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How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories
By Holly Black
Illustrated by Rovina Cai
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Return to the captivating world of Elfhame with this illustrated addition to the New York Times bestselling Folk of Air trilogy that began with The Cruel Prince, from award-winning author Holly Black.
Once upon a time, there was a boy with a wicked tongue.
Before he was a cruel prince or a wicked king, he was a faerie child with a heart of stone. #1 New York Times bestselling author, Holly Black reveals a deeper look into the dramatic life of Elfhame’s enigmatic high king, Cardan. This tale includes delicious details of life before The Cruel Prince, an adventure beyond The Queen of Nothing, and familiar moments from The Folk of the Air trilogy, told wholly from Cardan’s perspective.
This new installment in the Folk of the Air series is a return to the heart-racing romance, danger, humor, and drama that enchanted readers everywhere. Each chapter is paired with lavish and luminous full-color art, making this the perfect collector’s item to be enjoyed by both new audiences and old.
A prince of Faerie, nourished on cat milk and contempt, born into a family overburdened with heirs, with a nasty little prophecy hanging over his head—since the hour of Cardan’s birth, he has been alternately adored and despised. Perhaps it’s no surprise that he turned out the way he did; the only surprise is that he managed to become the High King of Elfhame anyway.
Some might think of him as a strong draught, burning the back of one’s throat, but invigorating all the same.
You might beg to differ.
So long as you’re begging, he doesn’t mind a bit.
This?” he demands, looking down at the waves far beneath them. “This is how you traveled? What if the enchantment ended while Vivi wasn’t with you?”
“I suppose I would have plummeted out of the air,” Jude tells him with troubling equanimity, her expression saying, Horrible risks are entirely normal to me.
Cardan has to admit that the ragwort steeds are swift and that there is something thrilling about tangling his hand in a leafy mane and racing across the sky. It’s not as though he doesn’t enjoy a little danger, just that he doesn’t gorge himself on it, unlike some people. He cuts his gaze toward his unpredictable, mortal High Queen, whose wild brown hair is blowing around her face, whose amber eyes are alight when she looks at him.
They are two people who ought to have, by all rights, remained enemies forever.
He can’t believe his good fortune, can’t trace the path that got him here.
“Now that I agreed to travel your way,” he shouts over the wind, “you ought to give me something I want. Like a promise you won’t fight some monster just to impress one of the solitary fey who, as far as I can tell, you don’t even like.”
Jude gives him a look. It is an expression that he never once saw her make when they attended the palace school together, yet from the first he saw it, he knew it to be her truest face. Conspiratorial. Daring. Bold.
Even without the look, he ought to know her answer. Of course she wants to fight it, whatever it is. She feels as though she has something to prove at all times. Feels as though she has to earn the crown on her head over and over again.
Once, she told Cardan the story of confronting Madoc after she’d drugged him, but before the poison began to work. While Cardan was in the next room, drinking wine and chatting, she was swinging a sword at her foster father, stalling for time.
I am what you made me, she’d told him as they battled.
Cardan knows Madoc isn’t the only one who made her the way she is. He had a hand in it as well.
It’s absurd, sometimes, the thought that she loves him. He’s grateful, of course, but it feels as though it’s just another of the ridiculous, absurd, dangerous things she does. She wants to fight monsters, and she wants him for a lover, the same boy she fantasized about murdering. She likes nothing easy or safe or sure.
Nothing good for her.
“I’m not trying to impress Bryern,” Jude says. “He says I owe him a favor for giving me a job when no one else would. I guess that’s true.”
“I think his presumption is deserving of a reward,” he tells her, voice dry. “Not, alas, the one you intend to give him.”
She sighs. “If there’s a monster among the solitary Folk, we ought to do something about it.”
There is no reason for him to feel a frisson of dread at those words, no cause for the unease he can’t shake.
“We have knights, sworn to our service,” Cardan says. “You’re cheating one of them out of an opportunity for glory.”
Jude gives a little snort, pushing back her thick, dark hair, trying to tuck it into her golden circlet and out of her eyes. “All queens become greedy.”
