Leave it to Holly Black to shatter my world with the vague whispered promise of *maybe* stitching it back together. And by promise, I’m referring to my own refusal to accept what has happened. That’s right. I’m stuck at the first stage of Book Hangover Grief.
And I ain’t even trying to deny it.
“Once upon a time, there was a human girl stolen away by faeries, and because of that, she swore to destroy them.”
the cruel prince recap
THE WICKED KING is the sequel to Holly Black’s YA fantasy novel ‘The Cruel Prince’ and IT WRECKED ME SO HARD. Literally couldn’t peel my mangled heart off the carpet for all the revels to be had in Faeryland. But we’ll get to that in a sec. First, a very brief rewind to The Cruel Prince: Jude + her sisters are kidnapped to Faeryland by murderous warlord. Flash forward, and Jude — ambitious and fuelled by her hatred of the Faeries — sets her sights on not only destroying them, but becoming better than the Fae.
But look! Hidden plots that threaten to doom Faeryland — and right at the center of it all is the cruel Prince Cardan, the one Fae she hates most of all. Blood betrays blood, a dangerous kiss is stolen, heads roll, and Jude delivers the ultimate betrayal to Cardan. But what does it cost her? Once she tastes the power of her deeds, will she be able to hold onto it?
Imagine having to wait a WHOLE YEAR to find out. I’m sure you know the feeling, my fellow book lovers. But despite the wait, the hype, the self-chatters, the running to Barnes & Noble on release day…nothing — and I MEAN NOTHING — prepared me to be this wrecked.
There’s not enough therapy in the world to untangle the emotional mess that is ME laying on the floor like some game of OPERATION Holly Black decided to play on a whim.
Gods, won’t she play again?
WHAT I LOVED
Structure: A sentimental prologue that sheds light on Jude Durante — and a bazillion deliciously quotable one-liners. Murder, mayhem, and mistakes fuel this action-packed plot, but does Holly Black’s The Wicked King deliver without making a sacrifice to the Bookish Gods?
Taking place roughly five months after the events inThe Cruel Prince, THE WICKED KING makes a leap through time, turning up the heat and immediately raising the stakes from page one. After betraying Cardan, forcing him to play king to Faerie on a throne he never wanted, Jude Duarte struggles with her newfound role as seneschal (a fancy word for “advisor”, it seems) and half the year from their bargain is already gone. Boom! Stakes! But if this weren’t enough to make you feel the licks of hell on her heels, Jude is under siege from all sides, even her own flesh and blood (Taryn, you little jerkette). Someone in court has betrayed her….and it could be Cardan.
There’s DRAMA galore in The Wicked King and the plot never lets you forget that it will FIND YOU and TORTURE YOU and possibly even KILL YOU. The structure of The Wicked King was like watching a horror flick alone in my house; some points were utterly foreseeable, a few moments made me scream, many times I squealed with excitement, and by the end, despite trying to be a badass survivor, the ax murderer caught me off guard. I was toast. I totally didn’t see it coming. I couldn’t wrap my head around the massive shock of Cardan’s betrayal. I can’t even write it down here….because my thoughts wouldn’t be articulate or appropriate.
I ABSOLUTELY LOVED how tense, twisted, and unforgiving the plot was. It felt like I was right there with Jude, having crap not only hit the fan, but also fly back into my face time and again just for measure (all with Cardan laughing his Faerie butt off at her misfortune). There’s no way this could get worse, I thought to myself.Never, ever say this to yourself, guys. You’ll live to regret it.
But Black made a bargain of her own with the Faerie folk, it seems.Though the plot is gripping, often having me at the edge of my seat, the lush writing style I so adored in The Cruel Prince is ultimately gone. There is zero fluff. On the one hand, this made The Wicked King feel complex, with carefully considered words, symbolism, foreshadowing, and I could sense the intent behind every line. But on the other hand, I personally felt the short length of the novel paired with pulse-quickening action robbed The Wicked King of elegance present in the first novel.
There was little time between the twists and the angry kisses and the backstabbing and pretty much all the conflict contained in the book felt compressed. It was dizzying. Betrayal. Murder. Kinapping. Two weddings. One Funeral. A thousand micro-moments that make our hearts swell — before exploding with shock and inarticulate feels. Black knows where to stab the iron blade and where to wound our egos, our hopes, leaving them to bleed freely. Yet…there were times I wished for a breather to process the emotional blows.
