I picked up an arc of The Wicked King at San Diego Comic-con.
Let’s get right into it. The romantic relationship portrayed in this series is not desirable.
Romanticising, or seeking a relationship like the one in these books is not something anyone should do. It’s emotionally unhealthy, and seeing people swoon over Cardan frankly confuses me. If you enjoy reading it, you do you. If you seek it out or encourage it in real life, please realize that you could be hurting someone, maybe yourself.
There were some good quotes early on that gave me high hopes. It seemed like Holly Black might be taking a slightly different approach to the toxicity of Jude and Cardan’s relationship.
“If you’re the sickness, I suppose you can’t also be the cure.”
I was intrigued by this because I thought we may get a book with little to no romance as a result. There were also some hints of mental health/distress for Jude that were really interesting to me, and I was looking forward to how those would play out. Those elements were not really expanded on though, so I was let down by that.
I saw a lot of readers say they enjoyed the last 1/3 of the book the most. I was the opposite. I enjoyed the first half, and then something happens that caused me to almost stop reading. It solidified the fact that the book was going to continue in a pretty negative emotional direction. I don’t enjoy reading about this really emotionally unhealthy relationship. I found it hard to continue to root for or relate to Jude as the book went on.
If there is a book out there that could be labeled as emotional grim-dark, I think this is it. A lot of the healthier relationships Jude did have are impacted negatively because of her actions in The Cruel Prince. There are multiple relationships that take a step toward emotional abuse, almost everyone in the book, and that made it hard for me to find characters/storylines to glom on to.
I think there are important discussions to be had about relationships like Jude & Cardan’s. This book could be beneficial to someone looking for ways to fight an abusive relationship. Even reading Jude’s experience as a 3rd party and seeing her suffer could help someone realize they’re suffering in the same way. Framing that in the scope of a fantasy novel can help people who are struggling with emotional and physical abuse in real life. A lot of people (myself included) read fantasy as a way of learning to perceive the real world. The Wicked King doesn’t offer much in the way of hope or any kind of positive momentum. It’s potentially triggering for anyone who had been in an emotionally abusive relationship. The physicality is completely consensual, I have no qualms there, but the emotional dysfunction is hard to read. Not saying every fantasy novel must offer tools for real life, but this one I feel does not.
As a pure fantasy novel, which I have to remind myself this is not as the real world does cross into the story, I did enjoy the politics and the scheming early on. Those were the elements I found interesting and the reason I am giving this book 2.5 stars instead of something lower. Seeing Jude taking over and coming into her own more in Faerie was really great, but her character development stagnated quickly.
I don’t mean to imply that anyone shouldn’t read this book or this series. I can see why people love it, particularly fans of the ACOTAR series. As with any book, it’s important to be mindful and thoughtful while reading about topics like emotional abuse. I feel the same way about the romance in this series as I do about the Darkling/Alina ship. The Darkling is just straight up bad news, even if he has his sexy moments. That doesn’t excuse or allow any of his destructive behavior. The only real difference is that Faerie enthusiastically encourages violence. It’s a complex society that could be super compelling, unfortunately, I find it’s all bright colors and pretty people wrapped around an empty and predictable story I’ve read 100 times before.