The Wicked King – Holly Black

It’s been five months since Jude Duarte installed Cardan as High King of Elfhame, a puppet king beholden to her for a year and a day, time fast flashing by as she seeks for a way to extend her power, her long-term plan to protect her younger brother who will eventually inherit the throne still unformed as she tries her best to stay afloat in the court of the wicked king and his scheming courtiers.

The second volume of The Folk of the Air, Holly Black follows up The Cruel Prince with The Wicked King, Jude still “a mortal among monsters” who finds, perhaps predictably, that her newly-elevated position as Cardan’s seneschal does not spare her the daily squabbles or power games which escalate with the approaching celebrations of the Harvest Moon.

Finding herself in the position of wielding power over other members of the court, privy to their secrets and indiscretions, Jude finds that she enjoys that power even as she realises that it is a dangerous temptation she must not allow herself to become accustomed to or anticipate even as it brings her valuable information.

Learning of a plot against the islands by Orlagh, Queen of the Undersea, and that someone close to her has already betrayed her, like Cassandra of mythology Jude’s warnings are heard and ignored, her knowledge dismissed simply because of who she is, her rivals preferring to continue their taunts and games of cruelty.

A game of chess where Jude has insufficient pieces, she must instead rely on strategy but finds no matter how many moves ahead she has planned that someone has already foreseen her tactics and set a trap, and like the first volume the parallels between the faerie court and high school remain, the princesses believing their position puts their behaviour beyond question, that they are above punishment.

Slow to begin, The Wicked King follows the same pattern as The Cruel Prince, squabbles, intrigue, duels, ambushes, illicit kisses, betrayal, wounded egos and enchantment, this time a royal wedding central to events rather than a coronation with the impending union of Jude’s twin sister to the ever-duplicitous Locke.

Jude herself still entangled with Cardan, their complex love/hate relationship verges towards Twilight territory in the repeated glimpses of his pale forbidden flesh as she repeatedly enters his bedchambers to discuss matters of state only to find him unkempt and barely clothed, sometimes with company, sometimes without.

Though The Wicked King never quite succumbs to that temptation, nor does it move forward as far as it should, a holding pattern as power is realigned and settles as Jude is blocked and thwarted, the needed seismic changes in the faerie realm only alluded to until the final chapters, the whole only serving to set up the forthcoming conclusion to the trilogy, Queen of Nothing, due next year.

The Wicked King is available now from Hot Key Books and Holly Black will be on tour in the UK in February with Cassandra Clare

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