How the King of Elhame Learned to Hate Stories by Holly Black is a charming addition to her fabulous Folk of the Air series.
In all honesty, this novella was not what I expected. I fell in love with this series originally because of its biting prose and the first person narration that made me feel right inside the series’s main character Jude’s head. I assumed this would follow the same style, simply telling a short snippet of the original series from Cardan’s point of view. After Queen of Nothing revealed Cardan had always felt differently about Jude than he’d let on, I desperately wanted to see their relationship again from his perspective.
This book was nothing like that—and I adored it.
Instead, Black takes a more story-book approach. Less than 200 pages, it is also full of beautiful illustrations and broken up into chapters with titles and title pages. Although written in the same biting prose, it is third person, so you don’t have the same emotional closeness, but it reads like the fairy tales my mom read aloud to me when I was little. Yes, I was bummed that I wasn’t getting the intimacy with Cardan that I wanted, but that disappointment was quickly overcome with delight at the story itself.
At first, the narrative doesn’t seem very cohesive. It begins with Cardan and Jude, already High King and Queen, flying to the mortal world to deal with an issue that’s just come up. After that brief introduction, we return to Cardan as a child, unloved by his family and ignored by everyone else. Next, we see him move in with and begin to be abused by his brother Balekin, because he has nowhere else to go. We see his relationship with Nicasia blossom, then wither and die. Finally, we return to him and Jude in the mortal world.
Throughout these vignettes, the thread tying them together is a story that a troll named Aslog tells Cardan as a child, a story about a boy with a wicked tongue and a heart of stone. She tells him the story again when he’s older, but slightly different, because “boys change, and so do stories.” In the last chapter, it is Cardan’s turn to tell it back to the witch, again, slightly different. And each time the story is told, the moral changes.
Ultimately, this collection shows us Cardan’s journey to being a better person, not, as I’d expected, through his relationship with Jude, but through his relationship with this story. He starts out as a little boy who only wants love. He becomes a villain, consumed by hate because it makes him feel strong. I won’t tell you who he turns into in the end, because I encourage you to find out for yourself.
Delightfully written, I savored every line from the first line to the last. Holly Black just knows exactly what to say to break your heart. Even though you’re not right in Cardan’s head, each line makes you feel exactly the way he is feeling. I felt his loneliness, his pain, and his pleasure in causing others that same misery. I fell more in love with him as a character on every page. Sadly, there isn’t enough of my beloved Jude, but if you love Cardan, you will love this book.
Fans of Folk of the Air, Holly Black, and faeries in general will have the coziest afternoon devouring this book. If you haven’t yet added it to your collection, it is a must!
How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories by Holly Black was published on Nov. 24, 2020.