‘The Cruel Prince’ is found to be cruelly lacking


Ioana Ciuperca

‘The Cruel Prince’ was published on January 2, 2018 and has an average rating of 4.35 out of 5 stars on Goodreads.

The Cruel Prince is a dark, twisting fantasy in which human Jude Duarte has to navigate the bloodthirsty land of the Fae, after her parents were brutally executed and she is taken to live with their Fae murderer. There, she is mistreated by the Fea who think her lesser, weak and unworthy. Despite this, she trains to rise in rank and become a highly-valued knight of the court, hoping to integrate herself into her Fae surroundings.

Written by The Spiderwick Chronicles co-creator Holly Black, The Cruel Prince incorporates elements from those bestselling novels, the most prominent being the familiar Fae setting. Black masterfully details the vivid and treacherous surroundings from court politics to enchanted dancing and drug-infused apples. She brilliantly juxtaposes the beautiful facade of the land and the creatures who inhabit it with the cruel and feral actions that take place. More than this, Black masterfully plays with the fact that the Fae cannot lie, yet makes deceit their primary language by intricately twisting their words and composing cunning riddles.

On the other hand, what is painfully lacking in this story is any character development or real focus on the characters. Black has created a stunning world yet has placed bland, unremarkable characters into it. They pale in comparison to their surroundings, which results in a desaturation of much of the splendor of the setting.

More specifically, Jude’s personality is never fully described, making her struggles feel unimportant and uninteresting. Not just that, but the lack of description makes her unrelatable to the reader, who is unable to form any emotional ties to her or the situation she is in. Her hopes, thoughts and feelings are hidden by Black’s skimming over certain key scenes that would develop her as a character, and instead Black chooses to excruciatingly detail every word of Jude’s petty verbal squabbles with the titular antagonist Prince Cardan.

These immature tête-à-têtes make not only the characters but the novel as a whole feel childish. This coupled with the fact that the first three fourths of the book have no discernable plot or direction made me struggle through it.  

However, near the closing pages, the novel slowly morphs from a tale of one girl’s cringy disputes with her classmate into a high-stakes story of political maneuverings and thrilling action. The characters don’t necessarily lose their exasperating qualities, but they are given a respite by a plot that would be able to save the story were it not crammed into the final 100 pages of the novel.

The Cruel Prince is an underdeveloped novel with a focus on aspects that do not capture the reader’s attention. But, this slow build into the action does set the stage for the continuation of what is expected to be a trilogy. Although it took a long while to get into the thick of things, I can’t deny that I am intrigued by what is to come.