Over the last ten years, bestselling author Holly Black has rightly earned the title of ‘Faerie Queen’. She weaves a Faerie world that is dangerous and bloodthirsty, far from being a dream come true, these worlds are more like your darkest nightmares brought to life. Méabh McDonnell spoke to Holly about her experience writing her new novel The Cruel Prince and her writing life.
A veteran of urban fantasy, Holly Black has delighted readers with her previous ventures into a dark and twisted Faerie world overlapping modern day America. Her stories are gritty, compelling, and surprisingly realistic for stories about faeries. Her previous ventures into this Faerie world, have unearthed a collection of brave and strong characters, in Tithe, Valiant, Ironside and The Darkest Part of the Forest.
I started with the idea of this girl being raised by the her parents murderer
The Cruel Prince is a fresh journey into this, cruel world of Faerie. It tells the story of Jude Duarte, kidnapped into Faerie as a child with her twin Taryn, and sister Vivi. If that wasn’t bad enough, they were kidnapped and raised by their parent’s murderer, redcap general Madoc. Jude grows up in their faerie world of Elfhame, and is forced to make this place her home. It isn’t a particularly welcoming place for a human girl to grow up. Even less welcoming because of her enemies in the court, none worse than prince of the realm, Cardan. Prince Cardan takes vicious delight in tormenting Jude, making her life hell. Despite all of this, Jude is determined to make a life for herself within the Faerie kingdom. And she is willing to do almost anything to make it a reality…
Speaking to Holly Black, we found out what she enjoyed about revisiting her world of fairy.
‘I wanted to try to unify the world that I had created. I tried to think about, what if there’s a high court, in this world and what if it works like this?’ Holly said.
One of the most fun aspects of The Cruel Prince was how characters from her other series made important cameos, which was a fun aspect for Holly too. ‘I decided to bring people in, people from these different places. That was a conscious choice. However I forgot when you’re writing a book that when you put someone into a book it turns out that they might have a job to do in that book! I put Roiben and Kaye and Severin and Ben into this big coronation scene and I realised well, now that they’re named characters, it turns out now we need people in their exact roles!’
It can be more challenging than you might expect, ‘They turned out to be more significant characters than I expected to be. I just wanted to see them, to check in on them, it’ll be great, I thought! But then I realised that these people might have jobs to do, and might have big jobs to do going forward.’
These characters pop up all in Jude’s world, and although they’ve been our heroes in other books, it’s interesting to see them in a position where they’re not totally on her side. Jude is a character who is exposed to the most raw and brutal version of Faerie we have seen. ‘I started with the idea of this girl being raised by the her parents murderer, that’s Jude’s perspective in the story.
‘What I think is really fun about Jude is she is very much the daughter of the Redcap General and he has raised her to be really good at military strategy, and sword fighting. So she is really good at those things. And it turns out that it is kind of dangerous to teach your daughter these things, because she might want the same stuff you want.’
Jude has to walk the line between being a human growing up in an incredibly dangerous version of Faerie. We are completely immersed in Faerie in this the novel, as opposed to the other novels set in Holly Black’s Faerie series, where we only see glimpses. Jude is exposed to the harsh brutality of Faerie all of the time.
‘This was the first book that I’ve written where the whole book is set in Faerie. All of my other books about Faerie we only go into Faeirie for for short periods of time, where-as in this book, almost the whole novel is set in Faerie and most of the characters we meet are Fae. I had to think about that in a way that I didn’t for the other books. I had to think about how to write that,’ said Holly.
Of course it’s not just the realm of Faerie that is threatening to Jude and her family, it’s the very court that rules it. In particular, Prince Cardan, who makes it his mission to to make Jude’s life a living hell. ‘Cardan is the absolute worst, really’, said Holly. ‘It was really fun to write someone who really indulged his worst impulses, but is also funny. It’s always fun to write someone who is both funny and awful.’
As the plot progresses of course Jude gets mired further into trouble, with spies, and murder and regicide… Really, you can’t help but wonder why they wouldn’t all just decide to leave? Which is exactly what Jude’s awesome Fae sister Vivi keeps on pointing out.
It was really fun to write someone who really indulged his worst impulses, but is also funny.
‘Vivi’s really like “let’s go home, let’s go to the human world! Even though I am a faerie, maybe we don’t have to go through all of this…”‘ said Holly. Vivi is the advice that Holly would be giving to the characters if she could, ‘Vivi gets to give the advice that I might give as a good person, you know if I wasn’t trying to torment them all of the time!’ she laughed.
We leave the characters walking a tightrope of court intrigue and danger, and we truly can’t wait to see what happens next, but Holly isn’t giving us any big clues about what happens in the next two books. ‘I can tell you that in book two there’s a wedding and in book three there’s a funeral!’ Holly laughed.
‘It’s interesting to be writing a series again, after writing a lot of stand-alones. I love stand-alones because you get in, you get out and everything is in that book. But it’s really interesting to be talking about a series because everything is so up in the air and people are speculating about what might happen,’ she said.
‘I think people stay in it for longer with you. You get to meet people when they’re in the middle of reading it, which is really cool. People get to eye you a little suspiciously, because they don’t know how trustworthy you are, writer! They want to be surprised, but they also want you to make them happy. There is something really fun about it that I had forgotten because I haven’t done it in so long.’
Of course leaving people with only the first book in a series means that Holly can’t talk about the future with anyone either. ‘I can’t wait for people to find out what’s going to happen next! Although I do think that some of them might be mad…!’
A reality of writing life… Which admittedly, is one that Holly has always wanted, ‘I always wanted to be a writer. One of my big introductions to fantasy was Brian Froud’s art book, Faeries and the drawings of Alan Lee. My mother was an artist and she had their books, so that introduced me to fantasy that I still love, that concept of Faerie.’
That being said, the beginning of her career wasn’t an easy one, ‘Tithe took me five years to write, I didn’t know how to write a book, so it was five years of my life just thinking about that.
‘The first inspiration behind it was the thought of a girl getting burned by iron. That made me think well, she must be a faerie and because of that, she had to be a changeling! That thought became the next five years of my life!
The struggle of being a writer and believing in yourself is something that Holly understands. ‘I always wanted to be a writer, but I didn’t know any writers, I’d never met a living writer, I didn’t know any adults who had followed any artistic job and have it be their profession. And people always used to say to me, “If you believe you can do it, then you can do it.” But I always thought, but I don’t believe I can do it! I mean, why would it be me? And so I’ve always thought for myself, and other aspiring writers, the best advice is: you don’t have to believe in it. It’s too much to ask yourself to believe in it and do it. So just do it, and you’ll be fine.’
There’s not much advice that we can add to that. Just do it, and you’ll be fine.
Just do it, and you’ll be fine.
Illustrations by Méabh McDonnell