The Wicked King by Holly Black
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers on January 8, 2019
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult, Romance
“Power is much easier to acquire than it is to hold on to.”
Have you ever finished a book and can’t do anything but scream “OH MY GOD” over and over and over? No? Just me?
Well, that’s exactly how The Wicked King is making me behave.
Since it’s the sequel and I can’t possibly control any of my thoughts without spoiling anything, this is going to be a full-blown spoiler review. If you haven’t read The Wicked King, wtf are you doing? GO read it. Then come back and be emotional with me.
Where do I even begin? The end? The beginning? The middle? With the betrayal that hurt the most? The most shocking plot twist? There’s so much to unpack and I can’t stop my head from spinning.
It’s been a long time since a book has made me feel like this. Bravo, Holly Black. Seriously. I’ve missed this feeling and craved a book that made me gasp and get mad and scream an inhuman noise the second my roommate left the apartment because I couldn’t contain myself anymore. This book has me f*cked up.
Let’s start at the beginning I guess.
We pick up a few months after the end of The Cruel Prince. Jude is about five months into her bargain with Cardan and she seems to have the juggling act down pat. She has the High King in one hand and the rest of Faerie in the other. For…a little while.
She becomes more and more tangled with Cardan as both of them have a harder time ignoring their feelings. Jude has a handle on it about half of the time. This lets her get sloppy and her emotions get the best of her. Example one: trusting Taryn again.
I do not have any respect for Taryn. It was left about halfway through the first book. The second she let Jude be fooled and also let Locke fool around with her own twin was when I decided I didn’t want anything else to do with her. I didn’t want Jude to even give her the time of day again. And Jude didn’t for the first little bit of the book. All it took was Taryn coming to her first and she immediately collapsed back into trusting Taryn. I don’t know why Jude would even do something like that when she knows how hard her sister tries to be like the Faeries. When Taryn came back she started doing things for Jude. Like cleaning up, getting her clothes, getting Tatterfell to work for her, etc. Jude even made a comment about how Faeries would do things like that so they’d be owed a debt. But she shrugged it off because Taryn is mortal. Honestly, Taryn is nearly as dangerous as Jude but in a different way. This all snowballs into the ultimate betrayal from Taryn at the end. Taryn pretending to be Jude to trick Cardan into letting Madoc free from his vow to the Crown. Considering this little twist was only a few pages from the end, I was hoping that would be the big twist but I had a hell of a lot more heartache coming for me.
This book should be retitled to A Book of Betrayals because I don’t think anyone kept their word. Save for The Bomb and The Roach. They both stay good in my book. For now.
The Ghost’s betrayal was something I didn’t quite see coming but when it did I knew I hit the PONR. He slipped away for now, but I hope Jude or someone from the Court of Shadows can give him the death he deserves. (What was the comment Cardan had about every solution being murder?)
Jude’s time in the Undersea had me nervous. I knew everything was going to fall apart without her. I don’t know if maybe Jude and I are really similar or if Holly Black is just really good at getting me to genuinely feel everything that Jude does because in both books I have the same gut feelings as Jude. Queen Orlagh and Nicasia torturing her with Balekin was hard to read about. Jude is a good actress after so many years in Faerie, but I was certain she’d walk out with some trauma or missteps. Which…wasn’t totally wrong. It just wasn’t in front of Orlagh or her daughter.
I don’t know why Cardan wanted to keep Balekin alive. Hopefully that’s something we’ll find out in the final book, but I don’t understand why that was his only stipulation. Still, I knew Balekin wasn’t going to be around forever. Especially not when he was taunting and pushing Jude every chance he got. Cardan should know better than to think Jude would let someone live with the way Balekin tried to expose her for his plans. Or did he forget about Valerian (that’s his name right? Ugh, he was so forgettable.)? Regardless of how it may or may not have played out to the events in the end, I’m glad Jude murdered Balekin. It’s some small piece of revenge for the events at the coronation. Now she just needs to separate Madoc’s head from his neck. He has more than deserved it since page one.
Now to the grit of my complex emotions…Cardan.
I don’t know what to think. I don’t know what to do other than scream. I haven’t felt this truly betrayed in a long time. (insert we were all rooting for you.gif)
I might’ve briefly touched on it in my first review, but I am a sucker for the hate-to-love trope. I don’t know why but it’s one of my guilty pleasures. This series definitely plays into the trope, but it’s also the most frustrating one. Cardan is too difficult to trust no matter how much I try to trust him.
From the onset of the book it’s clear Cardan can no longer squash his feelings for Jude like he used to do. They go towards each other like magnets. Kissing then avoiding each other. Doing very dirty things behind the throne room then avoiding each other. Jude gets kidnapped, she dreams about him the entire month she’s held hostage, and Cardan makes a bunch of ridiculous agreements to secure her return. Then…things get messier. Is that even possible?!
I had real panic when Cardan was poisoned. I was worried he would die and how would that even make the events of the next book unfold? Jude also was panicking. Maybe I let her sympathies for him cloud my judgement and I hoped he’d have a change of heart. Maybe he did. I don’t know if we’ll ever know. I’d like to think all the things he said and did before the last chapter of the book were real and not deception or some big scheme for him to regain his power. But I don’t know.
Holly Black has written some incredibly complex and deeply flawed characters. Their flaws are the good kind. It’s the type of flaws that make them real. It’s why you’re never sure of who to trust and why you’re always on the edge of your seat.
I knew Cardan would be mad that Jude killed Balekin. I’d hoped maybe he’d be angry, but then call it good. Maybe he’d be mad because she got to it first, but ultimately happy Balekin was gone for good. A tiny part hoped maybe he’d not be mad because it would’ve been Balekin’s life or Jude’s. Balekin gave up in the duel the second the knife got near his throat, but he definitely would’ve tried to go for the kill. I also hoped she’d be able to tell him first. Of course some other events transpired that wouldn’t have if she’d said something so she didn’t get the chance. Still, I hoped that the trust Cardan had in Jude would pay off somewhere in a mercy for the crime she committed. It didn’t.
Now, let’s talk about those events…
Jude had a feeling Cardan was scheming while she was gone. They had hours together before the masquerade so she couldn’t gather exactly how much he put into everything while she was kidnapped. This also makes me unable to determine the truth of why Cardan did what he did.
When Cardan summoned Jude and suggested that in exchange for giving Cardan his free will back he would marry her and she’d have her own power, I was shocked. I never saw it coming and it was a bold suggestion from Cardan. I was even more shocked when he wasn’t joking. Sprinkle on some more shock when Jude said yes. This was my favorite trope so of course everything I wanted was happening, but not exactly how I was used to it playing out. Clearly Cardan had some feelings for her because they exchanged rings (Holly made sure to point out it wasn’t Faerie custom so it had to be something he did for her) and flowers were blooming in response to what Cardan was doing. It wasn’t completely fake. But was it part of a plan he thought of while Jude was in the Undersea? Did her killing Balekin only play into his hand further? Or did he exile her because he was truly angry? What would’ve happened if she had told him first or if Balekin wasn’t murdered?
When Cardan banished her to the mortal world, I felt betrayed. Hence the screaming. I’m sad. I’m frustrated. I’m confused. I’m desperately awaiting to buy the third and final book. There needs to be 24 hour bookstores.
I hope you love the series as much as I do. The characters are so complex and real sometimes I made myself remember that there isn’t actually a Faerie world under some hill somewhere or across the sea. I can’t wait to read the final installment and probably cry.