Yes, you read that correctly.
In high school, my friend and I founded a book club, where we read a book every couple weeks and assembled to discuss it. Nothing crazy or out of the ordinary for a book club. However, this club changed my life because from it, I was introduced to one of my favourite series of all time: The Folk of the Air by Holly Black. Spoilers ahead.
Before reading this series, I was a proud non-fantasy reader. It was just never really my thing, I never even read Harry Potter when I was younger like every other kid. Instead, I stuck by YA fiction, always with romance. However, when the book chosen is by majority vote in our book club, I can’t really refuse. So, begrudgingly and honestly, with some difficulty, I forced my way through the first book of the series.
The Cruel Prince
While reading, I remembered why I rarely ever gave the fantasy genre a shot. Made-up, silly sounding words filled the pages, and there were so many characters with similar sounding names that I could barely manage to follow the plot. If I skipped a page, I would miss crucial lore that seemed to be important, yet I couldn’t will myself to carefully read each word and comprehend what was going on in these immortal faes’ histories. Nevertheless, almost nearing the end of the book, I started to become interested in what was going on. Why? It was the scene where Carden, our careless, cruel prince (hah) was strapped into a chair with a dagger held to his neck by our protagonist mortal girl Jude, in a den of spies. Finally, after years of torment by him and his faerie friends, she was in complete control over her enemy and the throne. That’s right, the foundation of an enemies-to-lovers plot was building, and I was hooked.
By the end of the book, not much else had happened to further any potential romance between Jude and Cardan. Still, I was just intrigued enough to know what was in store for them that I told myself I would read the next book in the series.
The Wicked King
Unlike last time with The Cruel Prince, right from the get-go I am sat and invested. The Cruel Prince left us with Cardan as the king, and Jude as his secret puppeteer. Now, Jude is his seneschal and figuring out her place next to the throne while also holding all the power behind it. Through sly-tongued interactions between Jude and Cardan, we can sift through cruelties and riddles to find that perhaps Cardan feels more than just disdain towards Jude, and through her POV we know that she definitely does, although she refuses to confront this fact. Halfway through the book, Jude gets abducted and taken prisoner in the Undersea, and Jude is forced to realize what she feels for him and her life above the surface. And when she returns because of Cardan’s desperation to get her back, we finally see something between the two of them that is more than just between the lines. This inkling of hope doesn’t last long, when Cardan exiles Jude to the mortal world at the end of the book, and every shred of anything Jude ever felt for him other than pure hatred disintegrated on the spot.
As you could’ve guessed, at this point, I’m on my knees for this series. I’m enthralled by Jude and Cardan’s “two steps forward, three steps back” love and hate dynamic, as well as all the other subplots happening alongside them. Specifically, Jude’s personal journey of self-discovery, perseverence, and ambition in a world full of people who are different and better than her makes her undeniably my #1 favourite female book protagonist.
The Queen of Nothing
Back to the plot though, we’re onto the third and final installation. Oh, did I forget to mention? Before Jude’s shocking exile for killing Cardan’s last living brother, she and Cardan exchanged vows and she became none other than the Queen of Elfhame. A mortal queen, nonetheless, and the very first one. While this marriage could be narrowed down to mere practical and mutually-beneficial reasons, it is completely clear that when Jude and Cardan become wed, they do so under a veil of love for each other. A major win for the readers! Except now Jude is back in the mortal world, exiled and seething. It doesn’t take long until she risks it all and returns to pretend to be her twin sister in a murder trial (her sister is absolutely guilty… a win for rage-filled women everywhere!). Cardan, knowing her better than she thinks, catches Jude immediately and confronts her in his chambers, asking what took her so long (whaaaaat?). Before they’re able to get into the nitty gritty, Jude is once again taken away and does not return until much later, where Cardan is under the impression that she’s arrived to execute him. This turns out to be a miscommunication and a trap that Jude walks into herself, as civilians still believe she should be in exile and immediately are prepared to kill her. Fear not, all is sorted once Cardan exclaims, to pretty much all of Elfhame, that Jude is not in exile, but rather is his wife and their rightful Queen.
Now that Jude is properly on the throne, politics ensue and disaster strikes once Cardan falls under a curse and turns into a great serpent. (If you’re still with me at this point, you deserve a pat on the back. If you’re not, I don’t blame you. This sounds ridiculous, but I swear if you know you know.) Just before this, Cardan recites the most beautiful love confession you will ever see in a book.
“It’s you I love,” he says. “I spent much of my life guarding my heart. I guarded it so well that I could behave as though I didn’t have one at all. Even now, it is a shabby, worm-eaten, and scabrous thing. But it is yours.” He walks to the door to the royal chambers, as though to end the conversation. “You probably guessed as much,” he says. “But just in case you didn’t.”Holly Black, The Queen of Nothing
Before Jude gets a chance to respond, Cardan is lost to his serpent form and it seems that the curse is unbreakable. Wracked with fear, guilt, anger, sadness, and love, Jude deliberates what to do with him and nearly makes many poor decisions. In the end, however, she knows that the only choice that would truly be out of love is to let him go. Against the nation’s expectations and wishes, she slays the serpent, and you know who walks right out of its carcass? Everyone’s favourite cruel prince. While this whole story unfolds, cryptic riddles and intricate prophecies are at work, and it is in this moment when everything clicks and all makes sense. If you read this book for any reason, I would recommend it for this puzzle-y element of the book. It truly makes the story unlike anything I’ve ever read before.
So, Jude and Cardan are reunited, and as she promised to herself while he was gone, she confesses how she really feels. Finally, after hate, lust, and loss, the king and queen finally get a chance to be truthful to each other and be together.
And that is pretty much where the trilogy leaves us. It’s a little more and a little less than a simple “happily ever after” ending, with the remaining effects of everything that happened still fresh and left on a note that leaves readers both satisfied and aching for more of Elfhame’s stories.
Luckily, Holly Black heard this ache, and has since released the first of her new duology, centered on Jude’s little half-brother who is on his way to the throne, but not before he has his childhood unlike Jude whose was ripped from her grasp far too young.
Check out all of Holly Black’s books. You will NOT regret it.
Oh, wait. I never talked about the tail. I guess now you’ll really have to check out these books.
Cheryl. (2020, March 31). The folk of the air by Holly Black. Book Love Blog. Retrieved April 10, 2023, from https://book-love.blog/2020/03/31/the-folk-of-the-air-by-holly-black/