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Want to know what happened in The Cruel Prince? Read a full summary right here! This page is full of spoilers, so beware! If you need a refresher on what happened in The Cruel Prince, then you are in the right place!

Holly Black

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The Folk of the Air Series
#1 The Cruel Prince
#2 The Wicked King
#3 The Queen of Nothing

***** Everything below is a SPOILER *****

What happened in The Cruel Prince?

Madoc, Vivienne’s biological father, murders Jude and Taryn’s parents. He whisks all three of them away to Faerie to live as his charges. Ten years later, twins Jude and Taryn love life in Faerie, are obedient and try to live by the rules. Vivi, the true faerie, doesn’t obey or want to be part of this world.

The twins attend a faerie ball, one of many where they must be careful and watch from the sidelines. Valerian insults Jude.

A typical day at faerie lessons for the twins involves torture by Cardan and his posse.

Humans can stay in Faerie in adulthood if they fall in love and marry (Taryn’s choice) or if they show a skill (Jude’s choice—to serve as a knight after proving her fighting ability in the Summer Tournament).

King Eldred will soon choose a successor from among his children. Everyone thinks it will be Dain, his third oldest.

Madoc says Jude can’t compete in the Summer Tournament.

Jude and Cardan torture each other back and forth. One day, he nearly drowns Jude asking her not to participate in the Summer Tournament. She won’t withdraw. Taryn has to kiss each of his cheeks to rescue Jude.

The three sisters go to a mortal mall. Vivi tells her sisters she wants them to move to the mortal world with her and live with her girlfriend. Vivi wants to be human and the twins want to be fae. Before they leave the mall, Jude hurts a boy who was trying to hit on her.

Jude pushes Cardan when she sees him talking to a crying Taryn. He says she’ll regret it. Taryn won’t tell her what happened. She says the tears weren’t about Jude and begs her to make things right with Cardan and not to fight him tomorrow.

On the first day of the tournament, Jude fights well against Cardan and his posse. He asks her to beg for forgiveness for her wrongs in front of everyone. She will not. He is furious. As she lies there wounded, Locke comes to visit with her and tend to her wounds. He‘s extremely gentle, seems to like her for the second time recently, and says she gets under Cardan’s skin like no one else.

That night, Jude has a prince waiting for her in the parlor. She storms in, assuming it’s Cardan. But it’s Prince Dain. He asks her what she desires. She wants to be a knight in his court. He asks what she really desires. She wants to be an immortal fae, but she hates she even thought it. Instead, she tells him that she wants to be invulnerable to enchantments. He agrees to do this if she will be a spy for him. So he puts a geas on her saying that she can be enchanted by no one except him. Now Jude is Prince Dain’s spy.

The next day during their lessons, Jude answers a question from the teacher about constellations. When he tries to get Cardan to answer a question, he says the lesson is boring and demands the teacher choose a new one. While the teacher is scrambling to look for a new lesson, Nicasia snatches Jude‘s notebook. When Jude grabs it back, she slaps her.

While Jude is on the ground, Valerian shoves a faerie apple into her mouth. It’s something that Dain’s protection won’t shield her from. She ends up filled with joy, the intention of the apple. The students decide to take advantage of Jude‘s state. They ask her who she would like to kiss out of all of them. They have her take off her dress. They ask her to take off her necklace with rowan berries, which usually protects her from their enchantments. Cardan steps in and asks Jude to kiss his foot instead. He says he’s the prince after all. For just a second, Jude sees fury, desire, and shame in his eyes. Then they return to their usual coolness.

Locke comes to her rescue. He picks her up off the ground to take her home. Before they walk away, Cardan stabs one of Jude’s fingers with the back of a pin he’s wearing. As she’s walking home, she sucks on the injured finger. The salt in her blood wipes away the effects of the apple. When she gets home, Locke says he would like to see her again because he wants to be a part of her unfolding story. He kisses each of her fingers before leaving.

Madoc wants to know who did this to her. Jude refuses to tell him because she knows he will go after and kill all of them. Then the king will kill him. Instead, she tells him she wants to train even harder so she can defeat them.

When Jude makes it to her room, a hob is there with her first assignment from Prince Dain. She‘s to go to the house of his eldest sibling (Prince Balekin) in disguise tomorrow and find out a treasonous secret.

The next day at Prince Balekin’s house, she finds a letter to take back to Dain. She also sees Cardan being whipped. She’s surprised Cardan lives there with his older brother.

Dain recognizes the handwriting in the message as Locke‘s mother’s. Dain then has Roach escort Jude to the Court of Shadows. She meets the others spies. She will do some training with them.

She’s surprised Locke is at her house when she gets home. He kisses her hand. Taryn soon comes to tell them dinner is ready. Locke declines the invitation but hopes to see Jude back at school soon. Before Jude goes to sleep that night, Taryn comes in to ask what Locke wanted. She wants to make sure he wasn’t being mean. Jude assures her he wasn’t.

