The Wicked King by Holly Black: A Review

by Katie Moran

“Power is so much easier to acquire than it is to hold on to.”

The sequel to Holly Black’s The Cruel Prince (which I reviewed here) was very much worth the wait! In this installment, the stakes are even higher for our protagonist Jude as she navigates through a veritable minefield in order to survive. Black’s persuasive style of writing seamlessly folds us once again into the power struggle between Jude Duarte and her enemies. Black has proven anew her innate ability to display the strife between family, and even more her flawless execution of a modern fairy tale.

Twin sisters Jude and Taryn couldn’t be more at odds. With sister Vivienne gone and Jude situated behind a throne of lies, it seems that struggles are compounded in battle after battle. Unfortunately, many of these moments are instigated by Taryn’s involvement in one form or another. When we last left the Duarte sisters, it was with a deep ache for Jude’s new-found position and Taryn’s callous dismissal of her sister. Even more so now, our empathy for Jude intensifies as she has not only Taryn to contend with but also a newer enemy, Madoc. Black weaves her magic through the ties that bind this strange family, allowing us an eye into what the cost of those betrayals and lies have become, and how they’ve re-shaped the family into something sharper and wearier than anything it could have been before.

With enemies on all fronts, Jude must delve into a well of strength to overcome her many adversaries. The Wicked King is a poignant addition to the list of recent female heroines inducted into the young adult literature genre. Jude is incredibly provocative, outspoken, and driven. She is calculating and hesitant to pursue rash action. Black has written a wonderfully relatable, reflective and admirable character whose flaws make her an incredibly versatile and accessible female protagonist. Jude embodies a young woman whose conflicts have strengthened and spurred her forward. Her unwavering soundness and persistence are a nod towards what it means to be disciplined and dedicated in pursuit of a goal

Black has turned the patriarchy on its head with this one. It wouldn’t be possible to write this review without mentioning Cardan at least once. No matter your feelings pertaining to the intricately complicated male protagonist, one thing is for certain: Black did the opposite in every way of what readers expected when it came to the dynamics between Jude and Cardan. Now situated on what should have been his brother’s throne, Cardan is but a figurehead, a beautiful face to appease the masses. It is Jude who now holds the power. Black seems to quietly meditate on what power truly stands for and on the divergence between those who hold a powerful title opposed to those whose power comes in not having one.

The Folk of the Air Trilogy has given us a stellar second installment in  The Wicked King. Holly Black has waved her pencil, and we the readers have surrendered to her spell. Anticipation will no doubt continue to mount as we await the release of the third and final title, The Queen of Nothing, in 2020. For now, if you haven’t already, go and immerse yourself in the imagination of Holly Black in the form of these first two installments.