“All you have and all you are will rot away to nothing. You will be nothing. You are nothing.”
All your hopes and dreams for a book filled with agonizing romance and pain-filled choices will be answered in the stunning conclusion to the Folk of the Air series, Holly Black’s Queen of Nothing.
Growing up mortal in the land of Faerie, Jude Duarte has always been nothing. Compared to their immortal lives, hers is but a shadow. Compared to their unearthly beauty, she is exceedingly plain. She vowed if she could not be like them, she would be better than them, and when she becomes the High King’s seneschal (and secretly controlling him behind the scenes), she finally has the power to crush them. But her plan went awry — she fell in love with Cardan, the delightfully wicked High King, and let down her guard. They got married, making her the Queen of Faerie, then he immediately banishes her to the mortal world, making her a queen in exile.
I was shocked when The Wicked King ended this way. I’d thought Cardan had finally turned the corner, was finally going to be the good guy I’d always known he could be. I thought the enemies-to-lovers arc was finally closed and now he and Jude could be together. Jude thought that too — we’d both been betrayed.
The story begins with Jude still in exile. Resigned to her new life, she’s become kind of a mercenary, doing dirty work at the behest of faeries in the mortal world. When she gets the chance to return to Faerie, though, she takes it, allowing herself to be swept right back into the drama. She has no idea how Cardan feels about her, but she knows her father, Madoc, who now fights Cardan for the crown, would be a crueler and bloodier ruler, so she is still ready to fight for Cardan’s side. She must come face to face with him — and her feelings — once more.
Two relationships have always stood out to me in this series — the most obvious being Jude and Cardan’s enemies-to-lovers romance. I won’t spoil any of these delicious scenes for you, but the scenes where Cardan and Jude sit down and talk about their feelings for each other is all I’ve been wanting from this series for two long years. We finally get a clear picture of who Cardan really is, without deception. In this book, you really see how deeply they understand each other. It’s a beautiful example of how our own unique brokenness can fit with someone else’s to make something extraordinary.
However, the more interesting relationship to me is Jude and Madoc’s relationship. The parent-child relationship is starting to be explored more in fiction, but this series puts an interesting spin on it, because Madoc isn’t Jude’s real father — he killed her father in cold blood. He’s ruthless, and he raised Jude to be ruthless too. They are on opposing sides now, and Madoc has made it clear he will manipulate and even kill Jude to get what he wants, despite the fact that he still clearly loves her. Jude describes him as “the one in whose shadow I have—for better or worse—become what I am.” Their relationship is a perfect illustration of how much our parents shape who we are. So many of us spend our whole lives trying to escape our parents, but we can’t. Even if they aren’t our blood, they live in us.
In the end, a terrible curse comes over Cardan, leaving Jude in charge of everything. She must choose what is greater — her ambition or her humanity. Will she be what Madoc made her or will she choose to be something different?
All the themes, all the big questions, all the brewing emotions, come to a staggering climax in this final book. It’s guaranteed to break your heart, but also put it back together again. I could not have asked for a better ending to one of my favorite series. Now the only question is, what to read next?