How Not to End a Trilogy: The Case of The Folk of the Air

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!)

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Get The Cruel Prince here, The Wicked King here, or The Queen of Nothing here.

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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.

Fucking 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.

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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?

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12 thoughts on “How Not to End a Trilogy: The Case of The Folk of the Air

  1. Pingback: #StartOnYourShelfathon Catch-Up | Your Tita Kate

  2. I am so late on this, but this whole post is just what I need to read about the series. Honestly, I want to love the books as much as others but the entire shitshow that The Queen of Nothing presented after that dark, surprising cliff-hanger in the second book is just… I wanted to scream.

    Like

  3. I’m SO LATE on this post, but I agree with basically everything you said in your review. I *loved* The Cruel Prince – looking back, i doubt I would today, but that’s a story for another day – and, like you, my enjoyment of the series came from Jude’s character. I felt like, essentially for the first time, here was a book that promised a dark female lead AND DELIVERED. I never shipped Jude and Cardan, and yet, I liked the dynamic between them in the first book for the reasons you mentioned. And, also like you, I thought it was leading up to something great, something that – obviously – wouldn’t be sold to us as a cutesy romance.

    The Wicked King was… disappointing for me, so that would be where we disagree. 😅 I really didn’t like the budding relationship between Jude and Cardan, and I felt like her quick trust in him when he became “good” was out of character. Plus the sexual assault when Jude was captured was so badly written that people started to ship Jude with her assaulter? As if the abuser romance wasn’t bad enough. 😭 Still, I liked the book and I was excited for the finale, especially after that ending.

    I really thought that Queen of Nothing would be an epic conclusion, and then… idk what this was, but it certainly wasn’t epic. Besides what you mentioned regarding the romance, the twists were just so… silly? Who would have THOUGHT that Cardan the snake monster would survive being killed and would come out of the snake fully healthy!? What a surprise!! 🙃 I flew through the book because the pacing was great, but the quality was awful. Anyhow, so sorry for the long comment (so far, everyone I discussed it with *loved* the book. 😭) Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Valid thoughts on The Wicked King! I actually agree that the assault in particular was badly handled, but in terms of setting the stage for what I thought would be an epic conclusion of hate between Jude and Cardan, I really liked it, which is why I feel it’s the best of the trilogy.

      But yeah, Queen of Nothing just read like really bad slice of life completely out of character fanfiction. And yup, the twists were hella contrived.

      Thank you for reading the review! And don’t worry – I adore long comments!

      Liked by 1 person

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  5. 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.

    No way, this is ridiculous lmao

    What a well-balanced, nuanced, and interesting discussion, Kate! I haven’t read this series because I ain’t about abusive enemies-to-lovers, but I really enjoyed hearing why you loved Jude. I am sorry this book was disappointing for you, I probably would have been pissed as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Totally valid not wanting to read this series for the whole abusive enemies-to-lovers thing!! BUT ABSOLUTELY YES, THAT HAPPENED.

      Like

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  7. I have read the Folk of air Trilogy and I COMPLETELY agree with you on the ending!! I have to say that I loved the world building in The Cruel Prince but was really uncomfortable reading the abuse to lovers trope – not cool and it romanticised an abusive relationship.

    The Wicked King definitely had me screaming and excited and gushing for the next book, the cliff hanger was AMAZING! I was team Jude at the end of that book and was hoping for an epic Fae / mortal battle between Jude and Cardan, where Jude has used her cunning she learned in Elfhame to rise up against the tyranny of the cruel fae kingdom and smite all those who stood before her.

    What I got was (to put it nicely) SHITE. I don’t even feel like re-reading the first two books again because I just know it will end so badly. I even remember shutting the book at the stage that Cardan is a snake and actually thinking to myself “wow this is really happening!” 😐

    I’m not sure if authors do this but I wonder if the last book was rushed in order to meet the needs of the reader (i.e. give me the next one now!) – it certainly feels like it was!! What’s apparent is that from reading everyone’s reviews on this trilogy, it is very clear that all the fandom wanted the same thing – it’s a real shame that this was not delivered.

    Liked by 1 person

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