The Cruel Prince by Holly Black is a young adult, fantasy novel dealing with the political machinations of the fae. Jude’s mother used to be married to a faerie lord but she ran away with their half-faerie daughter, married a human, and had two purely human daughters: Jude and her twin. Then the faerie lord came looking for her. He murdered Jude’s mother and took the children back with him to his lands.
Years later, Jude is being raised alongside the children of the lords and ladies of faerie, who resent having humans among them. Bullied and belittled by the faeries, Jude hates feeling powerful. She wants to do something to get real power so that she won’t be hurt again, but her path to power involves making a deal that may put her in even more danger when she agrees to work as a spy for a prince of Faerie.
This is an interesting story that deals with politics and factions all vying for power. As Jude learns more about the different players, we get a feeling for how the different groups interact, but it also feels sometimes that this is barely scratching the surface. There’s an interaction quite late in the book when she turns to another character for advice and I think this is a key moment, because it shows how complicated the situation really is and how much Jude is struggling with it.
Jude is a great character. She’s clever but young enough that she makes mistakes that are believable. She gets into difficult situations through her own actions, but the reasoning that got her there makes sense. She’s not exactly nice, but it’s understandable why she acts the way she does. We see enough of the bullying and pain she suffers through that her choices make sense. The same is true of some of the other characters. There are characters who are horrible people, but you get enough of a glimpse of their lives to understand how they became that way.
There are a lot of horrible people in this book, but there are some who are friendly and fun. I really enjoyed the scenes between Jude and the other spies. The other relationships I really liked were those between Jude and her sisters. I got a feeling of a real family relationship between them. There are arguments (even a duel at one point) but also love. They fight with each other, but also fight for each other. They don’t always agree, but they always care. The dynamic between the sisters is there throughout the book and plays out in interesting ways, sometimes adding to the conflict and sometimes helping Jude. That complex dynamic helps even a story about magic and faeries feel grounded in something real.
This book isn’t going to make my favourites pile, but it’s definitely an enjoyable book of its type. I have no particular criticisms of it. The story is interesting enough to keep me reading and the characters are nicely rounded. A solid four stars.