Life has not been kind for twins Jude and Taryn and their elder sister Vivienne; ten years ago, when they were seven and she was nine, their suburban family home was invaded and their mother and father were killed in front of them and Madoc, in fact Vivienne’s true father, who took all three girls to Insmire in the Shining Isles of Elfhame.
A man of honour although his code is strange, Madoc has raised them as though they were his own even though as mortals Jude and Taryn are no blood relation to him, but in the Faerie kingdom where iron burns the flesh life is different, with no fishsticks, no ketchup and no television, instead existing alongside imps and hobs, goblins and grigs, with knots and salt and berries for protection against the enchantments from which they have no natural defence.
Expected to play the games of the court of Eldred, the High King of Elfhame, the headstrong Jude might be accepted if she would take a suitable husband but she prefers to find another way where her status will be determined on her own merit, but as a lowly changeling her position is restricted and she is taunted by Eldred’s children, particularly Cardan, sixth in line to the throne, the cruel prince Jude hopes will never ascend.
Faeries unable to lie and so never expecting to be lied to, the concept alien to their way of thinking, the very human Jude has one advantage over them which is put to use by the heir apparent Dain when he engages her as a spy for the Court of Shadows, and in his service she learns that everything Cardan knows of cruelty he learned at the hands of his brother Balekin.
The first volume of The Folk of the Air, Holly Black steps like a faerie herself in The Cruel Prince, her prose swift and light footed, each perfect phrase landing deftly and without fuss even as, like the sisters, the reader is dragged from their safe and comfortable home to a strange world of full blown magic and creatures where travelling by giant toad is less likely to attract attention than horseback.
Packed with court intrigues, vendettas and tangled loves and lineages and betrayals, many of the royal court are off-the-shelf high school bullies with pointed ears and fur making it difficult for the reader to be surprised when an allegiance switches or parentage is revealed to be not one half-remembered character but another equally dimly recalled interloper, but Jude and her immediate family have more verve.
As is perhaps mandatory for a young adult fantasy novel of this nature, despite the adversities faced by Jude it is her fortuities which are overwhelming, survivor of assassination attempts, chosen to be a spy, blessed with an aptitude for killing and disposing of bodies without being seen or leaving evidence, but The Cruel Prince is an entertaining diversion for all that, and with Jude easy to like and relatable the reader will want her to do well.
Faerie apparently a small world, it never seems to extend beyond the borders of the frontispiece map, strict borders which seem too confined to supply the many diverse races who populate the courts and tend the orchards, not to mention the rapid turnover in the servants’ quarters, but it can be anticipated that Black will look further afield when she revisits the kingdom.
The Cruel Prince is available now from Hot Key Books