The world of Faerie is wonderfully portrayed as a deliciously dark and wickedly complex place of magic, love and betrayal.
The Cruel Prince has become The Wicked King in the second novel of Holly Black’s spirited trilogy, The Folk of the Air, fantasy novels for young adults. The mortal girl, Jude, has gone far beyond her ambition to be a knight in the land of Faerie. She is now seneschal to the young king Cardan.
For a year and a day she has secret control over Cardan as she works to keep her young brother Oak, the true heir, away from the throne until he is older. For all that she seems powerful, in reality she is beset by adversity from all sides – and not least by her own feelings for the young king.
The world of Faerie created by Black is fully actualised and although its denizens may look very different to mortals such as Jude and her sister Taryn, they are motivated by the same desires and are even more treacherous than we humans. Lacking the capacity to lie, the Faerie folk nonetheless are able to mislead and Jude finds it hard to know who she can trust.
Jude’s relationship with her Faerie father, Madoc, could stand as a metaphor for the lack of confidence and confusion Jude experiences when, in spite of her intelligence and ruthlessness, her inexperience is contrasted to the older and wiser heads. While we see some development in Jude’s character from the first book, she is still portrayed as impulsive and lacking insight.
The constant series of crises in the story leave little space for development of the other characters, particularly Cardan. While he too, still has ambiguous feelings toward Jude, his cruelty in denigrating and humiliating her is undiminished and he seems to me to still be the cruel prince rather than the wicked king. The narrative races along from one dilemma to another and also leaves no opportunity for Jude to reflect on them and thus she doesn’t share what she knows, or at least suspects, and ignores clear signs of danger.
Perhaps all these qualities, or the lack of them, are typical of a teenager – especially one pitched into a world she doesn’t fully understand. As the main character in the novel however, I wanted to see the author allow Jude to learn and grow. I was especially disappointed by the ending but perhaps I am being too harsh and the ending is the way it is in order to set up Jude’s triumphant return in the final book of the trilogy. I hope so.
Reviewed by Jan Kershaw
Distributed by: Allen & Unwin
Released: January 2019