Why have I only just found Holly Black? I know she’s been around for a long time, I’ve seen the reviews go by on CBR, but somehow I never got around to reading any of her work. This is like my Rainbow Rowell experience all over again. I’m blown away. This book was perfect; an absolute dark delight.
Jude Duarte is a human stolen away to the land of Faerie with her sisters. While Jude’s sisters find their own quiet ways to either assimilate or disengage, Jude can’t help but get more and more entrenched in a world of creatures that at best ignore her, and at worst want her dead. But Jude doesn’t fit in the mortal world anymore either, and she’s stuck in an amorphous in-between in which she has no place. Her displacement breeds a longing for power and her once childish ambitions morph into a dangerous political game that put her at the heart of the murderous Faerie court.
Black does many fantastic things through this book, the most intriguing being her encapsulation of just how terrifying and brutal the land of Faerie can be. I’ve read many books about Faerie, countless fictions that tackle the mystical and strange legends surrounding the Fair Folk, but none quite capture the raw and honest brutality that Black features through Jude’s eyes. It is an awesome place, as in awe that inspires fear and terror. It is a dangerous place where beauty and evil sit together; where love and hate live in the same soul. Black asks the hard questions in this story, with a cast of characters who aren’t heroes and villains, but the sum of their natures and their own will. Those who appear good are terrible. Those who appear terrible are even more evil than one can imagine. And yet there are moments of pure sacrifice. Of deep love and loyalty. And spinning through all of this is Jude’s quest to be accepted as herself, whatever the cost.
At its core, I read this story as a metaphor for discrimination and what it does to the soul. This may seem a little heady, and maybe a stretch for a YA fantasy, but all good fantasy points the mirror back onto the real world and it’s deepest issues. Black’s descriptions of Jude and her sister, Taryn’s, continued abuse at the hands of her Faerie neighbors and the varying micro-aggressions (and just aggression) they meet every day forces both characters into their futures. Taryn digs in, trying to assimilate to the Fae norms as best she can while always accepting that she will be powerless and in need of protection. Jude takes a stand, for herself, for mortals, and in the end, for Faerie itself, and like any situation where the oppressed rises against the oppressor, Faerie at once acknowledges Jude’s success and power while simultaneously wrenching it away again.
I will definitely be reading the rest of this series.