Red, White & Royal Blue

Cover image for Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuistonby Casey McQuiston

ISBN 978-1-250-31677-6

“June, I’m the son of the President of the United States. Prince Henry is a figurehead of the British Empire. You can’t just call him my archnemesis… Archnemesis implies he’s actually a rival to me on any level and not, you know, a stuck-up product of inbreeding who probably jerks off to photos of himself.”

As the son of the President, Alex Claremont-Diaz, his sister June, and their best friend Nora Holleran are America’s golden children, beloved by the press, and the perfect political surrogates for President Claremont and Vice President Holleran as they pass through the 2018 midterms and aim for re-election in 2020. But Alex commits a very public faux-pas when he gets into an altercation with his long-time rival, Prince Henry of England, at the wedding of Henry’s older brother, Prince Philip. As the White House and Buckingham Palace fly into damage-control mode, Henry and Alex are forced to fake a public friendship for the press, even while the sparks that are flying behind closed doors are of an entirely different sort. But if they ever want to really be together, they’ll have to come to terms with themselves, their families, and their place in history.

Red, White & Royal Blue is told from the perspective of Alex Claremont-Diaz, the son of America’s first female president, Ellen Claremont, who is divorced from his father, the senator for California, Oscar Diaz. Although college-aged, Alex lives in the White House with his mother while he attends school at Georgetown, and his sister June has returned home after graduation as she attempts to start a journalism career with the baggage of not being taken seriously as a result of her status as First Daughter. Alex is mouthy and over-confident, with a laser focus on going straight into politics after college and becoming the youngest Congressman ever elected. So it maybe isn’t surprising that coming to terms with his sexuality has been on the back burner. After all, “he’s absolutely sure that guys who kissed a Prince of England and liked it don’t get elected to represent Texas.”

The Claremont-Diaz family is, of course, entirely fictional, a made-up successor to the Obama administration, although certain real political figures are mentioned in passing. Ellen Claremont is finishing out her first term, and heading into the 2020 election as her son undertakes a liaison that could provoke an international crisis. The British Royal Family is semi-fictionalized, drawing clear comparisons to the real monarchy without directly copying the family members as characters. McQuiston’s fictional version of the firm is headed by Queen Mary, whose daughter Catherine has withdrawn from public life since her husband, the film star Arthur Fox, died an early death due to pancreatic cancer. Her three children, heir Philip, and younger siblings Beatrice and Henry comprise the family’s younger generation of the Mountchristen-Windsors.

This book is at heart a light, fluffy romance, but one that also cheekily sends up the problematic aspects of the trope at its center. For example, early in the book Alex complains to his sister June that “royal weddings are trash, the princes who have royal weddings are trash, the imperialism that allows princes to exist at all is trash. Its trash turtles all the way down.” June shoots back, “you do realize that America is a genocidal empire too, right?” I suspect that some people won’t like politics intruding into their fluffy romance in this manner, but I personally found it helped to acknowledge the cognitive dissonance rather than simply ignoring the problems inherent in the trope. Your mileage may vary.

As the book goes on, Henry and Alex develop into frenemies, then lovers, and launch a snappy epistolary romance as they exchange text messages and emails, and try to sneak across the Atlantic to see one another as often as their duties will allow. The sex scenes are a bit more explicit what you would generally find in a YA novel—Red, White & Royal Blue is marketed into the New Adult category—but not actually that graphic overall. It will certainly appeal to fans of m/m YA tales such as Carry On or The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue. Most of all, however, this was a perfect bit of fluffy, swoony fun, which was exactly what I needed in the current moment.

An Enchantment of Ravens

Cover image for An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogersonby Margaret Rogerson

ISBN 978-1-4814-9758-9

“No one used their birth name in Whimsy. To do so would be to expose oneself to ensorcellment, by which a fair one could control a mortal in body and soul, forever, without their ever knowing—merely through the power of that single, secret word. It was the most wicked form of fairy magic, and the most feared.”

