How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories

- Holly Black

Goodreads Book Blurb:

Once upon a time, there was a boy with a wicked tongue.

Before he was a cruel prince or a wicked king, he was a faerie child with a heart of stone . Revealing a deeper look into the dramatic life of Elfhame’s enigmatic high king, Cardan, his tale includes delicious details of life before The Cruel Prince, an adventure beyond The Queen of Nothing, and familiar moments from The Folk of the Air trilogy, told wholly from Cardan’s perspective.

Series / Genres:

My Review:

solid, good read:
4/5

A prince of Faerie, nourished on cat milk and contempt, born into a family overburdened with heirs, with a nasty little prophecy hanging over his head—since the hour of Cardan’s birth, he has been alternately adored and despised. Perhaps it’s no surprise that he turned out the way he did; the only surprise is that he managed to become the High King of Elfhame anyway.
Some might think of him as a strong draught, burning the back of one’s throat, but invigorating all the same. You might beg to differ.
So long as you’re begging, he doesn’t mind a bit.

I’m not a fan of rehashing a story from a new perspective and calling it a new book. Thankfully, most of these stories edge around the significant events from the Folk of the Air series, so I enjoyed How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories more than expected.

Jude looked up at him, and in her eyes, he recognized a hate big enough and wide enough and deep enough to match his own. A hate you could drown in like a vat of wine.
Too late to hide it, she lowered her head in the pretense of deference.
Impossible, Cardan thought. What had she to be angry about, she who had been given everything he was denied? Perhaps he had imagined it. Perhaps he wanted to see his reflection on someone else’s face and had perversely chosen hers.
With a whoop, he rode in her direction, just to watch her and her sister run. Just to show her that if she did hate him, her hatred was as impotent as his own.

I liked seeing Cardan and Jude together after the conclusion of The Queen of Nothing, especially in the mortal world. Getting Cardan’s perspective on their interactions and relationship is a refreshing change. We already knew that Cardan didn’t have a great childhood or even young adulthood. How he has been abused will never excuse how he chose to treat others, but it does provide further insight into his character and its development.

It turned out that Cardan didn’t have a heart of stone after all. As he removed his shirt and sank to his knees, as he fisted his hands and tried not to cry out when the strap fell, he burned with hatred. Hatred for Dain; for his father; for all the siblings who didn’t take him in and the one who did; for his mother, who spat at his feet as she was led away; for stupid, disgusting mortals; for all of Elfhame and everyone in it. Hate that was so bright and hot that it was the first thing that truly warmed him. Hate that felt so good that he welcomed being consumed by it.
Not a heart of stone, but a heart of fire.

This collection of stories is a little light on details and is more for the fandom than a true addition to the complexity of the story told in this series. Still, it is beautifully written, and I will definitely keep an eye out for a physical copy – I doubt the Kindle version does the illustrations justice.

"And I decided to play the hero. See how it felt. To try."
"And?" she asks.
"I didn’t like it," he admits. "Henceforth, I think we should consider our roles as monarchs to be largely decorative. It would be better for the low Courts and the solitary Folk to work things out on their own."
"I think you have iron poisoning," she tells him, which could possibly be true but is still a hurtful thing to say when he is making perfect sense. […]
"You didn’t hear the story I told," he goes on. "A shame. It featured a handsome boy with a heart of stone and a natural aptitude for villainy. Everything you could like."
She laughs. "You really are terrible, you know that? I don’t even understand why the things you say make me smile."
He lets himself lean against her, lets himself hear the warmth in her voice. "There is one thing I did like about playing the hero. The only good bit. And that was not having to be terrified for you."
"The next time you want to make a point," Jude says, "I beg you not to make it so dramatically."
His shoulder hurts, and she may be right about the iron poisoning. […]
"So long as you’re begging," he says.

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