This review has been three years in the making. Lol.
When I first read The Cruel Prince back in 2018, I honestly saw the appeal. I thought it wasn’t a particularly great book, but it was a highly entertaining one. It was problematic as fuck – it portrayed a victim being in a romantic relationship with her abuser as a good thing and perpetuated that age-old super harmful stereotype of boys being mean to girls because they like them. But it was still enjoyable to read because its main character was one of the most ruthless, ambitious, cunning girls I’ve ever seen in YA fiction. I didn’t know where The Cruel Prince was going to take me, but I did know I wanted to go along with Jude Duarte.
Little did I know the Jude that developed in The Cruel Prince, the Jude that I fell in love with in The Wicked King, was going to be snatched away and replaced by a changeling (hah!) in The Queen of Nothing.
Read on to find out how I was let down by one of the most anticipated reads of the entire YA community.
(Be aware though that this discussion post is not spoiler-free!)
Let me start off this review by saying that I know The Cruel Prince isn’t exactly the best example of fantasy literature. It’s full of tired cliches, sends out a lot of bad messages about abuse, and obsesses weirdly over the fact that the hot guy love interest has a tail. But I overlooked all those things because, like I said in the intro to this post, I found myself freaking obsessed with Jude Duarte.
I could sympathize with her situation. As an immensely under-powered and vulnerable human (who is likely suffering from Stockholm Syndrome – remember that Madoc murdered her parents, but although she objectively knows that he’s to blame for her predicament, she can’t help but seem to seek out his approval and love) surrounded by fairy folk who hate her and wish her harm, she develops a ruthless personality and vows to never let herself be put into the control or power of a member of the fey.
It’s at this moment we begin realizing that Jude is ready to fuck shit up and take no prisoners. I mean, who can forget this iconic quote?
“If I cannot be better than them, I will become so much worse.”
And honestly, I truly believe that is a message that everyone at some point needs to hear. Not to be worse necessarily (don’t go around killing people willy-nilly now) but to never take shit lying down. Stand up for yourself and never let people put you down because of something you can’t change, like who or what you are.
The magic of The Cruel Prince is in the way it delivers on its promise of a badass, ambitious, cunning, morally gray female protagonist. At some point, the reader can even begin to tell that Cardan isn’t being set up to be the “villain” of the story anymore. Although I vehemently disagree with how the way he abused Jude was swept away because of his feelings for her and because he’s a victim of abuse himself, I also can’t help but admire how the story is slowly tilted around so the reader can clearly tell that Cardan is the one with feelings for her who’d do anything for her, while Jude is all ice and ambition.
The Cruel Prince ends on what I call a sub-cliffhanger (it’s not an actual term that exists anywhere in literary theory so don’t go looking for a peer-reviewed source on that, lmao). It neatly sets up the events of the next book and leaves us wondering what’s going to happen next, but it’s also not the kind of cliffhanger that makes readers throw a book against the wall and scream. So with much eagerness, I awaited the arrival of The Wicked King, got the ebook as soon as it came out
and went on sale, because I am not about to buy a white woman’s book at full price and got to reading.
Without a doubt, The Wicked King is the best book in the trilogy. The foundation of the character development laid out for Jude comes into its own in this book and we get to see her in her full morally gray glory. She’s no longer the fearful little girl who wanted the other fae to like her. There are still traces of that girl in Jude, but they come out in much more aggressive and ruthless ways. She doesn’t just want to be a part of Elfhame; she wants power over the entire kingdom. She doesn’t just want Madoc to love her as a daughter; she wants to beat him at his own game and be acknowledged as the better strategist. She lies, cheats, steals, and murders, and we freaking love to see it. At every step of the way, we root for Jude. We root for the underdog who’s become violent and bloodthirsty, who wants nothing more than power and revenge.
Alongside Jude’s character development is the progression of the relationship between Jude and Cardan. At this point honestly, I found myself enjoying it, despite the fact that I could never get over Jude essentially falling for, kissing, and sleeping with her abuser. Why, you ask? Because it seemed like the relationship between Jude and Cardan was a tower of toxic blocks that was ready to come tumbling down. I greatly enjoyed all their interactions because the book seemed to be setting up a final confrontation between them. We all know that The Wicked King begins with Jude fooling Cardan into becoming King of Elfhame and swearing obedience to her for a year and a day, so now we’re left wondering, what happens when that year and a day is up? It seems like Cardan is falling for Jude still, but will that be enough to soften the blow to his pride?
And then. That ending. That freaking ending.
Whereas The Cruel Prince ended on what a term a sub-cliffhanger, The Wicked King ended on a true gut-busting scream-inducing cliffhanger of the first water. As we all know, Cardan ends up exiling Jude back to the mortal world as punishment for killing his brother, Balekin. At this point, she’s secretly married to Cardan and is also, unknown to everyone else, the rightful Queen of Elfhame. She thinks that she and Cardan have come to an understanding about standing against their enemies and ruling the kingdom together, so the exile to the mortal realm comes as a shock. And that’s where the book ends, leaving its readers screaming and eager to get to the next one.
I know I was practically salivating at the thought of The Queen of Nothing. I thought this was going to be the culmination of the long, unending battle between Cardan and Jude. Finally, they – lovers and enemies both – would see their hatred and love for each other played out on the greatest battlefield of all, with the prize being the crown and the throne.
Reader, I was prepared for misery and pain and death.
That, very clearly, is not the book we got.
Instead, we got a boring happily-ever-after ending that completely destroyed all the buildup and character development from the previous two books. To cut a long story short, Cardan had worded his banishment of Jude in such a way that she could have actually lifted her banishment herself. He doesn’t actually hate her at all! He’s actually relieved to see her back in Elfhame! They can continue on with being sweet and lovey-dovey and not be enemies and rule Elfhame happily together!
And then for some weird reason Cardan turns into a snake monster, but then Jude turns him back and they live happily ever after. They go to the mortal world and celebrate their marriage and victory by eating pizza.
I can vividly remember how I felt when I finished reading this book. Not only was I disgusted, I felt betrayed. All that buildup, all that promise, all the teasing. All the promise of a full-on battle between two embittered people who loved and hated each other in equal measures….and it was just thrown away.
The complicated character-building and relationships that had been painstakingly crafted for two books, and the promise of an epic and heartbreaking battle for the throne, was completely and totally ripped apart. And all for the sake of what? A lukewarm milquetoast happy ending that didn’t even come within five kilometers of the same zip code as satisfying?
If you want your characters to have a happy ending, don’t spend the entirety of the trilogy hinting at and building the foundation of a toxic and bittersweet character arc. This was, at the end, a massive wimp-out. The closest comparison I can come up with is the avoidance of the massive battle at the end of Breaking Dawn and how they all got their happy ending by talking it out with the Volturi. It was exactly like that.
I read somewhere that the reason for this ending is because the author didn’t want to disappoint fans who shipped Jude and Cardan together. I have no idea if that’s true or not, but if it is – count me an intensely disappointed reader. I really don’t think that this is the ending the author had intended. I truly feel that the buildup that happened in The Cruel Prince and The Wicked King had been leading up to a darker, edgier, and ultimately bitter ending – but it was, in the end, tossed away.
What do you think?
☕ Have you read the Folk of the Air trilogy?
☕ Which book was your fave?
☕ What did you think of The Queen of Nothing?