Although she is only seventeen, Isobel is the best painter in generations, and her Craft is coveted by all the fair ones who visit the artisan village of Whimsy to purchase human artistry. While the fair folk are masters of glamour and enchantment, they cannot truly create in the manner of mortals, but their appetite for human Craft is insatiable. So great is Isobel’s talent that rumour has it she will one day be invited to drink from the Green Well, and become a fair one herself—though it would mean losing her Craft forever. That dreaded possibility seems more real than ever when one day Isobel’s regular patron Gadfly announces that she can expect a visit from the Autumn Prince. Painting Rook proves to be an unexpected challenge; there is something about his eyes that Isobel can’t quite seem to capture, and worse, she finds his company dangerously captivating. In an unguarded moment, Isobel realizes that what she has been seeing in Rook’s eyes is a sorrow deeper than any expression of emotion she has ever seen from a fair one. When Isobel’s masterpiece is revealed before the entire Autumn Court, the weakness that has been painted plain for everyone to see is on display for all of Rook’s enemies and rivals. Refusing to let this insult stand, Rook spirits Isobel away to his Court to stand trial, presumably accused of fomenting rebellion amongst his courtiers.

I have to admit that I was a bit dubious about the premise of this book, particularly the trial,  which is how I ended up reading Sorcery of Thorns first, even though it is Margaret Rogerson’s second book. In the end, however, I was captured by the world Rogerson has created here. The village of Whimsy exists in a place between Faerie and the human World Beyond. It is a liminal space of perpetual summer, where human artisans exist to serve the capricious whims and ravenous appetites of the fair folk. They are paid in carefully negotiated enchantments, and the knowledge that the best among them may be offered the chance to visit the Green Well. But if they do not negotiate carefully enough, they may find that they pay the price, whether that is becoming unable to speak words that begin with vowels, or losing their very lives. And there are other dangers to living so close to Faerie; Isobel’s parents were killed by wild fae creatures that escaped the Wild Hunt and came out of the woods into Whimsy when she was a little girl.

We never do venture into the World Beyond, so the other half of Rogerson’s story takes place in Faerie, where we visit the realms of the Spring, Summer, and Autumn courts. For time untold, the courts have been ruled over by the Alder King of the Summer Court. But as they traverse the Summerlands on their way to the Autumn court, it becomes apparent to both Rook and Isobel that decay has taken root in the heart of the realm. Soon Rook is worried that Faerie has worse to fear than a rebellion in the Autumn Court. When their journey becomes unexpectedly dangerous, they seek refuge in the Spring Court, where Isobel hatches a clever plan that will perhaps save Rook’s reputation, and her own life.

Amongst the side characters, I particularly enjoyed Gadfly and his niece, Lark. Gadfly is an elder fae, accustomed to dealing with mortals, but in meeting Lark we catch a glimpse of the raw power and impetuousness of a nearly immortal being who has yet to truly grasp mortal fragility. I was also intrigued by Aster, the only fair one we meet who was once mortal. In her time, Aster was an acclaimed writer, but gave up wordsmithing when she drank from the Green Well and joined the Spring Court. Altogether, they make up the cast of this fantastic, standalone adventure into the heart of Faerie.

You might also like The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

Upstream

Cover image for Upstream by Dan Heath by Dan Heath

ISBN 978-1-9821-3472-3

“So often in life, we get stuck in a cycle of response. We put out fires. We deal with emergencies. We handle one problem after another, but we never get around to fixing the systems that caused the problems.”

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, but in the day-to-day busyness of life, it can be easy to overlook systemic problems, focusing instead on quick fixes and immediate solutions. With our natural human bias towards reaction and visible results, it requires deliberation to step away from the urgent and immediate, and turn our attention towards long-term interventions that may not pay dividends for months or perhaps years, even in cases where the rewards are exponential. Often these deeper problems are invisible, but even when they are known, they may be ignored or deferred when no one wants to take responsibility for solving them. In Upstream, Dan Heath examines the reasons why preventative thinking is so difficult, how we can do it better, and the invisible pitfalls that plague such efforts, using examples from business, education, and healthcare to illustrate the broad nature of his point.

