Loose Ends, Faerie Cannibalism & a Giant Freakin’ Snake: The Queen of Nothing by Holly Black

I don’t know how it’s possible to be disappointed and happy at the same time, but that’s how I feel about The Queen of Nothing. Perhaps it’s because even a not so great The Folk of the Air book is still a The Folk of the Air book. As I’m going to spend a lot of time ranting and whinging, I better outline some positives first. Let’s get cracking and BEWARE, SPOILERS FOLLOW.

Things I Liked

Time Flies

One of the things I worried about going into QoN was pacing. I was especially concerned it would spend ages stuffing around at the beginning before reaching any action. As it turned out, because the novel was so short, there wasn’t time for that. The book has a reasonable introductory section in the mortal world before quickly throwing Jude back into Faerie and lots of drama. After this the plot moves very quickly (perhaps a little too quickly in the second half), easily transitioning from each stage or ‘act’ with little downtime for the characters. Without even intending to speed through the book, by the time I checked my place I was shocked to find I was already two-thirds of the way in! In other words, it’s extremely readable and you definitely won’t be bored.

Queen Jude

On my first read of TCP, Jude was a character I wasn’t sure I liked much but after the second read, the love affair set sail. Unlike the previous books, QoN was more of an emotional journey for Jude. She was heavily pressed to weigh her feelings and personal connections with others against the practical concerns of the kingdom and her own ambitions. Her experiences in this book also allow her to realise that even though she may have been taught to avoid weakness, it’s okay to be vulnerable sometimes. While I do miss a little bit of the bloodthirsty, plotting Jude from the other books, I appreciate the character development in comparing her decisions at the end of TCP to the climax of QoN.  

Grima Mog

A badass general who eats other faeries. Need I say more? Where have you been all my life?

Things I Didn’t Like

Where’s the Death & Stabbing?

After two books of scheming, backstabbing, alliances and political machinations, I think it’s fair to assume we were expecting this series to end with a battle. High stakes, death, and a final conflict between Jude & Madoc. It just made narrative sense. But did we get that? Not really. Madoc has consistently been built up to be a mentally and physically challenging adversary for Jude and Cardan, one who would eventually need to be permanently defeated. As it turned out, he was as much of a threat as a fluffy kitten. All we’re given is a teensy bit of background fighting and before you can blink, it’s over. No real stabby-stabby, no dramatic death scenes, nothing. Hello, disappointment.

Covering Conflicts with Band-Aids

Heading into QoN there were a lot of plot threads still in need of development and resolution. When I saw the size of this book, I wondered how Holly would be able to deal with them all, and satisfyingly at that. In the end, she didn’t. So many of the plot points from previous books were either left hanging entirely (e.g. Lady Asha, Jude’s mortality, secrets about Jude’s mother) or resolved in a quick fix, brush it off sort of way, lacking the weight and complexity they deserved. For example:

  • Taryn’s betrayals – Taryn has repeatedly screwed Jude over for selfish reasons. By the end of TWK she’d basically aligned herself with Madoc and even impersonated Jude to further his ends. In QoN she turns up pregnant, apologises, asks for help, decorates a couple of rooms and suddenly all is well. I’m sorry but, what? Where’s the ambition, the intent? What a waste of a character’s potential.
  • Locke – For the last two books Locke has been a low key, in the shadows sort of villain. After his attempt on Jude’s life in TWK, there was always a sense of to-be-continued with their conflict. So, the fact that he dies before this book even begins is, again, a bit of a ‘what?’ moment. Considering the additional malice added to his character in QoN, colour me very unimpressed.
  • Cardan’s banishment of Jude – For me, the explanation for this was underwhelming & illogical. At the end of TWK Jude’s been through a hard period of captivity and Cardan has not only just averted a war but found out she murdered his brother. And yet, we’re supposed to believe that his first thought was, let’s play a game with Jude. Cardan can be a little immature but no. Just no.

Reported Missing: Plot Twists

There are a lot of reasons why I love this series but one of the biggest is the plot twists. In the past, Holly has not only been able to pull one over on me once, but MULTIPLE TIMES. As a reader, I live for those dramatic, ‘oh my god, what the hell just happened’ moments. Unfortunately, I didn’t really get much of that at all in QoN. Worse, the one major twist-ish moment of the book, Cardan’s transformation into a giant snake, ended up feeling not only silly but distracting from the direction of the main narrative.

Endgame Jurdan

I am unashamedly a Cardan & Jude shipper. Despite its toxicity, I adore their hate-love relationship with all its conflict and sexual tension, and I’ve loved seeing it slowly evolve over the series. In QoN, however, they weirdly transitioned into this overly lovey-dovey, can’t live without you couple which I find odd when I think about their interactions up to this point. I knew that they loved each other but somehow I never expected it to look like this. It’s almost like we missed a stage somewhere (including Cardan’s missing letters to Jude would have helped). Still, part of me is like *throws hands up* because I love Jurdan so damn much and get excited any time their names even show up on the same page as one another. I got a love scene, confessions of love, and endgame. What else could I ask for? Okay, maybe a little more page time for Cardan – the boy got shafted here.


Despite having a lot of problems with this book and it being my least favourite of the series, The Queen of Nothing is far from a bad novel and I can still say I enjoyed myself. I’ll continue to love this series and the characters, and I’m sure I’ll return to them at some point in the future.

3.5 Stars

Let the Backstabbing Recommence: The Wicked King by Holly Black

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.

Other Characters

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*.

