Hello, everyone! I’m back for another recap of my monthly reads, and for once I can actually remember everything I read this month because I made an excel spreadsheet! Yes, I am that nerd. But now I know that I average about 4 books a month, which isn’t bad considering I spend most of my time trying to keep my kitten out of the sink and ruminating on the disappointing demise of female presidential candidates.
But I digress. The theme of this month was fantasy. I devoured Holly Black’s Folk of the Air Trilogy as quickly as I could. Almost two years ago I wrote a blog post about the first book in the series, The Cruel Prince, in which I criticized the novel for promoting/glorifying a violent romantic relationship. Now that I’ve read the whole series, I would like to say that the rest of the trilogy does a commendable job of contextualizing the romantic violence in the first book, as well as explaining the main character’s motivations, and consequently I no longer believe that the novel glorifies an abusive relationship. But then again, maybe I’m just the target demographic for fantasy-romance and am too easily won over by dashingly handsome elf princes. If so, what can I do? I still want a movie!
Since I read the whole trilogy, there will be vague plot spoilers ahead! You’ve been warned!
The Cruel Prince by Holly Black
Quick synopsis: 17-year-old Jude has lived in the land of Faerie for over a decade, since Madoc, the High King’s war general, murdered her parents and stole her, her twin Taryn, and her older sister Vivi away. As a mortal in Faerie, Jude is constantly reminded of her weakness and inferiority, especially by Prince Cardan and his friends, who take pleasure in humiliating her. Determined to make a place for herself in their world, she becomes a spy for Dain, the heir apparent, and becomes enmeshed in the politics and intrigue of the Faerie court, setting herself against her family, her friends, and worst of all, Cardan, the cruel prince himself.
My thoughts: The world-building in this novel is phenomenal. Black thrusts you into a violent and sparkling world of magic, court intrigue, and complex family relationships. Jude is no run-of-the-mill YA heroine; instead she’s bold, violent, and ruthless. Her enemy Prince Cardan seems to fit every stereotype of the bacchanalian prince, but as the story unfolds, Black peels away the familiar to reveal unexpected twists. While I do find this novel to be the most ethically questionable in the novel, as brutal violence and PG-13 sexual degradation are rampant, I enjoyed the break-neck speed of the plot and the constant twist and turns. Nothing in this book is exactly predictable, especially because Black prefers her romance to be more inspired by Machiavelli than Austen.
To read or not to read? Read it! But let me warn you that once you get started with this trilogy, you won’t be able to stop.
Wicked King by Holly Black
Quick Synopsis: After a daring coup, Jude has crowned Cardan as King of Faerie, and has bound him to her side for a year and a day as she plots to keep the throne away from her bloodthirsty step-father Madoc and safe for her step-brother Oak. But as Cardan’s Royal Seneschal, Jude finds herself embroiled in a deadly game of court politics, caught between her family’s wishes and her desire to keep the realm of Faerie safe. And with her feelings for Cardan growing, Jude must decide whether to put her faith in Cardan, a man she once regarded as her mortal enemy, or risk losing her place in Faerie forever.
My take: Wicked King was by far my favorite of the trilogy. For one, the romance finally finds it footing once the novel starts to unravel Cardan’s “cruel” persona and reveal his true character. I hate the YA trope of girls falling for assholes with “hearts of gold,” so I appreciated how Black updated the trope by examining how Jude’s upbringing negatively colored how she viewed the world around her, and often led her to misinterpret Cardan’s behavior as more malicious than he intended. The growth of Jude and Cardan’s relationship is skillfully drawn out in dribs and drabs, with just enough romantic tension to keep the reader hooked without flooding them with idealistic fantasy.
Another fascinating part of the novel was a look into the fraying relationship between Jude and her family. As a mortal raised by the faerie who killed her biological parents, Jude has spent her whole life in fear of the man who raised her. Black does a fantastic job of exploring how a lifetime’s worth of fear can damage a person’s psyche, causing them to search for power and security, like Jude, or a search for assimilation, like her twin Taryn. Black weaves this theme into the arcs of her other characters so that we can see that even seemingly invincible characters like Cardan have been irrevocably shaped by their family traumas.
To read or not to read? Read it! You’ve already read the first one, haven’t you? But definitely take a break and eat something or at least go outside. I know it’s been a few days since you’ve seen the sunshine since your nose has been stuck in this book.
Queen of Nothing by Holly Black
Quick synopsis: After Cardan exiles Jude to the human world, she vows never to trust him again. But when Taryn appears and begs for Jude’s help, Jude must sneak back into Faerie and return to Cardan’s court. Once inside, she realizes that there’s more at stake than Taryn: Madoc has allied with the ruthless Court of Teeth and Cardan’s crown is on the line. Armed with little besides her own intuition, Jude must plot against her family and risk her life to save the crown, even it means losing the one relationship she values the most.
My take: If you go on Tumblr or Goodreads at all, you’ll know that QoN had a controversial reception. Many people found it to be too rushed and too superficial, with nothing close to the emotional complexity and darkness of the first two books. While I agree with these criticisms, all I really wanted was for there to be some sort of positive resolution. So in that regard, I was thrilled, especially considering the horrible turns that a lot of YA books take at the final hour (I’m looking at you, Mockingjay!). Yes the book is too short, and yes I would have loved to see a more realistic ending to the Jude-Madoc conflict, but if the worst part of a book is that the ending is too happy, I don’t see a lot to complain about.
In terms of plot, I found the ending to be predictable because Black based the climax off of a traditional fairytale trope that I was pretty familiar with, but that didn’t alter my enjoyment of the novel as a whole. Gotta respect any well-done interpretation of a traditional fairytale! I also loved the conclusion of the romance and the chance to see Jude blossom into the capable and competent leader that she had aspired to be since the first novel. Most of all, I loved that Jude was allowed to be authoritative, intelligent, strategic, and feminine all at the same time, and that Cardan never viewed her as less than an equal partner. Although I initially thought that the series promoted an abusive and dysfunctional romantic relationship, the end of the trilogy made me realize that the relationship between Jude and Cardan actually portrays how two people who have experienced a lifetime of abuse can still have a functional loving relationship. I’ll definitely be reading this series again.
To read or not to read? You’re already two books in…you have to finish it!
Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
Quick Synopsis: With a scholar’s eye for detail and a memoirist’s knack for introspection, Memoirs follows Sayuri, a poor Japanese girl who grows into one of Kyoto’s most famous geisha.
My thoughts: Let me preface this by saying I’ve read this book about 15 times now and I never grow bored of it. Regardless of the controversy surrounding the novel’s origins, there’s no doubt that Golden beautifully renders a long-forgotten world of aesthetic splendor. Reading his descriptions of 1930s Japan, from the kimono, to the complex social hierarchy, to the intimate details of geisha culture, is like immersing yourself in another life. What most surprised me when I first read the book, and still surprises me every time I read it, is how well Golden writes in the voice of a woman like Sayuri. He manages to capture the nuances of her thoughts without objectifying or belittling her, which is no small feat when compared to the average male author. My one qualm with the book is its ending. No matter how many times I read it, I will never be able to accept the final choices that Sayuri makes, even though they result in her happiness. I’ll also always wonder why Golden never wrote another novel. I can only imagine that the controversy that resulted from his debut scared him off from writing another book, but I hope someday he’ll write another.
To read or not to read? Definitely read it. It’s an unforgettable novel. But do not under any circumstances watch the movie. It’s atrocious.