And I felt Jude wasn’t afforded time to truly process the MADNESS. As much as I love her as a heroine, I can’t help feeling a tad disappointed her role in The Wicked King was less Arya Stark storming Faeryland and more Elena Gilber during her “I’m just going to keep my suicide mission to myself and pretend things are normal” phase. There was ZERO communication between her and the other characaters and perhaps the most frustrating part of the plot was her utter distregard for obvious danger signs/hints laid out before her. It’s so mind-boggling and monotonous to watch a character not only do things counterproductive to her goals, but also never truly learn from her own mistakes.
Still…I couldn’t put th book down.
Characters: Everyone I loved to hate and hated to love showed up at the party, trapped within 385 pages of addictive tension. No one escapes. No one comes out intact.
Hands down, my FAVORITE aspect of The Wicked King is how deeply flawed every single character is. Although the book would have you *think* it’s about Cardan or Jude, the reality is…it’s about the other characters, too. Behind the angsty tapestry of Jurdan is a tangled, emotional mess of of the twins (Jude and Taryn) and Madoc. When you think about it, there’s not a single legit hero in The Wicked King. Everyone’s ugly side makes an appearance, even Jude’s.
‣ Madoc: There was a time when I felt conflicted and couldn’t decide if Madoc was truly evil or if, perhaps, he loved Jude. But Ari, you might say, can’t he be both? Can’t he love her and still do terrible things? I mean, I guess he could. Throughout The Wicked King, Madoc frequently whispers advice and warnings in Jude’s ear, swinging between his role as her father (well, as fatherly as anyone who murdered her parents and then kidnapped her could be) and the role of mentor.
“You can take a thing when no one’s looking. But defending it, even with all the advantage on your side, is no easy task,” Madoc told her with a laugh. She looked up to find him offering her a hand. “Power is much easier to acquire than it is to hold on to.” ―
He seems to be genuinely concerned that she’s in way over her head and even attempts to bring her to his side, time and again (Star Wars flashbacks, anyone?). For the longest time, I truly felt Madoc might have loved Jude or at least felt pride in his part of helping her become the girl she is. Why else would he be so persistent? But I’m no longer buying what he’s selling, if you catch my drift.
“Kill him before he makes you love him.” ―
In The Wicked King, I saw a whole other side to Madoc — a darker, greedier, backhanded side — and it really made me question my own judgement about him. He’s not really interested in being her father…he just wants to best her. Beat her at the game. Convince her to kill Cardan so he gets whatever it is he wants. After he not only realizes she’s in control of Cardan, but also betrays her again (as well as imply that, without him, she wouldn’t even be a proper warrior), it made me realize one thing: I cannot wait for Jude to kick his ass.
For once, I want her to shatter his ego — and his heart.
“Pain makes you strong, Madoc once told me, making me lift a sword again and again. Get used to the weight.” ―
‣ Taryn: Someone needs to kick this chick’s backstabbing butt. Recall from The Cruel Prince when Taryn knowingly went behind her twin sister’s back to have carnal relations with Locke (who, at the time, was “dating” Jude). In The Wicked King, Taryn plays all nicey-nice, wanting there to be peace and forgiveness between her and Jude.
At the end of The Cruel Prince, I was angry at Taryn for being weak, guillible, and desperate. Where I saw Jude turning her hatred of the Faerie folk into a steely weapon of resolve, Taryn sort of…conformed to Faerie standards. She took it on the chin, often playing the role as helpless bystandar while Jude, spitting fire of hatred for the Faerie folk, raged against a culture that oppressed and bullied her.
But like Madoc, Taryn flashes her ugly side in The WIcked King. It’s a back hand to the face, really, and she will forever go down as “that character I prayed karma would devour #sorrynotsorry”. I was suspicious of her the whole time she began intruding on Jude’s life again, just bullying her way back in. I think she’s more cunning than that, though. Taryn knows Jude is conflicted about Madoc and her whole family. She uses this to guilt Jude into letting her (and them) back into her life. She not only lies to, but also manipulates both Jude and Cardan, delivering the most painful blow (well, second most painful) in the entire book.
She’s a terrible sister. A horrible human being. And I really, really, really, wanted to drag her down the stairs by her hair.
