Spends a year waiting for it, finishes it in less than 24 hours. I only have myself to blame here. Well, myself and Holly Black. Basically, if the book hangover from this one doesn’t kill me, it’ll be the wait for The Queen of Nothing cause, good lord. How do I even review this book? My brain is mush. MUSH I TELL YOU.
Who, What, Where?
The Wicked King takes up five months after the end of The Cruel Prince. Cardan is High King and Jude is running things behind the scenes as his second in command with the help of the rest of the Court of Shadows. However, just as before, everyone in faerie is playing their own game in their quest for power. Jude’s just got to worry about keeping it. But with the sea queen plotting against them, a vengeful prince keen on finding his way out of prison, a dangerous high general to watch, and Cardan himself to manage, it’s easier said than done.
More Momentum & Just as Many Twists
“Power is much easier to acquire than it is to hold on to.”
When I first read The Cruel Prince, I found it took a little while for it to reach the main gist of the story (and hit peak political warfare and stabby-ness). TWK is a little similar in the fact that not a lot happens for the first part of the book but at the same time, because the base tension level is so much higher than in book one it never gets boring. Now that Jude holds so much power, and is desperate to keep it until she can safely pass it on to Oak, she has to be on her game constantly or risk losing everything. For this reason, she’s got a lot on her plate – controlling Cardan, Madoc’s future plans, the council, Balekin, the Sea Queen, handling Locke… Even though there isn’t major progress on a lot of these things for a while, because there’s so many of them it always feels like the story is chugging along and it’s entertaining enough to keep you engaged. You’re just waiting for the other shoe to drop. And, of course, in spectacularly, twisty, Holly Black fashion, drop it does.
I don’t want to spoil any of the big moments, of which there are several (gotta love a good betrayal, or two, or three), but I will say, that ending. My god. You’d think that after the climax of The Cruel Prince anything else would fall short but noooooppe. This stands right up there with it. I did not see it coming and I have no idea where things are headed going into book three, but it’s NOT GOOD.
However, if there were two things that bugged me about TWK’s plot they would be: first, Locke’s role feels unnecessarily distracting and pointless (hopefully there’s a reason in book 3), and second, the drama queen within wishes there had been a more dramatic pay off to a misapprehension Balekin & the Sea Queen have about Jude late in the book.
A Better, Bigger Picture
Something I felt was lacking and difficult to visualise in book one was the world building. TWK improves on this a fair amount and having read it, I feel I have a much better idea of how many of the pieces of Faerieland fit together. I’m still lost on some of the geography and court hierarchies/relationships but as they aren’t necessary for the story, it’s not a big deal. The minor courts play a greater role this time around and we learn about how the world is generally governed. We’re also given more info about the King’s role and powers. What’s also very interesting is the addition of immensely powerful magical objects, aside from the crown, which will surely play a big role in The Queen of Nothing.
Jude x Cardan
“I hate you,” I breathed into his mouth. “I hate you so much that sometimes I can’t think of anything else.”
Why, hello there, enemies-to-lovers trope, and in the best possible way. I love and am crazy addicted to this twisted, tension-filled relationship. Cardan and Jude go through a lot in this book and do make some great progress, even though where they stand with each other is always a confusing mess. Still, whether they’re sniping at each other, working in sync, or being surprisingly tender, I enjoy every minute that they’re together because they’re honestly just so equally matched. I love that over the course of the novel both Cardan and Jude begin to understand and appreciate each other in a way that no one else does, to the point that they’re willing to give up tactical advantages to save the other. It’s not easy or linear, but it’s worth it. If these two were ever able to fully trust one another, and perhaps sort through their complicated romantic feelings, Faerie would tremble at their feet. It’s just going to take a while to get there.
The Shadow Queen
“His mouth curls into a smile. His eyes shine with wicked intent. “Look at them all, your subjects. A shame not a one knows who their true ruler is.”
On my first read of The Cruel Prince, I wasn’t a fan of Jude but on my recent re-read, I gained a new appreciation for her. Stick a sword in her hand and she kicks serious ass despite being physically inferior to her opponents. She’s smart, cunning, able to redirect her fear into productivity, and goes after what she wants. Sure, Jude isn’t a purely, good-hearted character – she’s power hungry and has no qualms about murdering or screwing people over if she has to, but I can’t help but appreciate just how well she’s able to play the game as someone with built-in disadvantages.
In TWK Jude doesn’t undergo much development. She shows her inexperience and has a habit of making silly decisions as well as letting her power go to her head in a way that produces a great deal of arrogance, particularly where it comes to Cardan (so stupid). She also spends a lot of the book scrambling around, trying to do things on her own when she shouldn’t, and this bites her in the ass multiple times. While her lack of foresight disappointed (and frustrated) me in this book, I’m expecting an epic comeback in book 3.
The Not So Wicked King
“Why was I cruel to Folk? Why was I awful to you? Because I could be. Because I liked it. Because, for a moment, when I was at my worst, I felt powerful, and most of the time, I felt powerless, despite being a prince and the son of the High King of Faerie.”
Comparatively, Cardan goes through a great deal more change than Jude. While he’s a cocky party-boy that does little more than lounge around during the first half, as the book goes on he displays some surprising moments of maturity, fairness, affection, and strategic thinking (what are you talking about Cardan, don’t you know that murder is always the answer?). TWK continues to build on the backstory to Cardan’s characterisation begun in TCP and it does make him a more sympathetic character. What also helps is the fact that no longer bound by the need to impress, disappoint, or shame his disdaining family members, he starts to shed the frivolous and “cruel” protective mask he’s crafted, and do some self-reflection. As a result, by the end, he becomes more of an actual player in the game as opposed to the pawn he’s been previously. This does lead him to some shattering actions but somehow I’m still all for it because PLOT DRAMA.
Taryn, Locke, and Nicasia can all just piss right off. That is all.
In summary, this series is addictive and I love it. Bring me more twists, drama and backstabbing. Now to start the countdown to The Queen of Nothing *cries*.