In this review, I’m going to look at a book that gets a lot of hype and evaluate whether or not its deserved. (PSA: this is, obviously, my personal opinion.)
Series: Folk of the Air by Holly Black
1. The Cruel Prince
2. The Wicked King
3. The Queen of Nothing
Synopsis (book #1): One terrible morning, Jude and her sisters see their parents murdered in front of them. The terrifying assassin abducts all three girls to the world of Faerie, where Jude is installed in the royal court but mocked and tormented by the Faerie royalty for being mortal. As Jude grows older, she realises that she will need to take part in the dangerous deceptions of the fey to ever truly belong.
Publisher: Hot Key Books
This series, particularly The Cruel Prince, is very well-loved. It’s one of those that always crops up on essential reading lists, faves, has fanart blogs specifically dedicated to it. IMO, this is because of a few things. Firstly, its a YA fantasy, and that’s almost a sure point in becoming a fan-fave (as it means it won’t be too grimdark, which fantasy fiction for adult audiences can because), and will often have the central plot be a romance. It also contains some very beloved tropes, namely enemies-to-lovers and a badass female protagonist. ALSO, the setting for this story is a parallel world of fairies, sorry, faeries, who are kind of evil, so it’s a mix of fairytale and fantasy, which is again a setting that people enjoy (me included)!
But is it worth your time?
(Reading time: 5 mins)
This series follows the character of Jude. She is a mortal girl who, along with her two sisters, is being raised in the faerie world, after her adoptive father basically… killed her parents and abducted them… Yeah, the yikes of all of that pretty much sets up how family dynamics work in the book, and what I like most is that it isn’t strictly good or evil. That, the grey-morality question, is the main philosophical struggle of the book. That’s not a criticism, as I wasn’t expecting anything other than this, but admittedly, it would have been nice to have a few more dilemmas along the way for our heroes.
Before I get into the problems I had with this series, I have to say: I enjoyed it a lot! The romantic relationship it follows is between Jude and Cardan. He is first introduced as a dickhead, tbh — the youngest prince of the High King, he’s seemingly needlessly cruel and has a vendetta against Jude. Obviously, as the books progress, you learn more of his character, and he becomes more likeable. I think the two balance each other out well and make for a relationship that is enjoyable to read, even with its constant back and forths.
My main gripe with this series is this: there is very little in the way of world building. It doesn’t seem so at first, but as I continued to read the books I learned that the world Jude lives in is described in very surface detail. There are lots of names for everything: Seelie Court, Undersea Court, Court of Thorns etc, but from all these places we usually only meet two power-hungry rulers apiece. This shallow description also has an effect on the characters. For example, Jude’s main motivation in the series is accruing power. She’s been powerless all her life and now she wants to change that, which, fair tbh. But it becomes a bit thin on the ground when the book has to then argue against the villains. Everyone there wants power — how is Jude any different?
On the one hand, this is part of Jude’s character. She is never made out to be someone who strives to make a better world, but someone who wants control of the one she has. That’s a very interesting character to see! I really loved her narration throughout the book, and also that she wasn’t battling guilt and self-recrimination the whole time. On the other hand, giving her no more motivation than being power-hungry also means there’s fewer reasons for the reader to root for her. The surface-detail of the worldbuilding therefore means character sometimes falls short, which can be a bit disappointing, as I think character is absolutely the star of this book.
I’m not just talking about everyone’s fave enemies to lovers either but all the supporting cast (we don’t get as much from Cardan as it’s Jude’s POV. There is an additional book all about him and his childhood but I’m fine with just this). No one is entirely good, which makes for a good story that I think hits the perfect balance of dark fantasy and fairytale fantasy that makes it suitable for its YA audience. The characters’ continuous moral quandaries are what keep the plot going. However, the plot itself is also actually enjoyable. I do find the ending of each book is always stronger than the rest of it, perhaps because the slow build-up wraps up quickly, with a few plot twists thrown in that I always enjoyed, but none of it is too slow as to make you lose interest. Jude’s unpredictability makes her a very compelling character to follow. I particularly enjoyed her interactions with her twin sister Taryn, and in fact the rest of her family. The author writes the duality of duty and love that exists there very well.
So… is it worth the hype?
Yes – it’s a fun read, and also very quick. I think if this series were longer (well, perhaps there would be more complex worldbuilding), I don’t think it would be as enjoyable a read. But each book follows on very swiftly from the previous, like a single long novel, and the story is well-contained within this trilogy. Due to this, I think it is a simple enough read that it’s something that any reader of this genre would find enjoyable, and so definitely worth giving a chance.
I do think it is a bit overhyped, but considering (particularly on TikTok) that what people enjoy in books are 1) morally grey characters 2) badass female protags and 3) enemies-to-lovers, it makes sense. It’s all about the aesthetic!
Should you read it? I’d say give the first book a go. Likely, you’ll want to know what happens next.
Similar to: Just thinking about tropes, it has a lot of similarity to The Bear and the Nightingale, although that is more fable than fairytale. I imagine other hyped YA series by Sarah J Maas and the Grishaverse would make good comparisons too.