Book Review: The Queen of Nothing by Holly Black

Three weeks, three books in a trilogy. Mark this moment because it will probably not happen again anytime soon. That said, reading and reviewing a series from the beginning to the end is really satisfying, so I might have to try this again. We’ll see.

The Story

The Queen of Nothing brings the story of Jude Duarte to a close and thankfully its a satisfying one. We begin with Jude exiled to the mortal world where she is finding a way to support herself and her family without relying on faerie tricks, such as turning leaves into money. She would have stayed there as well, having found at least some sense of normalcy in what can only be described as a bizarre life.

But, we all know that can’t last. Intrigues at the court of Elfhame and all the layers of political scheming are still an ever present threat to her and young Oak, the heir to the throne. When Jude’s twin sister, Taryn shows up asking for a favor back in Elfhame, Jude carefully weighs her options. If she’s caught breaking her exile, it’s an offense punishable by death. On the other hand, if her sister is found guilty of the crime which she is accused, it would mean death for her.

Jude goes, not only to protect her family, but because she also craves to be back in the faerie world and learn who is pulling which strings in the court. She also is secretly thrilled to see Cardan again, although those feelings are mixed and turbulent. She can’t decide if she’s supposed to love him, or hate him. Typical YA romantic angst there.

She attends her sister’s trial, pretending to be Taryn and hoping her true identity isn’t discovered only to be rescued by her foster father, Maddox and taken deep into his camp preparing for war.

In her attempt to escape, she finds herself back with Cardan again as he shows hints of actually caring for her. This also can’t last. A dark curse is unleashed which Jude, as rightful queen, must find a way to end.

My Review

Of the three books, I think I liked this one the best. While there is still plenty of political scheming, it takes a secondary role to Jude’s story. Plus, we finally find a balance where it seems like she’s winning as much as she’s losing, which is nice. In the first two books, she went through an awful lot of punishment and loss and by the end it didn’t feel as if what she gained was big enough to justify the struggle. Here, there is a nice fat payout that makes all her pain and suffering pay off.

The writing itself is lovely and descriptive, the characters compelling and full of realistic foibles, and the conflict full of carefully orchestrated tension. There’s a reason these books are best sellers. So much good stuff inside.

Recommendations

Again, and I can’t stress this enough, this series is meant for older teens and the adults they let play. There is violence and blood shed and gore beyond what you’d typically find in a dark fantasy. Beyond that, there is also strong romantic elements, including an instance of tasteful on-page intimacy. The violence and the romance fit in with the story and don’t feel gratuitous.

I give The Queen of Nothing a rare 5/5 stars, an exciting tale and a wonderful ending to the series.


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Book Review: The Wicked King by Holly Black

It’s a perfect week to dive straight into the review of The Wicked King, the sequel of The Cruel Prince. Yay, continuity! I’ve mentioned my worry with sequels before—often they feel like an afterthought and lose some of their magical luster because the world isn’t new. Luckily, The Wicked King isn’t one of those. If anything, this feels as if the three book series was written as a single story and broken into three pieces. (For the review of The Cruel Prince, go here.)

Which is honestly how a good trilogy (or series, or what not) should feel.

The Story

Oh, all the machinations. I didn’t think things could grow more complicated than when we left them in Cruel Prince, but here we are. There are a number of major players vying for the throne King Cardan currently occupies, mainly because power is addictive and everyone wants some. And, also because Cardan is a unusually bad king. He rules like he lives, carefree and blind to any consequences.

Jude isn’t one of these people trying to get the throne, mainly because she secretly holds power through a oath struck with Cardan where he must obey her for a year and a day. Not that that keeps him from pushing her buttons and boundaries at every turn. All of what Jude’s done is to ensure that when her little brother Oak, the rightful heir, is old enough to survive being king, there will be a throne to sit on.

This would be so much easier if the Undersea wasn’t brewing up a war in the most conniving way possible. Or if Jude’s faerie father Madoc wasn’t also manipulating things to put himself on the throne.

True to a good YA romantic dark fantasy, there had to be a steady dose of angst and emotional twisting at every turn. Will Cardan’s mother, who has been locked into the tower of forgetting, have information that will change everything? Will the death of people Jude feels compelled to murder solve the multitude of problems brewing just beneath the surface? Will the love/hate relationship between Cardan and Jude turn into something more?

The story seeds planted in the Cruel Prince grow to maturity in the most twisty and unexpected ways possible in Wicked King. Will the fruit be worth it in the Queen of Nothing? We’ll see.

My Review

There are an amazing number of great lines in this book as Jude sorts out her feelings for Cardan.

I’ve wanted this and feared it, and now that it’s happening, I don’t know how I will ever want anything else.

My body has acclimated, and now it craves what it should revile.

“I hate you,” I say, the words coming out like a caress. I say it again, over and over. A litany. An enchantment. A ward against what I really feel.

The Wicked King is a marvelously twisty and excellently crafted story that exceeds expectations. I liked how skillfully all the different factions played off each other and how each deception and intrigue heightened the emotional tension and the stakes.

Recommendations

The same as with The Cruel Prince, this is definitely a book for high school aged readers and up. there’s lots of violence, some language, and plenty of intensity that’s it’s solidly PG-13. More than that, it’s simply too complicated for a younger reader to really enjoy. Most of the interesting bits revolve around political manuvering, secrets, and murder.

That said, it’s well conceived, has plenty of lovely writey bits, and lives up to it’s promise.

I give The Wicked King 4/5 for being awesome but possibly too twisty to fully enjoy.


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Book Review: The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

It’s always a gamble to dive into a new series, usually the first book is wonderful but there’s no guarantee that the rest of the series will live up to it. The Cruel Prince is a great start to a series, but is also complicated due to the many new concepts that must be introduced to the reader.

The Story

Jude Duarte is a human girl living among the faeries in the magical world of Elfhame. Her past is dripping with tragedy and her future is uncertain. As a human, she will never fit in among the folk of Elfhame, but due to the positions of power her father holds, she has to live up to expectations.

And then there’s swoony Prince Cardan, the angst torn love interest who’s an absolute jerk even though he’s gorgeous. As one of the faerie folk, he’s got magic and mystery woven into everything he does. But, he also has a uniquely tragic backstory.

The story itself switches at break neck speed as Jude knows what she wants, only for it to be destroyed over and over again. There is a lot of drama and surprising violence wrapped up in each choice she makes. When she joins the secretive Court of Teeth and learns to be a spy and an assassin, it feels right for her, but wrong for everyone else.

While in the end Jude does have a few wins, most of the book is her losing and regrouping.

My Review

There is a lot to like in this book. The Faerie World is unique and beautifully created, the attention to costume and dresses, sparkly and magical. Lots of eye candy everywhere. This focus on beauty makes the violence that much worse. The tension among each of the characters is stretched so tight that often the reader doesn’t know who is allied to who.

But, the story is really complicated. There are what feels like dozens of factions fighting for control over the faerie world. Jude is caught up in the middle with no real claim to anything, but because her brother is heir to the throne, she can’t help but insert herself where she doesn’t belong out of concern for him.

Recommendations

The Folk of the Air series is definitly intended for readers highschool age and up. Like I said before, there is quite a bit of violence. There are also a fair amount of romantic situations that push further than I expected. There’s some language and plenty of magical drug use.

That said, there are also strong characters willing to do what’s right and sacrifice for the greater good, which is a win for me.

I give The Cruel Prince 4/5 amazing world building, great characters, but the story is often hard to follow.


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