I appreciated that a lot of this book was not just about the benefits of upstream thinking, but also focused on why it is difficult, and anticipating the ways that it can go wrong. Heath, who teaches social entrepreneurship at Duke University, provides examples of times that upstream thinking succeeded, such as improving the graduation rate in Chicago Public Schools, but also points to dismal failures, such as the abuses of CompStat policing software to artificially lower crime rates. Heath also acknowledged the complex and interconnected nature of the problems upstream thinking might be applied to, and spends time delving into unexpected consequences of well-intentioned interventions. This is far from being a simplistic paean to the benefits of thinking ahead.

Data is the key to upstream interventions, as measurement is essential to evaluating long-term efforts. But even there Heath points to the pitfalls, and the ways in which metrics can be poorly chosen or gamed. If quantity and quality are not tracked in tandem, one will usually pay the price for the other. One such example is Expedia, which for a long time was only measuring how quickly their call centers resolved customer issues, without pausing to consider why there were so many calls in the first place. Heath also cites the egregious example of police officers failing to record reported crimes, or downgrading a rape to “theft of services” because the victim was a sex worker, in order to keep the crime rate artificially low.

Heath tells the same story two different ways to show how even perceived strengths of human behaviour can have negative consequences for upstream thinking. Our pride in being creative, persistent, and resourceful can trap us inside a system that never learns from its mistakes. By overvaluing adaptability in the moment, we abdicate the responsibility for spotting repeated problems, and fixing them before they happen again. But this requires systems thinking, and for someone to take ownership of the problem even if it might not seem to properly belong to them. This can be especially difficult in cases where the group that has the power or ability to fix the problem is not the same as the group that will directly benefit from fixing it. Through these carefully parsed nuances, Heath makes it clear why upstream interventions are anything but easy.

It was very interesting to be reading this book during the COVID-19 outbreak, as a lot of the examples Heath uses come from the realm of public health, which is ripe for preventative care initiatives. Here Heath discusses problem blindness, or the idea that “negative outcomes are natural or inevitable.” Early discourse around COVID-19 dismissed the outbreak as “just the flu” and many people expressed fatalism about the possibility of becoming infected, with little regard for the collective consequences. Many of the interventions we are currently being asked to participate in, from hand washing to social distancing, are aimed not at treating currently infected people, but at the much more abstract idea of preventing the cases that will otherwise be diagnosed ten to fourteen days from now. If these cases do not materialize, then that is “the world avoided” by the intervention. COVID-19 is practically a case study in the difficulties of upstream thinking; if we succeed in slowing the spread, flattening the curve, and preventing the health care system from being overwhelmed, then we will have seemed to have cried wolf. Meanwhile, the economic harms are immediate, and evident, but are being attributed to COVID-19 hysteria, rather than seen as evidence of problems and weaknesses in the systems of our daily lives. It is easier to blame social distancing for economic hardship than it is to look upstream to wealth disparity, a weak social safety net, insufficient unemployment benefits, deficient sick leave policies, and so many more social issues that go well beyond one pandemic. In short, this was an extremely timely read, but the concepts found here apply to much more than our current situation.

Dark and Deepest Red

Cover image for Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemoreby Anna-Marie McLemore

ISBN 978-1-250-16274-8

 “Well-crafted seams and delicate beading gave my family a trade and a living. But red shoes gave us a name. They made us infamous. Until they came for us.”

