The Wicked King (The Folk of Air #2) by Holly Black
Year Published: 2019
Genre: YA Fantasy
Page Count: 322 pages
“Navigating the constantly shifting political alliances of Faerie would be difficult enough if Cardan were easy to control. But he does everything in his power to humiliate and undermine her even as his fascination with her remains undiminished.
When it becomes all too clear that someone close to Jude means to betray her, threatening her own life and the lives of everyone she loves, Jude must uncover the traitor and fight her own complicated feelings for Cardan to maintain control as a mortal in a Faerie world.” (via Goodreads)
“Legends need not concern themselves with something as small as happiness.”
Note: This review contains minor spoilers for The Cruel Prince. Read at your own peril.
How do I review this book without screaming and flailing around? I mean, I stalked out of my room in frustration and threw my hands up in the air, died with laughter, slammed my book shut in surprise, and gaped at the pages with every turn of event.
First let me start off by saying, if you do not like court intrigue, politics, scheming, backstabbing, betrayal, murder, death, or duals this book may not be for you. I almost feel bad for liking this story so much because I remember many people who felt disconcerted after reading The Cruel Prince last year. This book is not a feel-good story. The Slytherin in me prefers things that way. The Wicked King takes every cunning thing about it’s predecessor and amplifies it.
Jude Duarte – If you read The Cruel Prince you know she tricks Cardan for her own end. At the beginning of the first book, her goal was simply to become a knight but then her ambitions changed and her end game became more deadly.
Cardan Greenbriar – The reluctant High King of Elfhame. He watched half his family get slaughtered and now must lead a land that did not treat him well.
The Court of Shadows, General Madoc, Taryn, Oak, and Vivienne are still key players. So are Locke and Balekin. Nicasia and her mother, The Queen of the Undersea play a role as well.
“A king is a living symbol, a beating heart, a star upon which Elfhame’s future is written. Surely you have noticed that since his reign began, the isles are different.”
All that glitters is not gold in the follow up to The Cruel Prince. For a large part of of the story, we watch Jude try to maintain whatever control she can over Elfhame. Politics are shifting, alliances are forged, promises are sworn, bargains are made, and…betrayal happens from within. Because of the new Prince’s rise to power, Elfhame isn’t stable and certain characters are taking advantage of that fact. Whereas in Book 1 Jude wants power, in Book 2 she struggles to hold onto it. A huge theme in the sequel is about who really has power. Does Jude since she’s still a mortal? Does Cardan since he never wanted to be King? Even though she is now Cardan’s seneschal, she’s still not being taken seriously.
“I want to tell you so many lies.”
The first part of the book largely focuses on Jude doing Cardan’s dirty work. She is also trying to circumvent any messages from Balekin, who is imprisoned in the Tower of Forgetting after slaying his own siblings. Jude fears that any messages from him would influence Cardan negatively. She sneaks around and pretty much lies to Cardan a lot. Yep, that’s what happens for pretty much the first two-thirds of the story. If you didn’t care too much for The Cruel Prince or didn’t read it all, you’re probably wondering, “Why do you love this book so much if the bulk of it is just scheming? That sounds SO boring.” I really couldn’t tell you why. I just like that kind of book, okay???
“In all that pale fabric, she looks like a sacrifice instead of a bride.”
Also, I have to say, I did not ship Jude and Cardan in the first book. It just didn’t make sense to me. Just like how Alina and the Darkling as a ship never made since to me either. However, after reading The Wicked King I can say with my whole heart that I’m ON that ship. The romance in this is so ugh (in a good way). All that hateful passion and resisting their true feelings stuff? I’m weak. There is a steamy scene I’m not sure I can appropriately remark on it since I’m not the target audience but….ahem…Chapter 15.
Reasons why I love Jude Duarte: One. She’s a self-made character. Two. She evolves into something of an anti-hero but also the one trying to save everyone’s asses from their own stupidity. She’s uses her weakness to her advantage, which is that she’s mortal and possesses no magic. I really love stories with self-made characters who start from pretty much nothing and have to build themselves into something stone by stone. What I feel like Holly Black excelled at was subverting the tropes. There is no Chosen One. There is no prophecy. There is no one friend who always has her back (unless you count Vivi).
“Your ridiculous family might be surprised to find that not everything is solved by murder.”
The author, Holly Black, made a tour stop in my town so I was able to see her speak! She talked about how she usually sees male characters evolve into the anti-hero and she wanted to explore that with a female character. She also talks about exploring how Jude actually becomes whom she despises, which is her surrogate father, Madoc. The deeper in she gets, the more she isolates herself. Watching Jude’s character arc is so fascinating. It’s almost a psychological development.
“Fear is terrible, but the combination of hope and fear is worse.”
*Spoilers* Highlight this paragraph if you want to read it: Toward the end of the book, Jude is captured and taken to Orlagh, Queen of the Undersea. She’s literally taken under water and somehow isn’t drowning or dying. It’s pretty weird. But luckily, I watched Aquaman in theaters last month and was well-prepared for that visual. Below the earth, MORE SCHEMING takes place. When Balekin is made ambassador to the Queen, he tries to get Jude’s secrets and…it ain’t pretty. Poor Jude. Luckily—well, I’m not going to spoil for you the heart stopping events that follow after. I’M SHOOK, YA’LL. SHOOK.
I am fully aware that this book made be considered over- hyped or even -gasps- boring to some. I actually don’t read that much fantasy. While I read a healthy amount, it’s not enough for me to feel like this was cliche. This is your anti-fairytale. The fairytale that doesn’t end up in a happily ever after. With girls who are brash and impulsive and brave.
The Wicked King is a jaw-dropping, enthralling, and delightfully wicked sequel.
You are not ready.
Content Warning: murder, death, bullying, some torture
For more spoiler-filled thoughts check out my Goodreads!