He vows to continue this argument later. One of his primary duties as the High King appears to be reminding her she isn’t personally responsible for solving every tedious problem and carrying out every tedious execution in all of Elfhame. He wouldn’t mind causing a little torment here or there, of a nonmurdery sort, but her view of their positions seems overburdened with chores. “Let us meet with this Bryern person and hear his tale. If you must fight this thing, there’s no reason to go alone. You could take a battalion of knights or, failing that, me.”
“You think you’re the equal of a battalion of knights?” she asks with a smile.
He might be, he supposes, although there’s no telling how the mortal world will affect his magic. He did once raise an isle from the bottom of the sea. He wonders if he ought to remind her of that, wonders if she had been impressed. “I believe that I could easily best all of them combined, in a suitable contest. Perhaps one involving drink.”
She kicks her ragwort steed forward with a laugh. “We meet Bryern tomorrow at dusk,” she calls back, and her grin dares him to race. “And after that, we can decide who gets to play the hero.”
Having only recently stopped playing the villain, Cardan thinks again of the winding path of decisions that brought him to this unlikely place, here with her, racing over the sky, planning to end trouble instead of making more of it.
Many times in his first nine years, Prince Cardan slept in the hay of the stables when his mother didn’t want him in their suite of rooms. It was warm there, and he could pretend he was hiding, could pretend that someone was looking for him. Could pretend that when he was not found, it was only because the spot he’d chosen was so extremely clever.
One night, he was wrapped in a threadbare cloak, listening to the snuffling sounds of faerie steeds, of deer and elk, and even the croaks of great riding toads, when a troll woman stopped outside the pen.
“Princeling,” she said. Her skin was the rough bluish-gray of river rocks, and she had a wart on her chin, from which three golden hairs grew. “You are the youngest of Eldred’s spawn, are you not?”
Cardan blinked up from the hay. “Go away,” he told her as imperiously as he could manage.
That made her laugh. “I ought to saddle you and ride you around the gardens, teach you some manners.”
He was scandalized. “You’re not supposed to talk to me that way. My father is the High King.”
“Better run and tell him,” she said, then raised her eyebrows and ran fingers over her long golden wart hairs, curling and uncurling them. “No?”
Cardan said nothing. He pressed his cheek against the straw, felt the scratch of it against his skin. His tail twitched anxiously. He knew the High King had no interest in him. Perhaps a brother or sister might intercede on his behalf if they were nearby, and if it amused them to do so, but there was no telling whether it would.
His mother would have slapped the troll woman and ordered her off. But his mother wasn’t coming. And trolls were dangerous. They were strong, hot-tempered, and practically invulnerable. Sunlight turned them to stone—but only until the next nightfall.
The troll woman pointed an accusatory finger at him. “I, Aslog of the West, who brought the giant Girda to her knees, who outwitted the hag of the Fallow Forest, labored in the service of Queen Gliten for seven years. Seven long years I turned the stone of her gristmill and ground wheat so fine and pure that loaves of it were famed all over Elfhame. I was promised land and a title at the end of those seven years. But on the last night, she tricked me into moving away from the millstone and forfeiting the bargain. I came here for justice. I stood before Eldred in the place of the penitent and asked for succor. But your father turned me away, princeling. And do you know why? Because he does not wish to interfere with the lower Courts. But tell me, child, what is the purpose of a High King who will not interfere?”
Cardan was uninterested in politics but well acquainted with his father’s indifference. “If you think I can help you, I can’t. He doesn’t like me, either.”
The troll woman—Aslog of the West, he supposed—scowled down at Cardan. “I am going to tell you a story,” she said finally. “And then I will ask you what meaning you find in the tale.”
“Another one? Is this about Queen Gliten, too?”
“Save your wit for your reply.”
“And if I don’t have an answer?”
She smiled down at him with no small amount of menace. “Then I will teach you an entirely different lesson.”
He thought about calling out to a servant. A groom might be close by, but he had endeared himself to none of them. And what could they do, anyway? Better to humor her and listen to her stupid tale.
“Once upon a time,” Aslog told him, “there was a boy with a wicked tongue.”
Cardan tried not to snort. Despite being a little afraid of her, despite knowing better, he had a tendency toward levity at the worst possible moments.
