WARNING: SPOILERS FOR BOTH BOOKS
In 2019 I swam back into the YA fantasy audiobooks waters and I’ve had a great time. When I listen to a good fantasy audiobook I just get transported into the author’s imagination and no series has done that more for me more than Holly Black’s Folk of The Air series.
That said, I wasn’t entirely on board with the direction this series took and that mostly came down to me not shipping Jude and Cardan as much as Black wanted me to.
In Wicked King, Jude has control of the crown but she’s working against time and once again finds herself in the middle of deadly power games, deceptions, and burgeoning war. Except for this time, there is some Undersea thrown in!
Much like with The Cruel Prince I was sucked in by Black’s prose and Caitlin Kelly’s lively performance on the audiobook. Black loves faeries (seriously…she even had her ears modified to points) and her enthusiasm shows in her writing. She lingers on descriptions of food, clothes and appearances and pulls every detail out of the scene.
But this book had some serious sophomore book syndrome. I was surprised when I was 58% into it and nothing had really happened. After reading Queen of Nothing, it’s clear to me Black was using this book to set up the plot twist at the end and the events of the next book.
This book also…turns up the heat a little bit.
I’m glad I waited to read Wicked King because after that cliffhanger I hoped right into Queen of Nothing. To steal a saying from NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour Podcast; this thing is on rails from page one. It reminded me of the last few seasons of the ABC show Once Upon A Time as the stakes and loyalties kept changing. Black’s plotting felt very episodic and at times…a little disjointed. While the snake thing was interesting it felt like it came out of nowhere.
I also wasn’t wild about Taryn’s plotline. It seemed like we had to go through the whole drawn-out marriage plotline just as a vehicle so they could switch places in book 3. I will say I really liked the portrayal of how Taryn fit herself into Jude’s new life. Taryn’s enjoyment of things like clothes and needlepoint weren’t treated as useless and she used those things to help Jude.
My problem with the end of this series is that Cardan’s HEA felt undeserved. I think Black tries to show in little ways that he had evolved beyond the cruel prince but it never came full circle. Especially after Jude had to give up so much to fight for her place. Black made us feel bad for him instead of showing him on an active journey to be better. This tweet sums up my thoughts about his redemption:
redemption arcs that end with the character committing one single heroic act to show they’ve changed aren’t satisfying, they’re reductive. the long & painful journey to morality has to be evidenced to outweigh the damage they’ve caused & even then they aren’t owed forgiveness
— dov. (@dykeromanov) December 19, 2019
When Jess gets around to reading this book she’s going to be doing the I told you so dance because I was convinced Black was doing the Protagonist Journey to Villian thing with Jude and not writing a love story. I just don’t like them as a couple. I was definitely 2.5x the love scene because I wasn’t into it.
Also, my last nitpick, at the very end when they go to the mortal world the tone of the book just felt so different. I almost felt like I was reading fanfiction. I do still kind of like the series but overall it left me feeling kind of bitter.
Why is it that in every YA fantasy after you have sex you either die or something bad happens to you? This happens every time. Also, when Cardan breaks the crown literally all I could think about was this
I’m a lifelong reader who started blogging about YA books in 2011 but now I read in just about every genre! I love YA coming of age stories, compelling memoirs and genre bending SFF. You can find me talking all things romance at Romance and Sensibility.