Strasbourg, 1518: A plague of uncontrollable dancing sweeps through the independent city of Strasbourg, rousing suspicions of witchcraft and demonic activity. Lala and her aunt Dorenia have been living in the city since Romani were driven out of neighbouring countries by order of law. The laws eventually came to Strasbourg as well, but the two women have lived quietly, hiding their true ethnicity behind rumours of illegitimate descent from an Italian lord. But when rumours of witchcraft begin to swirl in earnest, the unspoken suspicions of their neighbours loom large. In the present day, Emil and Rosella live in Briar Meadows, a town that is entirely normal fifty one weeks out of the year. But every autumn, the glimmer arrives and settles over the reservoir, precipitating unexpected events that fade as quickly as the autumn leaves. This year, it is the legendary red shoes made by Rosella’s family that seem to have become truly magical, but Rosella worries that the taint of witchcraft will haunt her family long after the glimmer fades. Meanwhile, Emil tries to understand the connection between the glimmer and a family legend about long ago ancestors who were tried for witchcraft after a dancing plague swept through the region.

In their fifth book, Anna-Marie McLemore turns their talent for magical realism to the realm of fairy tales, and history, combining Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Red Shoes” with the documented la fièvre de la danse that ensnared the city of Strasbourg in 1518. In their Author’s Note, written from the city of Strasbourg in 2018, McLemore notes that there is no known connection between the two, but they “still wonder if perhaps Hans Christian Andersen had, at the back of his mind, a little piece of history that mentions red shoes, and an Alsatian city gripped by dancing as though it was a plague.” In Dark and Deepest Red, McLemore makes the suspected connection explicit, casting Emil as a descendant of the women who were accused of causing the plague.

Dark and Deepest Red is structured around three alternating narrators, beginning with Rosella, whose family, the Olivas, are known for their exquisite handmade shoes. Next is Lala, who goes by Lavinia outside her family, because it is essential that they hide their Romani heritage. Finally, we have Emil, a modern day Romani boy who has supressed his heritage in order to fit in. Briar Meadows has a touch of magic, true, but it is not otherwise so accepting of things that are out of the ordinary. Emil’s parents are scholars, and their family history is well-researched and documented, but Emil doesn’t really want to know the stories his parents have so painstakingly saved for him. The chapters alternate in quick succession, and indeed this might be the book’s greatest weakness; while it keeps all of the plots moving, it also means that the reader never has time to really settle in and connect with one character.

Dark and Deepest Red orbits around two central romances. Lala has long been in love with Alifair the orphaned trans boy who appeared mysteriously appeared out of the Black Woods one day when they were both still children. He has since become her aunt’s apprentice in their dyeing and ink-making business, his uncanny talent for slipping among wasps unstung further adding to his mystery. But Lala constantly worries that if she and her aunt are exposed as Romani, Alifair will be tainted by association. Emil and Rosella were friends when they were children, finding a unique bond in the fact that they didn’t quite fit in among the other children of Briar Meadows. But they slowly grew apart, until the dancing shoes bring them back together unexpectedly. Rosella tries to hide her affliction, desperate for the glimmer to pass, while Emil’s denial of his heritage means that unbeknownst to them both, he may hold the key to the answers Rosella seeks. Only together can they solve the problem. The two relationships mirror one another, showing how secrets complicate our every attempt to connect.

While this book has much of the magic of McLemore’s previous reads, and deals with many of the same issues, the structure makes it difficult to sink into and revel in that magic in quite the same way as The Weight of Feathers or Wild Beauty.

You might also like When the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

Crush the King (Crown of Shards #3)

Cover image for Crush the King by Jennifer Estep by Jennifer Estep

ISBN 978-0-06-279769-8

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this title from the publisher.

 “I needed help. I needed another Blair, someone I could depend on, and especially someone I could leave my throne to if the worst happened and the Mortans finally managed to kill me.”

