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.
The Wicked King by Holly Black is the second book in The Folk of the Air trilogy. It was published by Hot Key Books on January 8th 2019.
No trigger warnings.
After the way The Cruel Prince ended I spent a year trying to get over the cliffhanger. It wasn’t quite the most intense I’ve felt finishing a book and knowing I need to wait a year for the next in the series (that’s still A Gathering of Shadows) but the release of The Wicked King was one of my most anticipated of the year and Holly Black definitely didn’t disappoint. The Wicked King was more tense, darker with so much more at stake for Jude, and you can feel it all in Black’s writing.
His mouth curls into a smile. His eyes shine with wicked intent. “Look at them all, your subjects. A shame not a one knows who their true ruler is.”
Jude made Cardan High King; she bargained with him for one year of his life and not a day longer, but six months has already passed. Jude knows time is running out but she has no idea how to keep control of Cardan once the year has passed. Jude still wants to belong in Faerie, and she’s risen from nothing more than Madoc’s human ward to the seneschal of the High King, but she can’t relax. Cardan is still a new king, and there are plenty of people out there trying to test him.
After betraying Madoc, being betrayed by her sister, and being made a fool of by Locke there’s no one Jude can truly rely on. Everyone has something to gain from her weakness and even the people she trusts are kept at arm’s length. Jude is determined to show how unfazed she is, how capable she is, but the effort starts to weigh on her when she doubts everyone around her, when she’s injured and she can’t get help because people may use her injury against her.
“I hate you,” I say, the words coming out like a caress. I say it again, over and over. A litany. An enchantment. A ward against what I really feel. “I hate you. I hate you. I hate you.”
He kisses me harder.
“I hate you,” I breathe into his mouth. “I hate you so much that sometimes I can’t think of anything else.”
The relationship between Jude and Cardan is one I loved reading; each of them refuse to show any weakness, they both want to be the one in power and so they bargain with one another but never seem to gain a foothold. In The Wicked King with all the secrets they’re keeping from the fae of Elfhame Jude and Cardan are playing a dangerous game, and while it seems like Cardan is willing to reach out to Jude, to show her she doesn’t have to manage the heavy weight that’s fallen on her shoulders on her own, Jude is still determined to keep her iron control over Cardan.
Cardan never wanted to be king, and he’s content to let Jude and the Court of Shadows rule through him. At the beginning of The Wicked King Cardan wants nothing more than to celebrate – to get drunk, lounge on his throne and lose himself the way he always tried to in The Cruel Prince – but with his father dead and his brother locked away there’s no one for Cardan to prove himself to or act out against. He starts trusting Jude but he wants the freedom to prove himself, to prove he can be a better king than his brother would have been, and he’s got plenty of his own schemes working to gain his freedom.
“Your ridiculous family might be surprised to find that not everything is solved by murder,” Locke calls after me.
“We would be surprised to find that,” I call back.
There are plenty of new powers emerging in the game Jude is playing, and Holly Black is a master at writing twists that I never see coming. A lot of this book focused on the politics of Elfhame; there is always an enemy hiding in the shadows, never quite attacking but hovering close behind Jude waiting for their moment to strike.
Despite being beaten to the throne and despite being imprisoned Balekin is waiting for his little brother to fail, waiting for him to come crawling back and he believes he can use Jude to manipulate Cardan. The Queen of the Sea wants to test Cardan, the untested boy king who she sees as foolish with a human seneschal she hates. Madoc had his chance at power snatched from him but Jude knows he’s just waiting for another chance and Locke who played Jude against Taryn now wants to play with Cardan.
The relationships in this book are all really well written and very nuanced. Jude and Taryn were played against one another and while Jude loves her sister there’s a lot of unresolved tension between the two of them, and it’s the same between Cardan and Balekin. Cardan knows his brother is a threat to him but he won’t give the orders to kill him. Balekin was the one to take Cardan in and despite how cruel he was Cardan can’t look past that; he hates his brother and loves him. We get more development to the Court of Shadows, the relationship between the Bomb and Roach, and we see more of Jude’s dynamic with Madoc.
“You can take a thing when no one’s looking. But defending it, even with all the advantage on your side, is no easy task,” Madoc told her with a laugh. She looked up to find him offering her a hand. “Power is much easier to acquire than it is to hold on to.”
Holly Black is a master of writing faerie tales, her Modern Faerie Tales trilogy was a favourite of mine when I was a teenager and I love seeing small cameos from those characters in The Folk of Air trilogy. Like The Cruel Prince The Wicked King ends on a cliffhanger I didn’t see coming, the build up to the finale is subtle but it all comes together to create an unforgettable ending. I literally have no clue where the story will go in the final book but I can’t wait.
Have you read The Wicked King, or is it still on your TBR list?
Did The Wicked King live up to your expectations after the cliffhanger ending to The Cruel Prince? Do you enjoy the relationship dynamic between Cardan and Jude, and where do you think they’ll go in the third book? What did you think of Jude’s and Taryn’s relationship in The Wicked King?
Have you read any of Holly Black’s other releases, which is your favourite?