The Wicked King by Holly Black
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Publication date: 08 January 2019
Genre: YA fantasy
Page count: 336 pages
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
This is a spoiler-free review for The Wicked King, but contains earth-shattering, mega spoilers for The Cruel Prince. You can take a look at my review of the first book here.
So if you read my review of The Cruel Prince last year, you may recall that I was not hugely impressed. Fae books don’t often work for me, and while I liked The Cruel Prince more than the other fae books I’ve read, I thought it was a great, big mess of a book with a great ending. Despite this, I still wanted to read The Wicked King. You guys, I’m so glad I gave this book a chance! If you liked the insane ending of The Cruel Prince, you’re going to love this book because it keeps that same energy going.
You must be strong enough to strike and strike and strike again without tiring.
The first lesson is to make yourself strong.
After the jaw-dropping revelation that Oak is the heir to Faerie, Jude must keep her younger brother safe. To do so, she has bound the wicked king, Cardan, to her, and made herself the power behind the throne. Navigating the constantly shifting political alliances of Faerie would be difficult enough if Cardan were easy to control. But he does everything in his power to humiliate and undermine her even as his fascination with her remains undiminished.
When it becomes all too clear that someone close to Jude means to betray her, threatening her own life and the lives of everyone she loves, Jude must uncover the traitor and fight her own complicated feelings for Cardan to maintain control as a mortal in a Faerie world.
One of the reasons I’ve not enjoyed most fae books is that I have never felt the stakes were high enough. Whether it was A Court of Thorns and Roses or An Enchantment of Ravens, I just feel that the fae are constantly portrayed as silly, cartoonish creatures — there’s nothing intimidating or frightening about them and I often find myself rolling my eyes at the supposed danger our mortal characters are in. With so much legend of their cruelty and trickery, I just felt unimpressed with their portrayal in books — until The Wicked King came around. Black does a marvelous job of highlighting the actual dangers for a mortal in Faerie, and they actually feel real and dangerous. There isn’t a single point in the book in which I forgot just how much intense danger Jude was in — the high tension strung throughout the novel is incredibly effective.
Although I liked Jude well enough in The Cruel Prince, I couldn’t figure out her motivations and thought her characterisation was a bit messy. Black really smoothed over Jude’s characteristics and motivations in The Wicked King and I thought she was a much more well-rounded. Jude really comes into her own in this book and I loved every second of it. She is the perfect example of an unlikeable female character that still manages to steal our hearts and make us cheer her on. Why is this? The easy answer is the fact that she is willing to take a difficult path to save her family, but for me the real reason is the fact that she’s devious, conniving, nasty, and power-hungry, and completely owns it. She never once feels like she should hide her ambition or hold herself back. She says multiple times that now she’s had a taste of power she wants to hold onto it. And you know what? That’s fucking awesome.
As usual, there are so many other characters that I can’t really cover them all. From Taryn and Madoc to Locke and Vivienne, Jude is entangled with so many characters and the way those relationships strain over the course of the series is really fascinating. I want to say a quick note about Cardan — I’m still not quite sure what to think of him! He and Jude obviously have a toxic relationship and he’s a wretched little creature, but dammit he’s so fun to read about. I really love the way his story progresses over the course of this book.
The Wicked King is a stunning sequel to an okay book. I wasn’t blown away by The Cruel Prince, but I am now fully caught up in the hype of this series. You can bet that I’ll be picking up a copy of the final book in the trilogy next year.
Pro tip: if you haven’t read the novella The Lost Sisters, you should give it a go. It’s told from Taryn’s point of view and explains some of her motivations through the first book.
Do you want to try The Wicked King for yourself? You can pick it up at the following sites (affiliate links);