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“The Wicked King” by Holly Black

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Holly Black, the bestselling author of The Spiderwick Chronicles, has penned a new trilogy about human twins, Jude and Taryn, raised among the Fair Folk. Jude gets thrown into the deep end of Faerie politics and has to protect her younger half-brother, Oak. The Wicked King is the second book in the series, and as it starts, Jude has engineered a bargain with Faerie’s new king, Cardan, wherein he must obey her for a year and a day. Of course, being the power behind the throne only works if she can keep him on that throne, and there are any number of rivals who’d love to throw him off it, preferably with a dagger in his back.

The Wicked King is one of this year’s finalists for the Lodestar Award, and that’s the context in which I read it. Not having read the first book, I was worried that I’d be lost, but Black does a great job of summarizing the previous action in a way that gets readers up to speed without slowing down the plot. I also enjoyed her portrayal of Faerie. The many types (species?) of Folk, the palace built into the side of a hill, the horses made of reeds, and a host of other details serve to give Elfhame an otherworldly atmosphere. As one would expect from a book about Faerie politics, there are plenty of schemes and plots and complex relationships between factions and characters bubbling away in the background until they finally came to a head.

My one complaint is with the pacing of the ending. The events surrounding Taryn’s wedding and the queen of the Undersea’s plot happen in the last couple chapters of the book, at a breakneck pace. It felt rushed, and the book ends right in the middle of the action, so the reader doesn’t really have any time to process all that’s happened. I recognize that this is the second book in a trilogy, and there’s a need to set up plot threads for the final installment, but that could have been done with a denouement that resolved the action while hinting at more to come. As it is, it feels more like Black ended the book at some arbitrary page count rather than a natural pause point in the plot.

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