Book Review: The Cruel Prince

rowan-32 I didn’t think I could like a modern fairytale that starts with soggy fish sticks and ketchup, but boy was I wrong. The Cruel Prince begins quite deceptively in a mundane-seeming home—if a few details stick out as odd the rest is so overwhelmingly familiar and normal they don’t seem important. But quickly you realize those odd details are actually the only ones that matter and before you can blink, you’re swept from our world to the world of Faerie. From there, author Holly Black takes on a coming of age story that blends familiar fairy tales with new ones and fleshes out fairy-tropes into multi-dimensional characters. Most notably is the familiar story of the changeling or stolen child (when a fairy steals a human child and leaves a changeling in its place); these stories usually follow the family left behind, the parents who have lost a child or are discovering there’s a monster masquerading as part of the family, but few stories ask what of the stolen children? What of the child taken to live with the fairies, is that all it’s cracked up to be? This is the main story in The Cruel Prince as we follow mortal Jude and her sisters growing up among the Fey. I burned through The Cruel Prince in one day (well one day if you count staying up until nearly 3am to finish it and I do), which is one of the things I don’t like about Young Adult fiction. Young Adult fiction is fantastic for so many reasons, I’m not knocking the genre at all; one of my favorite authors Madeleine L’Engle said, “you have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.” So I do like this genre, however Young Adult fiction is a bit like candy to me, it goes down too smooth and too fast. The novels are never exactly challenging, which is not to say they are not well-written because The Cruel Prince is extremely well-written. In fact, I re-read the book a couple of times in the days following my initial read while I waited for book two to arrive in the mail and I was struck again and again by the beauty of this book. There’s hardly a superfluous word and a beautiful amount of symmetry and foreshadowing throughout. Holly Black does not waste valuable page space with unnecessary details; if she’s mentioning something there's a reason. 
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Holly Black borrows quite a bit from Celtic mythology, so I thought I'd pay homage to some of the charms in her book by taking pictures with a rowan tree. I've always noticed them before as one of the first signs of autumn; the berries appear stark against the green of the countryside in abundant bunches in shades of orange and red in late August. However, rowans are apparently more than just a pretty tree and berry... "The rowan or mountain ash has always been considered a tree of formidable magical and protective powers due to its bright flame red berries. There are many examples of the protective powers of rowan against evil forces. According to A.T. Lucas the rowan was hung in the house to prevent fire-charming, used to keep the dead from rising, and tied to a hound's collar to increase its speed...In Scotland, Highland women wore necklaces of rowan berries as a charm." -excerpt from Ireland's Trees: Myths, Legends and Folklore by Niall Mac Coitir
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