Taryn admits that she’s going to become engaged the night of Dain’s coronation. But she can’t say to whom. Jude thinks about how she saw Cardan and Taryn talking and hopes it isn’t him. Then Jude shows Taryn the copy of Alice in Wonderland that she found at Prince Balekin’s House. A piece of paper slips out, but Taryn doesn’t notice. Jude stashes it under her pillow to review later. She falls asleep as Taryn reads the book to her. She looks at the note the next morning. It’s her name written over and over in Cardan’s angry scrawl. She thinks it means he hates her more than she ever imagined.

A dressmaker comes to measure the sisters for new gowns. Jude ends up fighting with Oriana because she wants to tell her son Oak a story and Oriana won’t let her.

The next day at school, Locke smiles at Jude. She notices Cardan moving slowly because of the welts on his back.

On her way home from school, Jude picks up several faerie fruits and vegetables that are poisonous to humans. She eats a little bits of each of them, trying to condition herself to withstand the poison. She ends up sick. When she wakes up, Roach is there to take her to more training. He’s teaching her stealth. Then she does all again the next day. She learns a lot from Madoc, Roach, and the Ghost.

Locke joins her often after school, kissing her goodbye right before they reach Madoc’s land. One day at school, Jude overhears Nicasia asking Locke what he sees in her. She says Cardan will be mad. He asks if Cardan will be angrier with her for choosing Locke or with Locke for choosing Jude.

Jude falls asleep one day during lunch break because of all her late-night antics. She awakes to Valerian standing over her, her rowan beads dangling in his hand. He cuts them off and thinks he can control her now. He tells her to go verbally relent to Cardan and then go jump off a building to kill herself. He’s shocked she can disobey him. If it wasn’t for Dain’s protection, Jude would be dead. Valerian pushes her against a wall in his anger. She stabs him with her small knife.

Jude goes home with Locke after school. He invites her to stay for a party with his friends that night. She dresses in one of his mother’s dresses and spends the night dancing and kissing Locke. Cardan watches her all night long. She finds herself blushing as she watches him kissing other girls.

Jude finds an acorn in the pocket of the dress as she’s taking it off. At home, she manages to open it. It reveals a message that seems to be from Locke’s mother before she died predicting her death and asking her best friend to take care of “him,” presumably Locke. Jude wonders how it pairs with the letter about Locke’s mother that she found at Prince Balekin’s and took to Dain.

Jude goes back to Balekin’s house to look for more evidence but finds none. As she’s leaving, she passes a servant girl named Sophie. Her heart breaks for the girl. She decides to sneak her out. When they’re out on the lawn, Cardan rides up. Jude’s afraid he sees her. But he must take her for just another servant girl because he barely looks her way.

When Jude makes it home, she begs Vivi to sneak this girl back to the human world. Vivi agrees to do so. As they ride magic horses toward the human world, Sophie pitches herself off the side of a cliff, not wanting to live away from this new life she’s come to know. Jude feels overwhelming guilt.

The next morning, Jude is summoned to the parlor. Dain is there to scold her. She thinks it’s for kidnapping Sophie, but it’s for stabbing Valerian. To prove her loyalty, he asks Jude to stab herself in the hand. At first she thinks he will compel her to do it. Then she realizes he is asking her to do it of her own will to prove her loyalty. She does so.

Their dresses for the coronation arrive. Jude’s is different than what she ordered…an ombré blue embroidered with trees. It’s the most beautiful thing she’s ever seen. Her stepmother Oriana cautions her to not aspire to rise above her station. She thinks Dain was at their house earlier this morning because Jude has a relationship with him.

Jude learns Oriana was a consort to the current king before marrying Madoc. She warns Jude again about how dangerous the court is, citing the murder of another consort who was pregnant. Everyone assumes a prince did it so there wouldn’t be another heir. Jude realizes she doesn’t know anything at all about Oriana and all of her cautions to the girls come from experience. Jude learns that Balekin was there in a long meeting with Madoc and wonders what it was about.

Valerian sneaks into Jude’s room drunk late that night. He threatens her and pulls a blade on her. She stabs him. He dies. Before he’s gone, he says he curses her three times. She hides his body just before Ghost arrives for her lesson. They are going to track and kill a messenger on Balekin’s tonight. Ghost makes Jude perform the kill. He thinks it’s her first-ever, but it’s actually the second of the night. When she gets a closer look at her victim, Jude realizes it’s a spy of Madoc’s. The note she holds says to kill the bearer of the message. Ghost thinks it means Balekin set them up. Jude tries to work through what Liriope’s murder has to do with the current coronation. She buries Valerian’s body by their stables that night.