In the year since she ascended to the Bellonan throne after the murder of all her relatives in a Mortan plot, Everleigh Winter Blair has secured her crown, and survived multiple assassination attempts. However the threat of Morta still looms large, and with the international Regalia Games coming up, a unique opportunity for her enemies to try to kill her again. Unless, of course, she manages to kill them first. For the first time, Evie will come face to face with King Maximus of Morta, the tyrant behind the Seven Spire Massacre, and she plans to go on the offensive. In order to protect Bellona, she will need to secure alliances with Unger and Ryusama, champion her kingdom in the kronekling tournament, and crush the King of Morta, with a little help from her friends.

In the third installment of the Crown of Shards series, Jennifer Estep continues to use flashbacks to develop Evie’s history, exposing just how far back Mortan meddling in Bellonan affairs goes. After escaping the murder of her parents at Winterwind, young Evie finds herself alone in the forest, at the mercy of the elements and bounty hunters alike. We already know that she will eventually end up in the custody of her cousin, Queen Cordelia, but the flashbacks never quite get that far. In the present, Evie must survive three days of balls, political jockeying, and multiple attempts on her life. Although the Regalia games are set on the nominally neutral Fortuna Island, home of the prosperous DiLucri banking family, Evie strongly suspects that the DiLucris have struck a deal with Morta, placing the Regalia on hostile ground.

Both of the previous volumes in the series have featured significant romance elements. Kill the Queen introduced Everleigh’s slow burn romance with Lucas Sullivan, magier of the Black Swan gladiator troupe, and illegitimate son of the King of Andvari. Protect the Prince centered Lucas even more strongly, with a trip to his home country of Andvari to try to secure an alliance between Bellona and Lucas’ legitimate royal relatives. However, he is relegated to a minor role in Crush the King, and there is no significant development of his character or their relationship in this installment. However, I did appreciate that Estep didn’t try to insert an unnecessary interpersonal conflict between them in order to keep things exciting in the final volume. This book has more than enough on its plate already.

While I enjoyed the action of Crush the King, by the third book in the series, the lack of variety in description is abundantly clear, and I was at times annoyed by the writing. I lost track of how many times Evie executed “the perfect Bellonan curtsy” in the series, yet I still have no idea what that particular type of curtsy looks like as opposed to any other. Evie also has the ability to smell magic and emotions, but each emotion is described identically every single time she senses it, particularly “hot peppery anger” and “hot jalapeno rage,” which come up again and again. Consistency can be a virtue, but in this case it was becoming extremely tedious.

Jennifer Estep had many threads in play going into this final volume, and a challenge to tie them up neatly. Rather than cramming it all in, she has opted for a conclusion that is a bit more open-ended than many trilogies. Future conflict with Morta remains a distinct possibility, and Everleigh has yet to determine if any other Blairs are still alive, or designate a successor to her throne. Cho and Serilda have not come to terms, and the relationship between Xenia and Paloma is also not fully resolved. However, a little bit of open-endedness gives the world a feeling of continuance, beyond the last page.

You might also like The Deepest Blue by Sarah Beth Durst

A Pale Light in the Black

Cover image for A Pale Light in the Dark by K. B. Wagers by K.B. Wagers

ISBN 978-0-06-288778-5

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this title from the publisher.

 “Look. You’ve stumbled into trouble beyond recall. You can’t run far enough away from this. I could give the lot of you more money to just walk away right now—more than you’ll see in your entire military career. You don’t know what you’re messing with.”

After a narrow loss at the 100th Boarding Games, Commander Rosa Martín Rivas and the crew of Zuma’s Ghost head back to Jupiter Station, where they are posted as part of the Near-Earth Orbital Guard, or NeoG, the solar system’s Coast Guard. The crew is still smarting from their loss at the Boarding Games, when Nika, their lieutenant, receives a promotion which means they will lose their best swordsman in exchange for a new officer they are worried will be more status than substance. Maxine Carmichael is a brand new officer in the NeoG. After defying her influential family’s tradition of entering the Navy—which focuses on science and space exploration—Max is determined to make her own choices, and find her own place in the universe. But she will have a hard task proving herself and winning over the crew of Zuma’s Ghost, especially Nika’s adopted sister Jenks.

