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The Wicked King by Holly Black

book cover of The Wicked King

I didn’t get around to reviewing the first book in this series, The Cruel Prince, but it’s OK because I’ve now finished this one and this one is better! The Cruel Prince is an easy read with some good stuff in it (particularly in the third act), but I also felt like it took a long time to get going: there was a lot of going to school, and getting bullied by the prince and all his bratty friends at school, and boy drama as one of the bratty friends seems to be secretly nice and seductive but it turns out he was just pretending and is actually still awful, and so it goes. It was a huge relief that despite the short time gap between the two novels, Jude here has matured so much, now in her new position as seneschal of Faerieland.

For me the most enjoyable part of this book was the dynamic between Jude and High King Cardan, who she installed on the throne against his will at the end of the last book, as part of a broader scheme. Cardan hates the position Jude has tricked him into, and is scheming against her just as keenly. As the book unfolds, for the most part they have to work together because their short-term interests align. There's a ton of sexual tension between them, too (and I loved that they had sex and all of the tension was still there, just as strong! After all, unless someone’s a complete fizzer in the sack, why would sex kill all your desire for them? If anything, you’d expect that longing to intensify because now you know exactly what it is you’re wanting.). But even as they collaborate and flirtatiously tease one another, there’s also that awareness that ultimately they’re opposed… it’s a really addictive love-hate dynamic.

Of course there are also other things going on. In the last book, Jude thwarted the schemes of her sort-of dad (who murdered her real dad) Madoc, and in this one he’s keen to repay the favour. Jude’s relationship with her twin sister, Taryn, is strained after the boy drama mentioned in this review’s first paragraph. Her younger brother, Oak, is safe in the mortal world with her big sister, Vivi, but Vivi’s relationship with a “regular person” is showing “Willow and Tara in season six of Buffy” levels of dodginess. The book plays with power dynamics a lot, as well as with loyalty and lies, and I just found it a really compulsive read. Even though I wasn’t that big a fan of this trilogy’s first instalment, I'm now really keen for the finale, The Queen of Nothing.

Books in the Folk of the Air series

  1. The Cruel Prince (no review available)
  2. The Wicked King (you are here)
  3. The Queen of Nothing

★★★★

a cartoony avatar of Jessica Smith is a left-wing feminist who loves animals, books, gaming, and cooking; she’s also very interested in linguistics, history, technology and society.