Let me start by saying that Holly Black’s novel The Cruel Prince is not my favourite fantasy novel, and although I will be comparing it to some of my favourites and indicating similarities between them, this particular novel did not achieve “Favourite” (yes, with a capital F) status for me. That being said, I do feel compelled, after finishing it, to pick up some more of Holly Black’s books, so that is certainly a testament to the fact that her work intrigued me quite a bit.
The Cruel Prince felt, to me, very similar to Sarah J. Maas’ novel A Court of Thorns and Roses. Now, this is where my caveat above comes in: the ACOTAR series is one of my all-time favourites, and so while The Cruel Prince had a comparable vibe to the first novel in that series, it certainly didn’t affect me as viscerally or vehemently. A Court of Thorns and Roses seriously blew me away, especially by the end, and The Cruel Prince sadly did not. However, as I said, the vibe of the two novels felt nearly the same in that both start slow, building up the world and the characters with an intense amount of detail, and then pick up around the 3/4 point when the main action commences. It’s important for those who are considering reading The Cruel Prince to know this about the novel…when you start it, you may feel bogged down by all the descriptions and “set up” and by the fact that the narrator and main character, Jude, seems to describe a lot of things at length but not actually do very much. Rest assured, once you hit the halfway point of the novel, the plot picks up significantly, and once you get to about 300 pages in, you’ll start to feel a lot more anxious for the characters and a lot more immersed in the suspense and intrigue. This was my experience anyway, and I would say that The Cruel Prince is a novel you have to be in for the long haul. Despite the fact that it’s only just over 350 pages, it might take you some time to read it because of all the description, but just sit with it and keep going because by the end, you’ll be glad you did!
With all that said, I was never truly hooked by The Cruel Prince, even when I got to the twists and turns of the ending. For some reason, I could never fully warm up to Jude, which is not to say that I hated her or anything as extreme as that, but I also just couldn’t bring myself to love her or to care that much about her. Her backstory is very interesting and there is some treatment of PTSD and anxiety that I found subtle, interesting and realistic, but again, I just didn’t feel like Jude had enough going for her for me to view her as a fictional friend. Moreover, Cardan was definitely a fascinating character and he grew into a pretty swoon-worthy hero toward the conclusion, but I felt like there just wasn’t enough of him in the novel. I mean, it is named for him after all, and yet there wasn’t all that much interaction between him and Jude. Yes, she spends a lot of time thinking about him and fearing him, but they don’t talk very often and until the final hundred pages of the novel, there’s no chemistry between them whatsoever. I get that romance is not all a novel needs to be about, especially one in the fantasy genre, but I was disappointed that there wasn’t more of a relationship between Jude and Cardan merely because there is so much hype about them both. I don’t know, I guess the “romance” of the novel wasn’t what I was expecting…I wanted something more passionate and grittier, and although Black approaches that sort of relationship toward the end, I don’t think there was enough heat and heart-pounding intensity throughout the story to make me all that interested in Jude and Cardan together.
I also struggled a little bit with Black’s writing style in that I felt it to be disjointed at times. I found myself becoming confused on several occasions, trying to keep the characters straight and trying to work out how each of their stories interconnect. For example, Jude spends a lot of time ruminating on the wrongful death of a character named Liriope, but it took me a really long time to figure out why she was important and how her presence in the novel contributed to the plot whatsoever. Eventually it all sort of becomes clear, but when the concept of Liriope is first introduced, it seems somewhat pointless and like a detail that the reader can ignore, so I don’t know that Black did a good enough job planting clues for her audience or linking the beginning of the novel up with the conclusion. The court structure of Black’s world is also kind of complicated in terms of succession and how many different courts there are and how each of them function in tandem. I found myself becoming really interested in places like the Unseelie Court, as an example, but then Black never provided any description about them. She alluded many times to practices and structures outside of the novel, within the land of Faerie, but she then never went back and touched on them, and so I found myself trying to put threads together that weren’t substantial enough. I hear that this book is going to become a series, so I’m assuming Black will delve further into these details in the future, but I found that the constant mention of them within The Cruel Prince took my attention away from the main plot and action in a manner that was at times very distracting.
Overall, despite my criticisms, I did enjoy this book. Like I said, it isn’t a Favourite of mine, and I was expecting to enjoy it a lot more, but I did have a pleasant time reading it and I would definitely continue with the series. I’m intrigued enough to follow through with these characters, even if I won’t necessarily rush out to buy the second book as soon as it’s released.
My Favourite Quotes from The Cruel Prince
Like I said, there are some particularly hard-hitting moments that should have their time to shine amidst my critiques…
✦ JUDE ✦
“I cannot seem to contort myself back into the shape of a dutiful child.
I am coming unraveled. I am coming undone.”
“I seem to have passed some kind of threshold. Before, I never knew how far I would go. Now I believe I have the answer. I will go as far as there is to go.
I will go way too far.”
✦ CARDAN ✦
“‘Jude Duarte, daughter of clay, I swear myself into your service. I will act as your hand. I will act as your shield. I will act in accordance with your will. Let it be so for one year and one day…and not for one minute more.’”
❥❥❥.5 (out of 5)
Girl with a Green Heart