The crew is comprised of a variety of interesting characters headed by Commander Rosa, a member of the Earth-Bound Church who has received a dispensation from her pastor to serve off of God’s Green Earth—provided she doesn’t leave the solar system. She has left a wife and two daughters behind at home, along with her extremely orthodox mother. Her Master Chief is Ma Léi, a retired Navy officer who also happens to be a friend of Max’s father. Instead of taking his retirement, Ma signed up for second career in the NeoG, fully enjoying the long life and health afforded by LifeEx, the revolutionary medical treatment invented by Max’s great-great-grandfather, Alexander Carmichael. They are joined by master hacker Ensign Nell Zika aka Sapphi, and Petty Officer Uchida Tamashini aka Tamago (they/them), and of course, Petty Officer Altandai Khan, aka Jenks, the brash but undefeated fighter and brilliant mechanic who loves fiercely but doesn’t trust easily. For future installments, I’d like to see more development for Sapphi and Tamago, who get short shrift in this volume.

Although not positioned as the main character, a lot of the heart of this story revolves around Jenks. One of the highlights is the slowly warming relationship between Jenks and Max, as Max figures out how to be the kind of officer and teammate a firebrand like Jenks needs. Meanwhile, Jenks has a longstanding friends with benefits arrangement with Luis Armstrong, a widow who is stationed back on Earth with his two young sons. They are positioned on the edge of something more, if only Jenks could stop trying to run away. While not the protagonist as such, Jenks is definitely the life of the party, and the heart of the crew.

I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised by this story, which takes military sci-fi in an unexpected direction. Far from focusing on closely described battles and military expansionism, A Pale Light in the Dark is instead tightly focused on the crew of Zuma’s Ghost, their found family relationship, and their commitment to being the best crew in the service so that they can fulfill their mission to help those who become lost or stranded in space. The timeline of the story is built around the countdown to the next Boarding Games, which Rosa is desperate to have NeoG win for the first time. There is also a slow-burning mystery surrounding a long-missing freighter that the crew reclaims from a mysterious band of smugglers. After simmering throughout the novel, this plot thread comes to a slightly rushed conclusion, but I think there is room to further explore the ramifications later in the series. I’d love a deeper dive into the economics and morality of LifeEx, which must either be paid for, or earned through military service.

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Chosen (Slayer #2)

Cover image for Chosen by Kiersten Whiteby Kiersten White

ISBN 978-1-5344-0498-4

 “Leo loved me, betrayed us, saved us, and then died, and I can’t be sad without being mad or mad without feeling guilty or guilty without feeling exhausted.”

When Buffy destroyed the Seed of Wonder, magic went out of the world. The hell mouths were sealed, cutting Earth off from the infernal realms. But the demons who were on Earth when the portals closed are now trapped here forever. Nina is the last Slayer, her powers activated in the final moments before magic left the world forever. It was an inheritance she never wanted; as the daughter of Watchers, she never asked or expected to be chosen. But she has chosen to use her powers for good, setting up the Watchers’ crumbling Irish castle as a sanctuary for non-violent demons who were trapped on Earth when the doorways closed. Yet despite believing whole-heartedly in this mission, Nina finds herself fighting the violent impulses of a Slayer, tempted to react to everything with anger and force. And although the infernal realms are closed, those who remain on Earth may still pose a threat, and Nina must decide who to save, and who to save humanity from.