As they dress for the festivities, Jude and Vivi wonder who Taryn’s fiancé will be. Madoc arrives to have a private talk with Jude. He gives her a sword forged by her mortal father. She’s surprised when he tells her a bit about both of her parents.

At the coronation ball, Jude thinks she sees Sophie with the merfolk of the Undersea, now with fanged teeth. Jude dances with her sisters and then with Locke. He speaks in riddles, asking if she loves him enough to give him up and what she’d do if he hurt her. Cardan cuts in as Locke is ready to say more. They dance briefly, with Cardan saying she must really hate him. As they line up for the coronation, Jude is confused to see Taryn push a piece of Locke’s hair behind his ear in an intimate gesture.

The crowning ceremony goes as planned until the crown is to be placed on Dain’s head. Balekin and his followers—whom Jude is shocked to see includes Madoc—kill Dain. Balekin wants to assume the throne but can’t place the crown on his head until his subjects agree. The visiting fae say Balekin has three days to get the crown on or they will be gone and so will their loyalty. More fighting and death occurs. Soon all of Eldred’s children are dead besides Balekin and Cardan, who is nowhere to be seen.

Jude knows she needs to sneak away. Soon the party will resume, and she won’t be safe. She runs into a drunk and hiding Cardan during her escape. He says she’s very unsafe as a mortal. She knows he’s quite unsafe being the only one left who can crown Balekin. Jude takes her hair down and steals a mask, and then the two of them make their way out. Two guards stop them, but with his party mask on Cardan can carefully form sentences to “lie” his way out.

Jude puts him at knifepoint and threatens him. Jude takes them straight to the Court of Shadows. Cardan is shocked she was a spy for Dain. He’s sorry he was passed out drunk when his family was murdered. They both question each other about whether they knew of Balekin’s and Madoc’s plan. Neither did.

The Ghost and Roach arrive and question whether Jude’s on her father’s side. They realize quickly that she wouldn’t be here alone if she was. Jude learns that Dain is the one who poisoned Liriope because she was carrying was his child. He didn’t want his father to find out. The Ghost and Roach give Jude 24 hours. They will hold Cardan prisoner for her, but if she doesn’t return he’ll be their prisoner to do with what they will.

Vivi is relieved to see Jude when she gets home. Taryn is there with her new fiancé. It’s Locke. Suddenly Jude works through little things Locke and his friends said to her and realize he’s played her the whole time. She’s furious at both him and Taryn. She challenges Taryn to a duel.

Madoc breaks up theirs fight and sends them to his office. It’s an hour before he arrives. He gives Taryn permission to pursue the relationship with Locke even though he has misgivings about it. He asks Jude to tell him where Cardan is if she knows because Taryn’s parting words were that she saw the two of them dancing. Madoc says she could trade him for any position in Balekin’s court and any man she desires. This is what she came here for…to trade Cardan for something more useful.

Vivi comes to Jude’s room. She tells her she noticed she could dodge her command earlier when she tried to get her to stop fighting with Taryn. Dain’s geas is still in place. And Vivi asks Jude to come to the human world with her tonight. She’s asked Taryn, too, but won’t reveal her answer so Jude will decide for herself. Jude asks to give her one day to get things in order, and then she’ll decide.

The next morning, Jude goes to Taryn’s room to reconcile with her but finds it empty. She goes to Oriana’s room, a place she never visits, to search for Taryn. She sees a golden acorn on her dresser. It’s identical to the one she found in Liriope’s dress.

Many things Jude’s heard and said come together in her mind. She suddenly realizes Oak isn’t Oriana and Madoc’s son. He is Dain’s and Liriope’s. Liriope was a consort to King Eldred at the same time as Oriana. She had a tryst with Prince Dain on the side and got pregnant. She was poisoned, but Oriana found her just before or after she died and cut the baby out. Oriana instantly married her new beau, Madoc, and they claimed the baby as their own (her friend’s dying wish). Madoc did it to someday use the boy’s blood to take over the throne. Jude realizes Cardan is not the only one with royal blood still alive. And her theory is Madoc wants Oak on the throne, with him serving as royal regent until Oak comes of age (and maybe always if Oak comes to rely on him enough).

Jude is horrified to see Cardan out of his bonds and playing cards with the Roach and the Ghost when she returns to their lair. She takes Cardan to a private room where she can question him. He vows to answer anything she asks. She starts off mentioning the piece of paper she saw where he wrote her name all over it. But she never actually asks him a question about this. She asks how long Locke and Taryn have been together. She asks if Cardan loved Nicasia. He says he did.

Jude asks why he hates her so much. Cardan says it’s because though she is a human her father loves her and she is not subjected to beatings by her brother. She asks why he hates her most of all, though. She realizes there’s something else going on. He says it’s because even though she’s a human and he shouldn’t, he wants her. She puts down her crossbow and puts a knife to Cardan‘s throat. But instead of hurting him, she kisses him to test what he saying. They both end up lost in the kiss.

