.  Then we have Prince Cardan, son of the High King.  Cardan is a very cruel individual (not surprising given the title of the book).  He has a strange and twisted obsession with Jude that means she constantly falls foul of him and the crew he surrounds himself with.  Strangely enough I didn’t find myself disliking him at all.  At the back of my mind I had a nagging feeling about him, that maybe not everything was as clear cut as first appeared and as the story unfolds his character does indeed become more complex with circumstances that definitely give him a more sympathetic edge.  He’s one of those characters that has perfected a face of indifference that perhaps doesn’t reflect his true feelings.

The world building is very smooth. It’s easy to have a vision in the mind’s eye of what the place looks like and Black effortlessly evokes childhood fairylands whilst at the same time giving them a sinister twist.  Towers, mean stepmothers, indifferent kings, spoilt princes and nothing is ever really quite what it seems.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this.  It takes a little while to really get into the depths of the story but the time is well spent building relationships that once established make the final reveals and twists that much more dramatic.

The Cruel Prince is an excellent start to series.  It’s complex and surprising.  If you enjoy stories about the fae then I strongly recommend this, its a finely crafted story by an author who has honed her ability to write the fae in a compelling way.  I can’t wait for the next instalment.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.