With the Watchers Council decimated, Nina, Rhys, and Imogen take up the mantle of reorganizing the ancient institution for the next generation. Leo is gone, and Artemis and Honora have struck out on their own, unable or unwilling to accept Nina’s vision for the future. Artemis can’t quite come to terms with the fact that her twin sister, the gentle girl who wanted to be a healer, was Chosen, while Artemis, who trained all her life, will never have the power of a Slayer. In fact, now that magic has gone out of the world, she may never have any power at all. This conflict comes to be at the heart of Chosen, the second volume in Kiersten White’s Buffy spin off series. Artemis’ lust for power is not abated by the passing of magic, while Nina’s fear of and distaste for her own power complicates every choice she is faced with. Nor can Artemis accept her sister in any role other than the one she—and all the other Watchers—cast her in. Family, sisterhood, and having a choice versus being chosen are at the heart of this story.

As with the previous installment, Chosen focuses on the younger generation of Watchers, but also features cameos from beloved characters from the original series. Buffy and Faith feature in Nina’s Slayer dreams, while a certain popular werewolf makes an unexpected appearance in London. As with the previous installment, White captures the dialogue and banter well, balancing the darker themes with the pithy one liners, as when an exasperated Nina exclaims, “We don’t have time for an apocalypse… Maybe pencil in an apocalypse for May. It seems like a nice spring activity.” That said, Chosen wraps things up in a way that suggests this might be a duology, but there is still room here for further stories if the publisher decides to continue.

You might also like Star Wars: Queen’s Shadow by E. K. Johnston

The Queen of Nothing (The Folk of the Air #3)

Cover image for The Queen of Nothing by Holly Black by Holly Black

ISBN 978-0-316-31042-0

 “I keep my head down, as I probably should have done in the first place. And if I curse Cardan, then I have to curse myself, too, for being the fool who walked right into the trap he set for me.”

As a mortal struggling to survive in the brutal realm of Faerie, Jude Duarte made a desperate bid to hold on to power by marrying the High King Cardan. But now Cardan has disavowed her, and Jude is banished to the mortal realm, while war brews back in Elfhame. Eldred’s former High General Madoc continues to rally troops to his cause, including the smith Grimsen, the fae who forged the Blood Crown in the first place, which is the key to the Greenbriar succession. Jude tries to convince herself that the war is no longer her problem, but when her twin sister Taryn knocks on her door for help, Jude will find herself drawn back into the deadly politics of the fae.

The prophecy that alienated Prince Cardan from his father, the former High King Eldred, lies at the heart of the final installment of Holly Black’s The Folk of the Air trilogy. On the day of the prince’s birth, the court astrologer Baphen spoke a dark warning. “Prince Cardan will be your last born child… He will be the destruction of the crown and the ruination of the throne… Only out of his spilled blood can a great ruler rise, but not before what I have told you comes to pass.” Now, through Jude’s ambition and trickery, Cardan sits on a throne that he never expected to occupy, unsure if he can command the loyalty of the courts that make up his kingdom. Certainly Madoc is still bent on war, and seizing power for himself, whatever the cost to the realm.

Meanwhile, the three sisters are all faced with the darker side of what it means to love the fae. Having gotten her wish and married into the Court with her wedding to Locke, Taryn now lives with the daily reality of marriage to the cruel trickster who played her against her twin sister. Vivi continues to pay the price for having used magic to deceive her mortal lover, Heather, to hide her true nature, and the fallout of the eventual revelation of the truth. And Jude, of course, is still grappling with her feelings for Cardan, somehow still in love with the man who denied her and banished her from her home. If they are ever to be reunited a balance of power must be struck, but trust does not come easily to two people who have hurt each other so relentlessly. The power dynamics of interpersonal relationships are just as key to the series as the power dynamics of the Faerie court at large.

It is hard to say much more about the conclusion of this series without heading deep into the realm of spoilers. Holly Black continues her nuanced exploration of power, and what we will do to keep it, and how that desire can poison our relationships if abused. Under Madoc’s tutelage, and informed by her mortal weaknesses, Jude has been accustomed to seizing power by whatever means necessary. But some power cannot be seized, but can only be granted by willing consent. When it comes to dark, twisting, intricately plotted faerie tales, Holly Black is the true Queen of Faerie.

You might also like  The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black