Jude finally decides that Oak needs to be king. And Cardan can crown him. But first he needs to spend some years living among humans to gain sympathy and have a normal childhood. She goes back to the lair and tells Cardan about her plan. She asks him to go into her service until Oak is ready to return to faerie. Cardan agrees to back her plan but will only swear into her service for one year and one day. She accepts this bargain. Jude commands Cardan to stay in the woods for 24 hours to spy on any comings and goings. He’s impressed how complete her command is, with hardly any room for him to go against her will.

Jude goes around trying to drum up support among the other fae courts for crowning Oak as king. It’s not easy. She doesn’t even make it past the guard to ask the master of the first court. At Cardan’s admonishment, she tries a lesser-known court that isn’t favored under the current crown because they would have more reason to support an alternate choice for king. This one agrees to back Jude’s king if she gets a more prominent backer in addition to him.

Jude goes to Roiben, the leader of a very powerful court, and finally convinces him, too. But he will only do it for the promise of a favor from the new king someday. Jude says it must be of equal value to what he’s doing for them. They agree on the deal.

Jude goes back to the lair and gets all three on board with her plan: the Bomb, Roach, and the Ghost. Then she goes home to convince Vivi to take Oak with her to the human world for several years to raise him and keep him safe. Jude will have people guarding them for extra safety. She convinces Vivi that Madoc is going to make Oak king anyway, which would put him as regent for years until Oak was ready to rule. Vivi is especially worried about Madoc’s wrath, but Jude has a plan that will keep him from going after them. Vivi agrees.

Jude sees Taryn in the hallway as she’s leaving, but Taryn goes into her room and closes the door without speaking to Jude.

How did The Cruel Prince end?

Everyone is shocked when Cardan (who had been missing) shows up to Balekin’s banquet with Jude. Balekin and Madoc rush over to them. Cardan and Jude both play along with their assumptions: that Jude completed the task Madoc gave her in finding Cardan and that Cardan is there to crown Balekin, the brother who raised him, king.

When Jude leaves the party to let the Shadow Court spies in, Madoc meets her in the hall. She tells him what she knows about Oak. She asks him if he can promise he’ll be ready to give up his regency when Oak comes of age. He can’t. The two duel. Madoc is better and stronger but begins to grow weak. Jude poisoned the glass of wine she offered him earlier that evening. She lets the spies in and drags Madoc to a room to sleep. The effects of the poison will last for an hour or so.

The whole crowd is being seated for dinner when Jude returns. Locke comes over to flirt with her for a second before she’s seated. It gives Jude a rush (and then makes her mad at her own reaction) when Cardan tells her how “awful” she looks. She was also a little jealous earlier in the evening when he warned Nicasia to be careful.

Just as Balekin rises to speak, the Bomb sets off her bomb as promised. Roach launches arrows near Cardan, persuading everyone he’s trying to kill him. Balekin jumps on top of his brother, making Jude a little sad that her plan turned Cardan against the man who raised him, cruel as he may have been to him.

Everything is going as planned until Ghost tosses the crown he just stole to Taryn instead of Jude. It’s too late when realizes his mistake. Jude yells to Taryn to toss the crown to Vivi, who will be ready to hand it to Cardan to place on Oaks’ head, making him the king. Taryn can’t decide what to do, glancing between Jude, Vivi, and Balekin.

Jude gets the crown from Taryn and asks Cardan to come over. Vivi walks Oak to stand near them. Jude asks Cardan to show Oak what he’s supposed to do, so he kneels. She commands him to be still for a full minute. Then when Oak comes over, Jude gives him the crown instead. Just as they told him to, he places the crown on Cardan‘s head and anoints him king. Unbeknownst to Cardan, this was Jude’s plan all along. Cardan is furious, but he has to comply for a year and a day. He rises as king, and no one knows any different. They think it was the plan all along. Everyone kneels before him.

The epilogue shows Jude and Vivi shopping for new things for Vivi and Oak at Target. They are going to live with Heather until they can get on their feet. Jude is sad to leave them but knows she needs to get home. Oak asks her when he will know that he learned the things she wants him to learn. She tells him when it seems easier to stay with the humans than to go home and when he’s not missing home anymore, that means it’s time to go back.

Jude returns to her new home at the palace. She hasn’t spoken to Cardan yet and knows it’s time. She goes to find him and finally comes across him in the throne room. He looks regal and every bit the king. He says he will play his role and be fun and charming. She can make the decisions and rule behind the scenes. But she knows he’ll make her pay for what she’s done. She has a year and a day. Then he’s under her command no more.

There you go! That’s what happened in The Cruel Prince, the first book in The Folk of the Air series!

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