Haha, what the hell, NetGalley only sent me the first three quarters of this novel for review? Good thing I looked up the next book in the series and realized from the blurb that I had no idea how the events described there led from this one, and so discovered that I was missing an entire section of The Wicked King! I was all ready to excuse TWK’s abrupt ending with a diagnosis of middle-book syndrome (no thanks to whomever posted this version on NG) but am now pleased to report that Holly Black’s gangbusters The Cruel Prince does, indeed, get the excellent continuation it deserves. With thanks to my local library for having the novel on hand so I could speed read my way through the actual ending!
Jude Duarte is now the power behind King Cardan’s throne, but one of the many things she’s learned from her adoptive father, Grand General Madoc, is that power is much easier to obtain than to keep. Uncovering a plot against the king whom she both hates and desires, she works overtime with her own Court Of Shadows, a team of spies and subversives, to protect Cardan and, by so doing, protect her beloved little brother Oak, who’s also in the line of succession. But an almost off-hand remark from a nemesis causes her to worry. “Someone you trust has already betrayed you,” Undersea Princess Nicasia tells her. Since the fae are incapable of lying, Jude knows it must be true. But who could it be, and what kind of betrayal, and how deeply will this latest one hurt?
Jude’s life is one of pressure and paranoia as she strives to safeguard Cardan and Oak, often without their cooperation, while figuring out a way to extend her hold on Cardan and repair her relationship with her twin sister Taryn. Events come to a head around Taryn’s wedding, when disaster strikes despite Jude’s best laid plans. Can our arch-schemer think her way out of this latest bind, or will love blind her to the machinations of others?
So this book won’t make a lick of sense to anyone who hasn’t read the brilliant TCP, which is frankly one of the best novels of courtly intrigue I’ve ever read. TWK feels somewhat slighter in comparison, if only because Jude is at a distinct disadvantage in not being the usurper, as it were, but the defender of power. Enemies amass at every front, and no matter what she does, she can’t fight them all off. But some enemies are less serious than others, at least for now, and some problems come less from power struggles than from how difficult it is to learn how to trust and open up. There are definite communication problems in this book but, unlike in other YA novels I’ve had to struggle through, these communication issues aren’t stupid. Jude understandably has a hard time trusting Cardan because they’ve always been at odds. She has an even more understandably hard time trusting Taryn or Madoc after what happened in TCP.
But the most nuanced exploration of communication issues comes from Jude’s clashing with Vivi, her beloved older sister, over bringing Vivi’s mortal girlfriend Heather to Faerieland. Despite this being a relatively small part of this book, I felt so keenly for Jude as she wondered how much she herself was to blame for Vivi seeming not to take Heather’s safety and distress seriously. Jude had spent so much of her own childhood putting on a brave front and pretending that her treatment as a mortal at the hands of the cruel fae was something easily shrugged off instead of deeply traumatizing. While I’m unsurprised by what Heather (correctly) chose to do in the end, I am rooting for all these kids to make it work and find their Happily Ever Afters. Yes, even Cardan! (Maybe not Taryn tho, she still sucks.)
Any relative slightnesses in TWK’s narrative are completely made up for by two things: a) that ending! and b) all the (good) kissing, teeheehee — you’ll know what I mean when you read those scenes. I’m not sure why Cardan does what he does at the end but I think it’s pretty clear that he has very strong romantic feelings for Jude, and that he’s definitely thought through his plans. Frankly, I love to see Cardan grow from being the purposefully thoughtless prince to a political force to be reckoned with. That’s how he becomes worthy of poor Jude, who desperately needs a nap, good food and to be taken care of for a change.
I really, really want to get my hands on the last book in the series but I have no time! Hopefully, it won’t take me another year to read the conclusion of this so-far superlative trilogy.
The Wicked King (The Folk Of The Air #2) by Holly Black was published January 8 2019 by Little, Brown Books For Young Readers and is available from all good booksellers, including