The relationship between author and reader is one of constant courting, and sequels are especially hard. You've one my trust once, with a stellar book, but that's no guarantee that I'm going to enjoy the sequel. Second Book Syndrome is totally a thing. It's what happens when authors get complacent and think that less effort can be expended when publishing their sequel. I loved THE CRUEL PRINCE, despite thinking it would be a disappointment, and immediately added THE WICKED KING to my to-read list. The wait was agonizing and plagued with self-doubt. Would I still enjoy the sequel as much as I'd enjoyed the prequel? Would it live up to my expectations? Did I really enjoy THE CRUEL PRINCE as much as I thought I had? The answer to all these questions was "yes." Yes, I enjoyed the sequel. Yes, it lived up to my expectations and then some. Yes, I love this series. It is the bomb.
THE WICKED KING starts off rather similarly to how THE CRUEL PRINCE did, by which I mean slow AF. Cardan is the High King of Faerie and also Jude's puppet, but her power over him only lasts for a year and a day, and she knows that as soon as that grace period is over, he's just going to be one person in a long line of many who wants Jude dead. Most of the first third of the book is Jude attempting to get all of her fey ducks in a row, scheming and conspiring, while also (hopelessly) trying to resist her growing attraction for Cardan.
I loved that THE WICKED KING was much more sensual and erotic than THE CRUEL PRINCE was. One of my biggest complaints about the first book was that it felt confined by the young adult genre, and the author wasn't really exploiting this world of treachery and sensuality to its full potential. This book really runs with those darker themes, and it does it in a way that feels adult without being smutty, if that makes sense. THE WICKED KING has all of the plotting and intrigue that makes Game of Thrones so popular, but does it without the exploitative gore and porn that also make the series feel cheap. I wish that more young adult books were like this, because Jude is a total antihero and completely unlike most helpless heroines I read about who dabble in perfection as if beauty and power are just essential oils you can soak up during your latest spa day. Jude has to scrabble and work for everything she's got, and she's so competent, you can't help but like her.
Also, the bad characters in this book are so awful that hating them is almost an art form. Locke reminds us right away why he's such a bastard, although he doesn't play as much of a role in this book as the previous one. Nicasia is that classic mean girl with anxiety that she tries so hard to hide. Taryn is a back-stabbing twat who likes to pretend that she's Jesus on the cross, and I was very proud of myself for not buying any of her very lame attempts at peace offerings, especially in light of the end of the novel. Fuck Taryn, seriously. Oh, and Cardan - the hero I love to hate and hate to love. The unresolved sexual tension between him and Jude is amazing. These are characters that I love to ship. I am the Helen of Troy of enemies-to-lovers in that I have launched a thousand ships for these sorts of relationships and I regret nothing. It really is like Hana Yori Dango meets Game of Thrones.
Best of all, we get to explore a new part of faerie land: the Undersea. Hence the crown slipping beneath the waves on the cover. Man, I love it when everything becomes clear as you read the book. Even the title makes sense once you find out more about Cardan and where he's coming from. The beginning is dull, but necessary because it ends up setting the stage for the hot mess of schemes upon schemes upon schemes that are peppered with sex, murder, violence, and intrigue in the last two acts of the book. And that ending is so cruel. I need QUEEN OF NOTHING in my hands now.
Why is 2020 so far away?
4.5 to 5 out of 5 stars