Monster Girls and Wicked Boys


Happy Thursday! I haven’t really done a book review on this blog for quite some time. But, I recently read Holly Black’s The Folk of the Air trilogy, and I have thoughts, lol.

It’s been awhile since I felt like anything pulled me in as much as this series did. And it was somewhat unexpected. I read the first book, The Cruel Prince, early last year, probably a month or so before the pandemic began. I really liked it! But it took me until this past month to read the next two (The Wicked King and The Queen of Nothing). I was so pulled in that I actually went back and re-read The Cruel Prince, then read the other two again before I had to return them to the library. I rarely re-read books at all, let alone this soon after the first read, haha. I was curious to see, though, what clues Holly Black might have sprinkled throughout the series leading up to its conclusion.

So, this post is sort of part book review, part discussion of themes that I liked in the trilogy. First, the review part: top-notch books, five million stars. Lol. (I should note, too, the title of today’s post is borrowed from How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories, a short story collection and companion to TFOTA.)

The series centers around Jude Duarte, a girl whose parents were murdered by the Folk and then raised by their murderer, a redcap named Madoc, in Elfhame. Jude and her twin sister, Taryn, have quite a different upbringing in Elfhame than they would have in the human world, to say the least. The fairy world is one filled with intrigue, epic political rivalries, debauchery, and violence. In the first book, Jude has aspirations of becoming a knight. She craves both physical armor and the respect such a position would grant her, but she’s also, in a sense, armored her emotions, her heart, just to survive as a human in Elfhame.

Jude is a great, and perhaps rare, type of character in YA literature. She is unapologetically ambitious and will do anything to take, and hold onto, even a little bit of power in the fairy world. Especially in the first book, she’s very nearly, if not entirely, a psychopath. She also has a bloodthirsty streak.

There’s actually quite a lot of political intrigue going on in this series, so it’s unfair to boil it down to its central romance. But, what a “romance” it is. Cardan is the youngest prince of Elfhame. When they’re in school together, he and his friends are bullies, and to say Jude hates him is an understatement. Cardan “hates” her at the start, too, although perhaps it’s more fair to say that he hates himself for not actually hating her, a puny human.

If you’re an enemies-to-lovers fan, this is the trilogy for you. And clearly from some of the reviews I’ve seen after finishing the series, not everyone is a fan of this, and that’s fine. This aspect of the book seems to have gotten some slack because Cardan is, of course, a bully at the beginning, and for some readers, that’s a deal breaker. But, although I think it’s fair to say a relationship like this doesn’t translate well to real life (and it doesn’t have to), I love the themes Holly Black is able to explore with this dynamic.

Because it’s true, Cardan is cruel at the start of the series (although some of his friends are arguably worse), but Jude is also horrible, in her way. Like I said, she will do anything to get ahead, to feel like she has at least some control in a world she knows is against her. And this includes tricking, lying, and controlling Cardan in The Wicked King. Cardan has a troubled past that explains much of why he is the way he is, and he grows out of this by the end of the series. One of the themes of the trilogy is that boys can change, and I actually think this is really important. Not in a sense that you should be in a relationship with someone who bullies you (you absolutely shouldn’t), but in a more general sense. Like, honestly, boys absorb a lot of toxic messages, whether they’re aware of it or not, about what it means to be a man. But, as you get older, you can learn new things – realize what you’ve been taught or raised to believe isn’t necessarily true – and change your perspective as a result.

Jude, too, goes through a learning process throughout the series. She comes to learn that loving someone doesn’t mean controlling them. The emotional armor she’s built around herself begins, slowly, to chip away.

I think this trilogy’s themes also resonated with me because (shameless plug alert), it reminded me of what I was trying to do in my Reborn series. In Reborn and Relapse, Siobhan and Jasper have a pretty toxic relationship. They could both use a lesson in love does not equal control. Jasper blatantly manipulates Siobhan in the first book, believing he has her best interests in mind. In the second book, I try to reverse their roles a bit. Jasper is starting to come around, disliking the darker version of himself he’s become. And, despite everything, he does love Siobhan. She knows this. She knows this, exploits it because she gets something from him, too – but can’t give herself entirely to him, emotionally. Siobhan, in this way, is hurting him right back; she’s aware of it, but she goes ahead with it, anyway.

Another aspect of Holly Black’s trilogy I appreciated was the way she reversed gender roles. In addition to wanting to become a knight, Jude has many of the personality traits that, if we do see them, we usually see them in male characters. Like I said, she’s shamelessly ambitious, needs to control everything, and has a penchant for solving problems with violence. And, this is a bit superficial, but I also love how Cardan is the “flashy” one, ha. Jude does get dressed up in the books, but she tends to gravitate toward more practical clothing, while Cardan’s closets are full of fancy attire.

