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After The Cruel Prince, I had high expectations for The Wicked King. Jude’s navigation of the intricacies of faerie politics was incredible, and I loved the taut push-and-pull of her relationship with Cardan. Unfortunately, all of these factors, while wonderful, made the narrative drag at times. By the halfway point, I was dying for something to actually happen besides the constant plotting and longing.
I have to say, apart from a few key moments, Locke felt superfluous. In The Cruel Prince, he was shallow and predictable, but this time he felt tacky and obvious. He continues to be my least favourite character – not because of his actions but because of how he is written.
Previously, Jude and Madoc’s relationship was intriguing (being raised by the man who killed your parents is likely to create conflict), but I loved the exploration of both its current status and its evolution over time in The Wicked King. Madoc has to keep re-evaluating Jude because of her power-play and her actions as Cardan’s seneschal. This is interspersed with flashbacks of him training Jude and Taryn, which allows for the development of depth and complexity in their relationship.
The members of the Court of Shadows became real individual characters with histories and relationships. This allowed Cardan to evolve, as his interactions with the Bomb, Roach, and Ghost reveal more of his character and abilities. I think he matured in his role, especially when he started questioning decisions and suggesting better alternatives. It was nice to see that as Cardan and Jude got closer and began to trust each other more, it didn’t erase their past. It’s too common for characters to have goldfish memories to support a love story – being attracted to someone doesn’t make you forget cruel and manipulative actions. Cardan and Jude, while fighting their attraction, stay hyper-aware of each other – constantly on guard against the next blindside. And when one of them finally lets down their guard, they are rewarded almost immediately with the outcome they knew, deep down, was inevitable.
I did enjoy The Wicked King; there are some wonderful moments, and Black created a real sense of anticipation. However, I think my expectations were too high after The Cruel Prince and the change in pace and the change in roles of almost every character required some acclimatisation. Where The Cruel Prince was all twists and turns with misdirection and cruelty, The Wicked King is slow, bubbling, deadly truths that are plotting and threatening to be exposed.
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