The Wicked King by Holly Black

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When it comes to sequels, it’s easy to be hit with the gnawing question of: will it be better than the first or not? Expectations mount for them, especially if you deeply loved the first book, which would be me with The Cruel Prince, and you’ve been left alone for a year to develop theories and wishes while anticipation grows.

The Wicked King by Holly Black
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However, I’ve never been let down by a Holly Black book, and the arrival of The Wicked King was no different! It was perfect and frightfully cunning and vicious — just as promised. It also cemented the promise that this series will always leave you with a cliff-hanger ending that leaves you gasping for a year until the next release. Excellent.

The Book in 3 Sentences

Several months after Jude Duarte outwitted the entire Faerie kingdom and put Cardan, the insolent and insufferable youngest prince, on the throne, she’s barely clinging to power. It turns out snatching a throne is more comfortable than keeping it. Now she’s playing mind-games with the court, fending off assassinations, trying to catch the unraveling threads of an oncoming war with the Queen of the Undersea, and she has no idea if Cardan loves her or is using her.

Cunning Mind Games? Here we Come!

One thing I’m entirely fond of in this series is how it’s here to make you second-guess and doubt yourself (and others) the entire way. As we’re in Jude’s first-person limited perspective, we’re trapped with her in the panic and anxiety of not knowing whom to trust.

For a court full of faeries who cannot lie, they sure find ways to twist things. Jude has claimed the throne and is effectively ruling through Cardan, although nobody knows that he’s sworn to do whatever she says. However, handling a whole kingdom when you’re only seventeen and you have absolutely no one to trust? It’s intense. It’s too much.

I also adored how the book kept the plots and schemes coming. Jude double-crosses everyone and they out-maneuver her too. We have Madoc back on the game board, pretending to serve (but is he really?) and Cardan sauntering around and doing what she says… but is he? And, does he have his plots? Even her Court of Shadows from the first book has become less trustworthy, and Jude is fast running out of people to turn to for help.

Is the Romance Inevitable Or Just Another Mind Game?

Can it be both? Because it’s honestly both. After the events of the last book, with Cardan being all sullen mouth and arrogance, and Jude being all caution and pointy strategy… they tumble into more kisses. I was keen to see how their relationship would further unfold. Cardan is furious at being tricked, but he’s also living a life of debauchery and laziness, which is precisely what he wanted — Or is it?

Moreover, with Jude doing all the work for the crown, she’s forced to be in his presence all the time. She wants him to keep looking at her like she means something. However, is it lust or curiosity or something more? Their collision is inevitable, but it leaves us with so many questions. We’re not able to see what Cardan’s thinking, so the agony of Jude and us wondering if we can trust these passionate kisses in the dark is absolute torture.

However, I have to admit, the moment Cardan “stole” Jude’s ring through sleight of hand and she responded by panicking that he was attacking her, entirely made me laugh. It was such a flirtatious move, and he was disappointed that she missed what he was doing.

The Stakes are Ever Higher Still

Which makes for an excellent cause to gnaw your nails as you cling to your paperback and ask how on earth Jude is going to keep this all together? She has no one whom she can truly trust, and the crown is slipping from her grasp. War is looming on the horizon, and there are plenty of influential figures on the gameboard. Would Madoc, Jude’s adopted father, take her out if he could?

A ride through the woods at one stage ends in a horrible ambush on Jude. Also, every night she poisons herself, trying to build immunity, even though it’s making her sick to the marrow. The book doesn’t spare the characters. Why kill your darlings when you can torture them?

It Touches On Everyday Themes

This is probably one of my favorite parts of this series: how practical, and personal all the themes are. The profound loneliness and craving of affection Jude has, after being isolated so long, is a particularly dominant theme. It asks questions about giving your heart to someone and if you can trust them to hold it.

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The beautiful way Holly Black writes brings these themes extra depth as we’re walked through beautiful descriptions of the faerie court life set against a backdrop of self-doubt and exhaustion. I spent only the entire book wanting Jude to get a decent night’s rest.

Did The Sequel Live Up to the First Book?

I think it outdid itself. It balanced giving us everything we loved from the first book like the mind games and the vicious beauty of Faerieland and the tease of hate-to-love romance between Jude and Cardan. Then, it expanded them with more of everything. It’s maddening and entrancing watching the story unfold and needing more… however, having to wait again for the final installment in 2020.

This story takes you on an adventure that’s like dancing on silver knife blades and gives you love and delights, promises and lies, and more theories and twists… and of course magic. Is there anything better than a book you can genuinely dissolve into as you discover its unexpected delights?

About the Author

CG Drews is a YA book blogger with the goal to read every book in existence. She’s aiming for immortality for this. When not reading, she writes novels and blogs at

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