‣ Locke: Oddly enough, I actually like Locke. The guy has balls. He does everything with such a devious smile that you forget out deliciously evil the bastard is…and I love it. He’s the KING OF FLIPPING TROUBLE. He’s the one who throws all of Cardan’s revels and pretty much wreaks havoc. There are a couple scenes between him and Jude that made me roar with laughter — and a few others that made me want to punch the cocky grin right off his resting-revel face. Like the time Jude told him to be kind to her sister or she’d kill him ….and so, he tries to have her killed. Like I said…the guy has balls. Here’s my favorite scene:
“Your ridiculous family might be surprised to find that not everything is solved by murder,” Locke calls after me.
“We would be surprised to find that,” I call back.” ―
‣ Cardan: Cardan is a handful that keeps us on our toes. The dance between him and Jude continues, tugging my heart back and forth between wanting them to suck face — and desperately not wanting them to because a part of me is terrified it won’t last. The Wicked King continues the much hatefully loved “I despise you so much I want you” trope. And guys, I WAS EATING IT UP. From the palm of Holly Black’s hand. Because who doesn’t love to secretly want the thing we proclaim we hate? I might shout into the void that I think T-Swift is so overrated, but you bet your ass I’m going to find one song I’ll replay in private. Cardan is an enigma; he is cold and cruel and rough around the edges, but damn can he say things that contradict his actions. And you don’t really know which is the real Cardan: his words or his actions? His kindness or his cruelty? I don’t know, guys. I JUST DO NOT FREAKING KNOW AND IT IS KILLING ME.
‣ Jude: She is not a the “wishing well” and “do the right thing” kind of protagonist — and it’s why I love her. She’s rough around the edges and is so unrefined, it makes her delightfully unlikable, but man, her whole situation inspires sympathy. In The Cruel Prince, she’s betrayed Cardan. She’s protected Oak. She’s dealt with Taryn and Locke’s stupid fling and turned her back (mostly) on Madoc.
In The Wicked King, Jude struggles to run the entire kingdom from the shadows and is ruthless in fighting off the gathering enenies from all sides. I loved her resolve, her ambition, and her active drive to fix the world as it came undone. Impossible as it was, I love Jude because she’s so horribly flawed by her own humanity (they all are, really) but instead of laying in the dirt and crying about it, she turns those feelings of vulnerability and helplessness into action.
Maybe that’s why her slips into helplessness were frustrating for me. When Jude was kidnapped to the sea by Queen Orlagh, she’s kind of broken by this. It’s Cardan who eventually saves her. For most of The Wicked King, Jude struggles to communicate to anyone, to rely on anyone, to trust anyone — and as a result, she repeats the same mistakes she’s made in The Cruel Prince. Where she’d normally be strategic and thoughtful, she was reckless and worn and impatient.
Her whole being seemed to waver in the book and I wonder whether this was intentional or the by product of having stakes impossibly high. After all, her arc completely fails in The Wicked King. Other than revitalizing her thirst for revenge and reminding her of Cardan’s true nature, she gains very little growth. Though, admittedly, she has grown much since The Cruel Prince. I can’t deny that.
TO JURDAN OR NOT TO JURDAN? THAT IS THE QUESTION
And the answer for me is simple: I ship Cardan and Jude so hard, my heart is a throbbing bruise and I can’t tell if I’m experiencing pain or pleasure.
You ever meet two people so wicked, so cruel, so bittingly witty and sarcastic you think, “Gods, those guys deserve eachother.” JURDAN IS LIKE THAT FOR ME. Part of what I love and hate about their relationship is how uncertain it is. It’s the kind of relationship in which there is ZERO stable ground to stand on and the two lovers tangled in the middle of it are kissing with knives hidden behind their backs, dancing with equal desire and disgust.
“Kiss me again,” he says, drunk and foolish. “Kiss me until I am sick of it.”
But it doesn’t pretend to be anything else. The Wicked King is rather honest about the turbulent relationship between Cardan and Jude….and doesn’t glorify it in any way nor does it define love by our modern standards.
theories, theories, theories
After reading The Wicked King, I did what every other heart-broken and hungover human does: I took to the internet in search of answers. Did big brother Google whisper sweet everythings in my ear? A thousand times, YES. I found so many theories bubbling online and it wasn’t long before I was in the thick of it all, formulating my own.
Theory #1: Cardan banished Jude back to the human world not to protect her but out of (1) retrubution for killing Balkin (2) because trusting her led to giving the crown to Taryn (who he mistakenly took for Jude) exposing a certain vulnerability of his, and (3) she’ll be his seemingly powerless secret weapon.
