I read Holly Black’s The Wicked King a few months ago and the taste of it still lingers like a bite of faerie fruit.
I haven’t gone on a true fantasy binge in ages. I read a lot of nonfiction, keep up with the news, and devour podcasts, but as a mom of two littles, it takes an extra level of motivation to muster the focus and emotional energy for plot-heavy fiction. So when I not only gulp down a novel in a few days but spend the next several months hunting down readalikes for a similar fix, you should know that book was something special.
The Wicked King, sequel to 2018’s The Cruel Prince, ticked a lot of boxes for me:
- A morally complicated, ambitious heroine, human-among-faeries Jude
- An even more morally complicated nemesis-turned-REALLY-reluctant-ally, faerie prince Cardan
- Complicated family relationships
- Taut worldbuilding: Faerie exists alongside the contemporary world, hidden by magic. Black manages to convey her Faerie’s rules and magic, its politics, and a sense of its history without making these each 500+ page novels. (Sarah J. Maas, I’m looking at you.)
- Speaking of politics, this Faerie is heavy on the intrigue and I’m very here for it! Court politics, throne-grabbing, spying, alliances and betrayals…it’s all here.
- Nearly perfect plotting and pacing while still feeling very character-driven. I kept turning pages because I had to know what happened; my heart beat faster because I *cared* about the people it was happening to.
- A compelling enemies-to-lovers slow burn of a romance, culminating in the stomach-punch cliffhanger of The Wicked King that sent me scrambling for more books like THAT. (The only series I can think to compare it to is Sarah Rees Brennan’s Lynburn Legacy. Unspoken and Untold both ended on similarly excruciating cliffhangers that left me crying angry tears and resisting the urge to hurl the book across the room. )
I was looking for other books about fairies that might also feature court politics and a complicated romance. I’d already read some of the Sarah J. Maas faerie books, and Susanna Clark’s impeccable Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. Besides, I wasn’t just looking for fairies, I wanted to feel the same feelings that The Wicked King gave me. So I hit up NoveList, a powerful book recommendation tool I can access through my public library, to search for readalikes and appeal terms. A few library requests later, I ended up with the following piled on my desk:
I enjoyed all of these in themselves (especially The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic), but my book hangover remained. NoveList was keeping its secrets. So I turned to NetGalley, which provides librarians and reviewers access to advance copies of forthcoming books, to see if I could find a YA fantasy with plenty of politics, worldbuilding, and atmosphere. Reader, I found it.
Margaret Owen’s The Merciful Crow (coming July 30) not only satisfied my book hangover, it left me with one of its own. My next post will be a full review, but for now let me leave you with 5 things I loved about this book:
- A meticulously imagined world with complicated caste politics and a tight, evocative system of magic
- Our heroine Fie is unapologetically full of anger and it feels deeply satisfying when she shows it. She is also loyal and smart and scrappy.
- We have a romance that is neither The Point of the story nor merely tacked on, with a glib charmer who’s a perfect foil for Fie’s unrelenting intensity.
- The KKK-like band of marauding murderers, The Oleander Gentry, is pure horror. It also raises the stakes of the political jostling.
- PLOT. Action, intrigue, nail-biting terror…I couldn’t put it down, except when I had to so I could let my heart rate slow down.
5 of 5 stars. Preorder it, add to Goodreads, and make sure your library is planning to purchase it. While you’re at it, you might want to catch up on the The Cruel Prince and The Wicked King: third book Queen of Nothing comes out in November! If you’re looking for smart, tightly-crafted YA fantasy with a dash of complicated romance, you can’t go wrong with these. Book hangover guaranteed.