Rating: sparkly and sharp, like a pile of broken glass
Highlight of note: Chapter Two is one sentence long but broke my heart. It's truly a masterpiece of brevity.
I really enjoyed this book. It was gripping, beautiful, and, yes, cruel. The setting isn't new. Not only is it a somewhat traditional approach to the faerielands, but it's the same world as Black's previous faerie works. It does less for shock value than some of her earlier offerings and doesn't try as hard to be poetic in its descriptions, which means I consider it somewhat more mature than Tithe and its companions. But I loved them, and I loved The Cruel Prince. (And, no, you needn't have read the earlier books to understand this one. Characters from the previous stories wander in, but this volume stands apart from them.)
Perhaps the best compliment I can give this book is acknowledging how often it caught me off guard. The plot is full of heavily foreshadowed events that I somehow managed not to predict. I'm normally pretty good at predicting surprises, so it was nice to feel surprised so often.
The Cruel Prince has some of the cliched elements and flaws as I identified with the last novel I tried to read, Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve. Like that book, this one features a tragically orphaned protagonist who is subjected to bullying and surrounded by teens who don't speak like teens. And yet here it all worked, whereas there it did not.
The dialogue is easily explained by this story taking place in the faerielands, but why was I willing to say people have different habits of speech there when I wasn't willing to say that about the last book's setting? I can't say for certain. I suspect the answer lies in the skill of the narration outside of the dialogue, but can't be more specific.
As to Jude's orphaned status, it simply seemed more relevant. Rather than existing entirely to make her sympathetic, the loss of her parents (who are murdered in the opening pages) and subsequent move to the faerielands are clearly essential to the plot.
And the bullying... Even from the start, it felt more like the bullies may have motives that are, to them at least, understandable. Again, the author's goal with their behavior wasn't making us feel sorry for Jude. They may not have seemed like nice people, but all save one of the bullies did feel like people. Or like faeries, at any rate. (By the end we learn that most of them did have somewhat valid reasons to resent Jude, who wasn't very nice to them either.)
One may also feel that the fact Jude has a twin is a bit overdone as there do seem to be many more twins in fiction than in reality. (I myself am guilty of writing a pair.) The twin in this case is very much there to serve as a counterbalance to Jude. At one point she declares herself Jude's mirror, and the statement seems accurate. She has acclimated to being raised by faeries in a completely different way from Jude, but makes for herself a place in the faerielands that is neither more nor less valid than Jude's. I find her one of the less developed characters, perhaps because her function is so obvious, but can't fault Black for including her.
I also found the cast to be full of interesting people, although other than Jude, I'm not sure if any of them truly develop much. I think what evolves is Jude's understanding of them, but I'm alright with that as Jude herself does undergo considerable change. And is clearly still changing at the end, which leaves me happy there's a second book out.
This is only part of the story. The ending was exciting, but more of a beginning to the second book than a conclusion. That second book is out already, and I'm in the library queue for it. This is a trilogy, though, and I expect I'm going to hate having to wait on book three.
Below you'll find the notes I took as I read. Clearly, they contain major spoilers.
3% Now THIS is how you do tragic backstory. The prologue is great and Chapter 1 is a masterpiece of brevity. It's one sentence long but conveys depths of suffering. So, yes, we have another story about an orphan, but it seems more solid than the last book.
9% And the human girls are subjected to bullies... But it doesn't bother me like the bullying in the last story. Perhaps because there's a decent reason for it? (They're human but being raised as Gentry.) Or maybe it's just that Black is a more engaging writer.
19% Is the bully prince (Cardan) in love with Jude? His friend, Locke, is amused by how she's the only person who can truly annoy him.
24% Jude has now entered the service of Dain, the brother of the guy who's been bullying her. He's placed a geas on her so that other faeries can't control her but he still can. I'm figuring he's the cruel prince the title refers to, not the bullying brother. (He said he wouldn't ever torture Jude for his enjoyment, which implies he'd do it for other reasons.) Also... What is he going to enchant her into doing? Because I'm certain he's going to use that power. My best guess is that she'll be commanded to hurt Cardan after he stops bullying her and becomes a love interest.
27% Jude seems to have completely missed the fact that Cardan just saved her from the effects of faerie fruit. (It's highly intoxicating to humans.) She's crediting Locke for getting her out of the clearing full of faeries she was providing entertainment for, but it was Cardan who gave her the salt to recover. Also... Apparently there's a date with Locke now. I don't trust him one bit.
31% Turns out Cardan is being seriously abused by his eldest brother. It's enough that even Jude is seeing him as more of a person now.
35% Locke, who has been seen talking to Jude's twin on several occasions including just before this scene, nearly kissed her in the stables. I continue to distrust him.
37% So... Jude stole a book belonging to Cardan. There was a piece of paper in it with her name written repeatedly on it. Nothing but her name, over and over. Like he was trying to exorcise her, to remove the influence she has over him. ... Also, the twin is apparently engaged but can't say to whom. That seems ominous.
42% She has gone to Locke's house. Alone. Immediately after one of his best friends tried to murder her. WHY is she trusting this guy? Because she enjoys that he acts like he desires her? She's not even into him! (At least, if she is attracted to him, I've seen no evidence of it.)
48% Apparently at some.ppint Cadan borrowed two human "servants" from his brother and didn't return them. Jude thinks that means he did something awful to them. I'm wondering if he freed them.
51% And her pledged Lord has commanded Jude to stick a knife through her hand as punishment for stabbing the guy who tried to kill her. Like I said before, I think he may be the cruel prince.
62% Well, Jude's sworn Lord is dead. So maybe not the cruel prince after all. Maybe they're all cruel and we're supposed to wonder about it. Anyway, despite all the foreshadowing that the eldest prince was going to try to kill his brother, I was still startled by the actual event.
69% I was right about the twin being engaged to Locke. Of course, I am fairly confident he was planning to break the engagement. He was creating a story to amuse himself. Twin knew what was going on with Locke and Jude though, so now Jude is challenging her to a duel. (Because that's going to make things better? Because that won't just amuse Locke?) Also, we learn in this conversation that Cardan knew what was going on and made Twin cry when he insisted she come clean with Jude.
74% OMG. Jude's kid brother Oak is Dain's son??? And Cardan's nephew? And Locke's brother? I totally didn't see that coming. It totally explains why Madoc's recent motives though. ... And makes me wonder... Jude doesn't want Oak to be king because she knows how cruel he can be unchecked. Will she use him to crown Cardan?
78% And we have confirmation that Cardan has a serious thing for Jude! And they have kisses. And Jude likes it much more than she liked kissing Locke.
80% Ah, I see what Jude plans for Oak. She's going to crown him, then kidnap him and raise him human. I'm curious why she thinks Madoc won't find him. Is she banking that Madoc won't want to find him, perhaps?
91% Another twist that was so foreshadowed I should have expected it yet didn't. (I was curious why she said she was going to deny Madoc his regency, but figured maybe she was going to be regent instead.) Oak is going to to human world to learn not to be cruel, but not after being crowned. Jude forced that onto Cardan. Payback for that's going to be an absolute bitch, ain't it?
THE END Yeah, so, Cardan is not happy. His attraction fueled hate is stronger than ever, and yet I feel part of it's just anger at being used. He wants to matter to Jude and her actions have shown pretty well that he doesn't. The title of this book may be The Cruel Prince, but I think Jude may be the crueler of the two.