I was in the mood for escape and The Folk of the Air series really delivered for me. It is a flawed series, and I’ll mention a bit of that as I look at the individual books, but I found it a delicious treat at the end of some pretty long days.
The Cruel Prince, the first book in the series, introduces us to Jude, Taryn, Vivienne, Cardan, and other key players who feature throughout the trilogy. Jude, Taryn, and Vivi are children when we meet them, and they are almost immediately removed from the mortal realm and taken to Faerie. Fast forward ten years and Jude, the main protagonist, lives day to day in fear of the whimsy of the fey, which she hides by fighting back harder. This is a risky strategy, as the fey are, more-or-less, immortal and Jude certainly is not. Her goal is to prove herself in order to gain a position in the Court, which she believes will give her power and make her safe. Her twin, Taryn, takes another tack and tries to be invisible. There are many depictions of the casual (and not so casual) bullying and violence that the fey perpetrate against Jude and Taryn, and, frankly, while it helps me understand Jude’s and Taryn’s orientation toward Faerie, it becomes pretty numbing and such volume didn’t particularly advance the plot for me. A key tool that fey use to torture or humiliate mortals is enchantment, and this is what Jude fears the most. During this time we also meet Cardan, the cruel prince of the title. He is a classic tsundere trope – alternating between harsh and cold to cover for the depths of his feelings for Jude. He is, by all accounts, beautiful – according to Jude, the most beautiful of the fey, which is saying a lot, as they are generally described as lovely, though often also as terrifyingly lovely.
Things pick up a bit when Jude becomes a spy for Cardan’s older brother who is the heir apparent. He makes her immune to any enchantment or glamour but his. She meets his other spies, the Bomb, the Roach, and the Ghost, and learns spycraft, which was pretty fun. It helped that the supporting characters were well developed, relative to some other characters, and Jude made friends with them; I always prefer protagonists who seem to have the ability to make and retain friends. The story starts running pell mell after this, and, though this is an older book, I hate to spoil it! Suffice it to say, Jude is embroiled in statecraft, starting behind the scenes, but quickly move to the front of the house, setting the stage for the next installment. Overall, the statecraft and intrigue was fun, although the coincidences strained belief (for example, she is given a dress that happens to have an acorn in the pocket – an acorn with a message). However, given the current state of things, I didn’t mind ‘easy’ answers to seemingly intractable problems!
I think I enjoyed the descriptions of the fairies and of Faerie the most, relative to the plot and characters. Fairies had ears that come to blue webbed points or thorn-like spikes running along hands or blue-gray butterfly wings. They ride toads or steeds magicked from ragwort. Some dip their hats in the blood of their enemies while others eat their flesh. These types of details were delightful to me, and I think I could have used more of the world building and a little less of the abuse. In any case, this was an enjoyable, quick read and I certainly will look for other books in the trilogy.