Look, everyone is going on and on about Jude’s feelings after Cardan banished her from Faerieland. YES, it stings. See that body in the corner? That husk of a heart on the floor, shattered to pieces? Yeah. That’s all me. Because I felt for Jude. Girl can’t catch a break and every time she turns around, Cardan is ripping the damn rug out from under her. But let’s take a step back and assess his feelings. Because guys DO have them. We all know he’s not an overly affectionate Faerie. We know he hates the idea of desiring Jude and of anything remotely human (despite behaving so terribly human). Yet, we completely overlook his feelings about the whole situation. Is he feeling vulnerable after Taryn tricked him? Angry that he trusted/relied on Jude so much that he was easily fooled? Does he feel betrayed that Jude never mentioned she killed Balkin? Is he scared that he actually might like Jude? Is it possible he was playing Jude for a fiddle this whole time?
“The Folk doubtlessly learned this lesson long ago. They do not need to deceive humans. Humans will deceive themselves.”
There’s more than enough evidence to suggest Cardan cares for Jude. This scene, for example, is what makes me doubt even my own theory of “playing her for fiddle” :
For a moment, there is silence between us. He takes a step toward me. “The other night—”
I cut him off. “I did it for the same reason that you did. To get it out of my system.”
“And is it?” he asks. “Out of your system?”
I look him in the face and lie. “Yes.”
If he touches me, if he even takes another step toward me, my deceit will be exposed. I don’t think I can keep the longing off my face. Instead, to my relief, he gives a thin-lipped nod and departs.
In this scene, Cardan’s lips thin and his speech pattern changes. It’s short and hesitant. Furthermore, he seeks to close the gap between them when discussing the sex. Rather than make a sarcastic comment or a joke, Cardan behaves out of character by silently walking from the room. These are all indicators that he likely has feelings for her. Add in him stealing her ruby ring and wearing it around, flirting with her. Pulling her into his bed. Sharing his personal experiences. Fighting with her and THE FACT THAT HE MADE A BARGAIN TO GET HER BACK FROM THE MERFOLK QUEEN. All of this is strong evidence of Jurdan being alive and well.
For now, at least.
Well, I guess it’s over.
DAMN YOU, HOLLY.
For (3) of my 1st theory, I recall it mentioned in both books that Jude’s mother had a daughter who would be the greatest weapon in Faerie. Everyone assumes it is her eldest sister…but what if it isn’t? What if it’s Jude? Chew on that for a bit.
The current mainstream theories suggest Cardan might have banished Jude to protect her. Some have speculated that since the two of them married, Jude is somehow able to get worm her way out of this latest screwage, but I’m not so sure it’ll be that easy — or that Cardan’s actions weren’t at all clouded by a need to punish her. But I’m not convinced it’s that…clear cut. Nothing about Cardan is straight forward. What I can say is this cruel twist at the end of The Wicked King will likely send Jude into a furious spiral of destruction and I HOPE (given book 3 is called QUEEN OF NOTHING), that we see more of the girl who swore to destroy Faerieland and every freakin’ fae in it.
Theory #2: Queen of Nothing will be about Jude looking for Grimsen and the second crown. The popular theory right now is that, since the two of the (enter special thingy I can’t mention LOL ), that Jude can technically just pardon herself….except, her position gives her little power to do so. As mentioned several times between The Cruel Prince and The Wicked King, the Fae do not swear to the leaders; their loyalty is sworn to the literal crown that sits on heads. This has led me to wonder if Cardan has banished Jude to find this missing crown, considering how specific and yet vague his verdict was:
“Hear my judgment: I exile Jude Duarte to the mortal world until and unless she is pardoned by the crown, let her not step one foot in fairie or forfeit her life.” –Cardan, The Wicked King.
Side note: Is it possible Cardan noticed how utterly beaten and worn down she was? Maybe he banished her to piss her off enough to get her fired up for more action. I know it sounds ridiculous, but it’s totally something these Faerie bastards would do.
There you have it, guys. It’s late here and frankly, I’ve fangirl, speculated, and obsessed overThe Wicked King as much as energy would allow today. If you haven’t read it, do so. I beg you. If you’ve already read it, read it again. Like it’s the freaking holy book of life. Like the words are air. Because they are!
What are your thoughts & theories?
I’d love to hear all about theM!
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