Anyway, these kinds of role reversals are what I like to see in books, and also what I tried to incorporate in Retribution. I want to see heroines who are ambitious, complicated, controlling, bloodthirsty, unapologetic. “Monster” girls, as Holly Black might say.

If you are a fan of YA, fantasy, and romance, I highly recommend The Folk of the Air books!

Great Expectations


[Note: As with most of my blog posts, this one jumps around a bit, so beware of some potential Queen of Nothing spoilers toward the end.]

Since I finished the (fourth? fifth?) draft of Retribution, I’ve been thinking a lot about my self-publishing journey. Things I’m satisfied with, things I might have done differently, and things I’ve learned along the way.

I published the first edition of Reborn back in…2013?! Sometimes, it’s hard to believe this has been an eight-year journey. Back then, I was still a grad student, and had somehow gotten it into my brain that being a self-published author was going to be a great, even lucrative, side hustle. And many things about it have been great (even if that second expectation was a bit of a stretch, lol).

Reflecting on how long it’s been since I published the first novel in this series, I occasionally get frustrated with myself for having taken so long to write the last book. I mean, it’s not so bad, because the last series novella was published in 2019. But still. The series’ conclusion has been a long time coming. I think this era of binge is making us used to wanting/having everything now.

Looking back at my drafts, I started Retribution back in 2017, but didn’t really begin to work on it in earnest until 2020. If I had published it four years ago, it would have, in many ways, likely been a very different book. In the end, I think the wait was probably worth it.

But, I digress. What I’ve actually been thinking about this weekend are expectations – namely, reader expectations. And why I’ve been trying to do some rebranding/recategorizing of the series. Like I said, I’ve learned a lot over the past nearly a decade, lol. One thing I’ve had to learn is that my novels aren’t really paranormal romances.

Does the Reborn series have strong paranormal elements? 100%, yes. Obviously. Does it have romantic themes? Um…sure? Yes? If you like your romance with a very large dose of mutual emotional manipulation and exploitation. Enemies-to-lovers-to-enemies-again-but-maybe-lovers-what-the-hell-are-we-doing.

What I’m really trying to say is, Reborn (and my other books) don’t follow the conventions readers of the romance genre typically expect. And by the way, I’m not dragging the romance genre, at all. I especially love a good Regency romance, and often it’s comforting to pick something up and know exactly what you’re in for (perhaps particularly after The-Year-That-Must-Not-Be-Named). In hindsight, all of this seems pretty obvious to me, but at the time I was publishing Reborn, it just wasn’t. Which made for some pretty confusing reviews from people who were expecting certain things but getting something completely different.

I’m mostly calling them romantic fantasies now, but I’m not even sure that’s a great fit. They are sort of urban fantasies, too (in the way Karen Marie Moning’s Fever series is). Occasionally someone will mention loving the books while not loving with, or agreeing with, some of the characters, and that’s…fine. I didn’t go into this thinking I was writing inherently likeable people, ha. Jasper’s hot in the first book but kind of a jerk (I like to think he’s come a long way since then). In so many young adult-ish books (but not all!), the main female character is the pretty-but-doesn’t-realize-how-pretty type, and maybe not a complete outcast, but not one of the popular kids, either. Siobhan knows she’s pretty, she’s a former cheerleader, and now, in college, she’s in a (purposefully stereotypical, at least in the beginning) sorority. If you like her…great! But if you don’t, I’m also not too surprised.

That all being said, I really did try to give my characters a lot of closure in Retribution. As far as the events go, there is some bitter to go along with the sweet, but the main couples get their HEAs. That was always where Siobhan and Jasper were headed, it was simply going to take them awhile to get there. They needed time to heal (and getting to the point they are at now wouldn’t have made sense without that).

I guess I was also thinking about reader expectations this weekend because I just finished Holly Black’s The Folk of the Air series. Which was AMAZING, by the way. I have been raving about it to anyone who will listen to me, which, in these days of social distancing, is mostly my husband. Anyway, as the trilogy is told from only Jude’s point-of-view, you get a sort of very narrow perspective of things. And from what Ms. Black is showing you, you know Jude isn’t always grasping the full picture, but you’re also kind of relying on her. This is my convoluted way of saying that, even though the author was obviously setting Jude and Cardan up for their HEA, there were moments when I was reading the last book that I was just like IF CARDAN AND JUDE DON’T END UP TOGETHER I AM GOING TO RAGE. Even though I KNEW they had to, right? Right???

So, if you’ve managed to hang on for these past eight years, I hope the wait will end up being worth it! I’m excited to bring the conclusion of Siobhan, Jasper et al.’s journey to you this summer. And, if you’re just discovering the Reborn series, I hope this explains a bit more about what I was going for. If you’re looking for virtuous love interests, insta-happiness, and nice endings tied up in a neat little bow, I think that’s great! But please look elsewhere.

If you’re looking for something a little darker, a little sexier, a little more wicked, I think I’ve got just the thing… 😉