“I can see why humans succumb to the beautiful nightmare of the Court, why they willingly drown in it.”
Oh boy. It’s been nearly a month since I’ve read this and I still can’t decide whether I like this book. I don’t hate it, but I definitely don’t love it. Even though I really want to. On the surface this book has everything I should love. Dark fairies, violent delights, violent ends, murder, treachery, betrayal. These are all things that normally make my little black heart swoon.
So what went wrong?
First, this review is going to have spoilers. It’s been well over four months since this was released, so I don’t feel that bad about it. However, if you haven’t read this, be warned! Plot twists will be revealed!
From the very beginning, we know that this is going to be a dark, violent book. Jude’s parents are killed in front of her by a fae warrior who then takes her and her sisters back to the world of Faerie to raise them.
Flash forward ten years. Jude is trying to train to be a warrior for the Court. Mostly for her own selfish reason of wanting the protection the Court would give her from other Fairies. Not an entirely bad plan, when given the options. But Jude also has some major anger issues over how the Fae treat her and her twin sister Tarryn for simply being human. Her older sister, Vivienne, is part Fae, (hence the reason for the murder and kidnapping at the beginning), so she doesn’t face the same obstacles.
“I was raised by a man who murdered my parents, reared in a land of monsters. I live with that fear, let it settle into my bones, and ignore it. If I didn’t pretend not to be scared… I would lie there and scream until there was nothing left of me.”
It’s safe to say I adore Jude. Of all the problems I have with this book, she is not one of them. I think of all the honest reactions to a shitty hand in life, hers is very realistic. She doesn’t want to go back to the human world, which may seem weird. But, to be honest, if I was shown a world full of power and magic like the world of Fairie, I wouldn’t want to go back to ordinary either. Even if I didn’t have all that magic. I imagine just being around it is intoxicating in it’s own way.
She is 100% strong female protagonist. I love her fire. Her attitude. Her rage. Her drive. I actually liked that she didn’t pine for the human world, but rather was discovering who she was with the life she was given. I also liked how she wanted to succeed regardless of her limitations.
“You think because you can humiliate me, you can control me?” I say, looking him in those black eyes. “Well, I think you’re an idiot.”
Her defiance in the face of brutal consequences is fantastic. I fully relate to regretting things as they come out of my mouth, and yet not being able to stop myself. I loved that about her.
Jude is a perfect example of nature versus nurture. She is most definitely strong-willed, and brave, and defiant by nature. Even Madoc tells her that she is like her mother in that way. But, I’m fairly certain she wouldn’t be a spy assassin staging a coup if she wasn’t raised by fairies. So the murder is definitely a nurture thing.
Speaking of Madoc, he is actually a character I liked. He stays true to who his character is throughout the entire book. He is unapologetic and very honest with who he is. Yes, he is a murdered. And a warrior. And, it turns out, a power-hungry schemer. But he doesn’t hide or turn away from any of that. He loves the girls in his own way, and is one of the more redeeming Fae for his honesty in my opinion.
“There is little good in me,” Madoc says. “But I owe you a debt, and I have sworn to do the best by you that I know how.”
I also really liked how Vivienne, though she was Fae and could have lived a privileged life in Fairie, only wants to be normal. If there’s one thing these three characters do, it’s show a strength in accepting and knowing who you are without trying to please anyone else. It’s one of the best messages of the book, and probably why they’re my favorites.
Now, for the things I didn’t like…
My biggest complaint is the awful enemies to lovers trope. I. HATE. IT.
While Jude and Cardan don’t exactly become lovers, it’s enough to make me throw up in my mouth. Loving someone you look down on does not justify cruelty. It doesn’t make it better. If anything, it makes it worse. I hate the message these tropes deliver to girls/women everywhere. That men who are cruel to them, who demean them, who belittle and bully them are redeemable. It’s a terrible message. And you have to work extremely hard to get me to overcome my hate of any men portrayed in this way.
There are a million little things Black could have had Cardan do to ease the cruelty. To stay within the expectations of the cruel Fae while not fully participating. Yet, she chose to let him be enraged at her, and lead the rally against Jude. I suppose it was done for the sake of the plot twist, but I think that just makes it worse.
As it stands, I cannot join the Cardan bandwagon. I wish Jude would have punched him in his arrogant mouth when he professed his love and tried to kiss her. Not succumb to desire. Oh god, I think I threw up a little again. I HATE IT! That one scene takes everything I loved about Jude and tarnishes it just a little. Perhaps Black will work on redeeming him a bit more in the next book. I don’t know, but it’s going to take A LOT for me to ever forgive the terrible messaging here.
Bullying. Alright, so here it is. I hated the excessive bullying in this book. Yes, I get it. Fairies are cruel. They are mean. However, I do think that, especially in YA, there needs to be sensitivity to the subject. Let’s be real, there are kids that are just as cruel in real life and encouraging teens to murder their way out of their problems isn’t a valid solution.
Again, I get that this is fantasy, but there was just something about these scenes that felt unnecessary. Did they really have to go straight to demanding she strip when they fed her fruit? Why is body shaming and making her naked body her vulnerability have to be the way she was humiliated? She could have been demeaned with clothing on. It just didn’t sit well with me.
Also, if there is some sort of unspoken fear of her relationship to Madoc, some of these bullying scenes just don’t make sense. For example, Valerian tries to make her walk out of the tower? To her death? That entire scene didn’t make any sense to me. It felt like it was done just to give him a reason to hate her enough to try and kill her later, and to reveal her resistance to control. Which then led to the scene with the Prince and the knife. It felt flimsy and done for the sake of plot movement.
Finally, Tarryn. Oh I hated Tarryn. If ever there was a villain I can’t get behind it’s Tarryn.
Talk about a walking advertisement of Stockholm Syndrome. She’s willing to watch her sister be humiliated, beaten, ridiculed, and even her life put in danger all for the sake of marrying Locke. Maybe she’s supposed to be a bigger villain presence in future books. Maybe we’re supposed to hate her as much as I do. I don’t know. All I know is that she’s worse than all the awful Fairies combined.
“I get why he chose her. I just wish she had chosen me.”
The things I hated aren’t deal breakers. They set the bar for future books higher, as I need some serious movement in non-problematic ways to forgive them, but it’s within the realm of possible. I’ll read the Wicked King, even though I’m frustrated that even the titles put the emphasis on Cardan though this is Jude’s story. Couldn’t the title at least be hers? It’s petty, I know. It’s small. A tiny detail. But I hate that her strong character is constantly being diminished in small ways. It feels too much like how strong women are demeaned in real life.
My complaints can be swayed depending on how things are handled in the next book. I’m leaving this book firmly at three stars with the caveat to either love or hate it based on future plotting.