4.5 Stars

The Descent to Hell is Easy: The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

4 stars

cruelprince

A large chunk of you have probably already read this particular release by now but as I’ve just read it and it’s still fresh in my memory, I’m going to review it anyway. These days I don’t often sit around excitedly waiting for books to come out, I’m too busy trying to conquer my existing mound. Still, I was actually really looking forward to reading this one and because I refrained from reading anything other than the blurb beforehand, I avoided a first class ticket all aboard the hype train. Woot, woot!

The gist: TCP centres around seventeen-year-old, Jude, who after the murder of her parents is forced to grow up in Faerie along with her two sisters under the guardianship of her parents’ murderer. Not as prisoners, we’re talking confusing pseudo-parent relationship here.

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To make matters worse, the fey are kind of well…awful. If they’re not trying to eat or control Jude, they’re most certainly trying to frighten and torment her, especially the punk ass faeries she’s stuck going to school with. So fair warning, you will spend the first part of the book basically just thinking:

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Until BAM. In comes…

faerie politics,

espionage,

ALLIANCES,

MURDER,

PLOTTING!

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Okay, getting a teensy bit carried away, but you get the point – lies, twists and stabby-stabby. I don’t want to dwell too much here because spoilers, but a lot of the drama revolves around the faerie royal family and the throne. It sends everything into chaos and drives our protagonist to become increasingly more morally questionable in her search for power after too long being one of the powerless.

Why you Should Read this Book:

It Starts and Ends with a Bang

We begin with several murders and end with political machinations and a side of murder.

Characters in Shades of Grey

There are pretty much no characters in this book that can be considered straight forward good or bad, which is great because character complexity is what we all want. The fey that populate Faerie each have their own self-centred drives, mean streaks and chequered  pasts, including those characters that we’re supposed to root for and those who seem a-okay for chunks of the time.

Even our main character, Jude, isn’t immune from this, possessing a underlying bloodthirstiness and craving for power as great as any faerie’s – one that becomes increasingly apparent as the story goes on and is likely to bite her in the ass later. While she may not always be a likeable character, she’s definitely an engaging one.

Then, of course, there’s Prince Cardan. Ah, Cardan.

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…And apparently so does Cardan. Damn it, you just had to go and develop (a) depth and (b) an amusing, sarcastic sense of humour. *sigh* I guess sometimes you just can’t help but root for the asshole. I’m not saying I’m swooning but by the end of the book I definitely enjoyed every time he turned up on the page. But hopefully it’s okay because I consciously recognise the fact that he’s scum.

Politics, Secrets and Lies, Oh My!

A lot of people have said this is faerie Game of Thrones and I guess the analogy works to a degree, just don’t expect as much complexity. Still, the enjoyment factor was definitely there for me. I really loved reading as the power plays, plotting, and twists unfolded during the fey and Jude’s struggles for power. A lot of people were quite shocked by the sudden turns in the book, me not so much, but they’ve provided a great foundation to get excited about going into book two.

Writing

This has been a bit of a divisive one. World building aside, I quite like Black’s style and voice. It’s a little bit dark, a touch twisted, doesn’t dwell too much on imagery, and manages to come up with some great lines, particularly where they relate to Jude’s assessments of herself. A few examples:

“I have lied and I have betrayed and I have triumphed. If only there was someone to congratulate me.”

 “Desire is an odd thing. As soon as it’s sated, it transmutes. If we receive golden thread, we desire the golden needle.”

“That’s what comes of hungering for something: You forget to check if it’s rotten before you gobble it down.”

Reasons you May Not Enjoy this One:

Pacing & Direction

This is a book that takes a while to really get going. The first half revolves around Jude’s interactions with her family and the fey in her class, and her desire to try and prove herself at a tournament. For some people this’ll be too slow pace wise and worse, for a long time these events are going to seem unconnected and without any real purpose. By the end you’ll understand their importance in getting Jude and events to where they needed to be but until then it might put people slightly in struggle town.

Unlikeable or Just Plain ‘Eh’ Characters

TCP contains a lot of unlikeable characters without a balanced amount of loveable ones. While my perceptions of people improved over the course of the novel, I can safely say that while there were several characters I liked, there were none I loved and if they’d been killed off I probably would have just gone:

However, I can see why it might be the case in this kind of story where basically everyone’s motives are suspect.

Jude herself is also slightly difficult to relate to or like at times. While her strength and smarts are great, her arrogance, whining, and keenness to out awful the faeries, not so much.

“If I cannot be better than them, I will be so much worse.”

Additionally, a lot of her traits and skills are kind of just thrown at the reader without much development or explanation which makes bonding with her as a MC a bit difficult.

World Building

After reading the entire novel I still know very little about the world it’s set in – the inhabitants, the social hierarchy, usage of magic, interactions with the human world, war, the broader politics of Faerie, etc. It’s a bit like a puzzle where you can make out small details in the tiny sections you’ve completed but on the whole, you have no idea what the damn thing’s supposed to be yet. Is it a bird, is it a plane, no it’s….lack of proper world building. I get it, we all hate info dumping but a little more than general vagueness is always much appreciated.

Despite it’s flaws, I really enjoyed The Cruel Prince and raced through it in the space of about two days. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but if you go into it, ignore the hype, try to appreciate the book for what it is, and hopefully you’ll enjoy yourself. As for me, I’ll be over here, eagerly awaiting The Wicked King. *whistles*

4 stars

Read this one too? What were your thoughts?