Holly Black’s The Coldest Girl in Cold Town was the first audiobook that ever held my attention. Even now, when I am trying to listen to them more, if I am somewhere I can sit, I grab my actual book/Kindle to read. The Coldest Girl in Cold Town was so good that after returning from a walk, I sat on my couch and kept listening for hours. As a result, I am kind of surprised that I haven’t read her entire back catalog but I always pick up her new books when I realize they have been released, including The Darkest Part of the Forest. I know she has other series but until this one, I had only read her standalone novels – it actually feels rare anymore to find standalone novels in YA fantasy so I definitely appreciate her ability to tell a full story in one book. The Cruel Prince, however, is definitely setting up for the beginning of a series, and I can’t wait to see where she takes it.
Ten years ago, Jude’s life was completely disrupted when a faerie general showed up at her family’s door step and killed her parents. As she, her twin Taryn, and her older sister Vivi learned that night, her Vivi was the general’s daughter from her mother’s first marriage. Though the twins are not his, Madoc sees them as his responsibility since they were his wife’s children, and takes them back to Faerieland, along with his half-faerie daughter. Most humans in the faerie realm are treated as slaves or entertainment, but Jude and her sister are raised as daughters of his household. Despite that, they face threats from classmates and have to work hard to avoid agitating anyone, prove their place and avoid glamours and other tricks, whether accidental or intentional.
While Jude has decided to train to become a warrior and can’t quite avoid developing powerful enemies (the titular cruel prince and his entourage, in fact), her twin has gone the route of appeasement and tries to fit in as best as possible. Jude hopes one of the High King’s children will select her to serve in one of the royal households; her sister Taryn hopes to make an advantageous marriage. As the only sister with faerie blood, Vivi has the freedom to be more rebellious and refuses to do anything that might make her father happy. While Madoc allows Jude to participate in the yearly tournament, he won’t allow her to do so in a capacity that shows she is available for service. Despite that, her performance is good enough to gain the attention of at least one royal, and one of the princes approaches her to be one of his spies, leading her into intrigues and politics that change her understanding of the kingdom and the politics within the royal family. If nothing else, she is of value because she can lie in a land where everyone must tell the truth.
Now, I have read enough YA novels by this point to expect that the protagonist would be lacking important background information and as a result, would see some huge changes in her viewpoint regarding the situation in Faerie. Things are never as simple as they seem, and nothing can be taken at face value. Despite vaguely expecting revelations along these lines, I was still surprised by some of the developments, and impressed with how Black wove the story together. Even with that, Black doesn’t go the stereotypical route of redeeming villainous characters too quickly. Everything is more complicated than it seems but she also doesn’t use this to forgive or excuse bad behavior. I appreciate the complexity Black brings to her characters, and as excited as I am that this story will continue, I almost wish I had waited to read this until it was closer to release of the follow up.