Of Snakes, and Exiles, and Queens
Author: Holly Black
The rise to power often results in a devastating fall. No one knows this better than Jude Duarte. She is back, exiled in the mortal world, a queen in name only. Her secret marriage to Cardan – and everything it was going to ensure – is now more than useless. It’s a cruel joke. The final parry in a game played for keeps. And Cardan won.
Jude’s depression won’t keep the wolf from the door, however, and her stint in the world of faerie with The Shadow Court, an amalgamation of assassins and tricksters, has left her with some exceptional skills. So, she takes odd jobs in the human world, hunting down rouge fairies, delivering messages and ultimatums, working with the rouges who, like herself, are cast out and looking for trouble. When one especially dangerous assignment sends Jude after a cannibal fairy general, Grima Mog, however, she meets her match. This wicked adversary, dangerous as she is, keeps her word after being cleverly defeated and tells Jude what she most wants to know – what is happening in the world of faerie. It doesn’t sound good, at least not for Cardan.
With these thoughts in her mind, small vengeance that they are, Jude returns to her home with her fey sister and little brother only to find Taryn. Double crosser that Taryn is, she is still family, and she has a desperate plea, an unlikely scheme, that will send Jude back into the world of faerie. Returning means risking her life, chancing everything, but Jude can’t stay away and with her return, the final chapter begins – ones filled with secrets and revelations, betrayals and giant snakes, open kingdom-on-kingdom warfare and mermaids, love and intoxicating hate.
I raced through the Folk of the Air series, breathless to finish and yet not wanting it to end. The Queen of Nothing is a dramatic, satisfying, absorbing, gruesome affair that is simply perfection. It hits all the scintillating highlights, goes to all the dark and dangerous places, evokes all the high drama and magic that has made this series a worthy fan favorite. Oh, and did I mention there is a giant snake? And mermaids? And more hot scenes with you-know-who (although not as hot as – that particular one in The Wicked King). Ahh… Happy.
The story starts in a depressing vein. We are with Jude, and we are mad and betrayed. Here in the less dangerous mortal world, everything is so lackluster too. Even the colors seem dimmer and details such as rent and jobs are quite a come down from the heights of royal power, binding promises, and Game of Thrones level politics. When Grima Mog shows up, the confrontation gives readers and Jude the needed boost and just like that, we are back in the all-or-nothing game. And people (and fey) are going to die. And not necessarily the ones you expect.
One area of discontent for me was the early death of Locke. Taryn, the hated twin (really would love a story where Jude just goes off script and tells Taryn what a truly horrible person she is) has killed her husband. This is the catalyst for her returning and for Jude going in her place to face the high court and play off the murder. Not that this isn’t believable, per say, but it certainly isn’t earned. First – this is very left field. Taryn seemed more than fine with how horrible Locke was, so why the sudden change of heart? And even more important – I’ve been loathing Locke for two novels now. I needed to see and experience his ignominious death. Readers needed to see and experience it. It’s called closure. And, you know, vicarious revenge. With Locke out of the way early on, we lose a central villain too, and I expected more from him. Greater things. Ms. Black, please add an additional 100 pages, and kill Locke very, very slowly.
My second quibble was with Cardan’s sort of scheme – the explanation behind the exile. I’ve decided not to spoiler this one, because I can be vague enough to get around it. Let’s just say that it doesn’t hold water, especially considering how clever both Cardan and Jude are (or were before this big mistake). It’s too much of a “we miscommunicated” coincidence, and I didn’t like it. I got over it though, because darn this is a good story and I just wanted to go with it. Plus, giant snakes.
As Cardan and Jude’s relationship develops, we get more schemes, more near misses, more revelations, and then a very, very big disaster that changes absolutely everything. This is the moment for which we have all been waiting. Jude is facing a forked path. Neither choice is good. One is clearly right. One is clearly human. And Jude waivers. This is not the stuff of story book heroes, but of real heroes, torn and not always doing “the right thing.” It’s a great moment of collective inhales, a space where we too struggle. The moment is played perfectly. The action and resolution earned. The ending is corny – so so corny – but it is what we have wanted all along. For once, there is a happily ever after that, as Goldilocks would say, is just right. Not necessarily believable or justified, but right.
So yeah, there are moments that I can complain about here. Not everything is one hundred percent perfect . . . but it’s 95% there (4.5 out of 5 stars, rounded up because I wanted too). I’ve moved on from the very well executed and breathtaking Audibles to purchase every single book in the series in hardcover, because I will read this again, and it needs to be in my library. Ah. Contented sigh. Now, Ms. Black, keep the adventures in the delightfully perverse world of faerie coming.
– Frances Carden
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