She went on. “He would say whatever awful thought came into his mind. He told the baker her bread was full of stones, told the butcher he was as ugly as a turnip, and told his own brothers and sisters they were of no more use than the mice who lived in their cupboard and nibbled the crumbs of the baker’s bad bread. And, though the boy was quite handsome, he scorned all the village maidens, saying they were as dull as toads.”
Cardan couldn’t help it. He laughed.
She gave him a dour look.
“I like the boy,” he said with a shrug. “He’s funny.”
“Well, no one else did,” she told him. “In fact, he annoyed the village witch so much that she cursed him. He behaved as though he had a heart of stone, so she gave him one. He would feel nothing—not fear, nor love, nor delight.
“Thereafter, the boy carried something heavy and hard inside his chest. All happiness fled from him. He could find no reason to get up in the morning and even less reason to go to bed at night. Even mockery gave him no pleasure anymore. Finally, his mother told him it was time to go into the world and make his fortune. Perhaps there he would find a way to break the curse.
Praise for How The King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories:
"Offers new delights along with familiar moments retold...fans will rejoice in every dark, luscious moment."—Kirkus
Praise for The Queen of Nothing:*"Whether you came for the lore or the love, perfection."—Kirkus, starred review
*"A compelling final piece in a powerful set."—Booklist, starred review
"We're being promised a 'jaw-dropping' finale...Based on the ride she's taken readers on so far, we'd expect nothing less."—Entertainment Weekly
Praise for The Wicked King:
*"A stunning and compelling sequel."—SLJ, starred review
*"A heady blend of courtly double-crossing, Faerie lore, and toxic attraction swirls together in the sequel to THE CRUEL PRINCE.... Black's writing is both contemporary and classic; her world is, at this point, intensely well-realized, so that some plot twists seem almost inevitable."—Kirkus, starred review
*"[A] dangerous journey filled with mystery, betrayal, intrigue, and romance.... Larger-than-life action in a kingdom packed with self-centered, evil, and manipulating characters also doles out real life issues."—VOYA, starred review
*"A rare second volume that surpasses the first, with, happily, more intrigue and passion still to come."—Booklist, starred review
Praise for The Cruel Prince:
"Lush, dangerous, a dark jewel of a book. Black's world is intoxicating, imbued with a relentless sense of peril that kept me riveted through every chapter of Jude's journey. And Jude! She is a heroine to love--brave but pragmatic, utterly human. This delicious story will seduce you and leave you desperate for just one more page."—Leigh Bardugo, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom
"I require book two immediately. Holly is the Faerie Queen."—Victoria Aveyard, #1 bestselling author of The Red Queen series
* "[S]pellbinding.... Breathtaking set pieces, fully developed supporting characters, and a beguiling, tough-as-nails heroine enhance an intricate, intelligent plot that crescendos to a jaw-dropping third-act twist."—Publishers Weekly, starred review
* "Another fantastic, deeply engaging, and all-consuming work from Black that belongs on all YA shelves."—School Library Journal, starred review
* "Jude, who struggles with a world she both loves and hates and would rather be powerful and safe than good, is a compelling narrator. Whatever a reader is looking for--heart-in-throat action, deadly romance, double-crossing, moral complexity--this is one heck of a ride."—Booklist, starred review
"This is a heady blend of Faerie lore, high fantasy, and high school drama, dripping with description that brings the dangerous but tempting world of Faerie to life. Black is building a complex mythology; now is a great time to tune in."—Kirkus Reviews
Praise for The Darkest Part of the Forest:A Kids' Indie Next List Book of the Year
*"Black returns here to the dark faerie realm that spurred her initial
success, and if anything, she's only gotten better, writing with an
elegant, economical precision and wringing searing emotional resonance
from the simplest of sentences."
—The Bulletin, starred review
*"Black returns to the realm of faerie for her latest novel, and the results, as any of her fans would expect, are terrific."—VOYA, starred review
"Black's stark, eerie tone; propulsive pacing; and fulsome world building will certainly delight her legion of fans."—Booklist
"This edgy, dark fantasy will be a hit with young adults who like their
magical creatures to live in a recognizably contemporary world."—Library Media Connection
"Like a true fairy tale, Black's story weds blinding romance and dark
terrors, but her worthy heroes are up to the challenge of both."—The Horn Book
"It's an enjoyable read with well-developed characters and genuine chills..."
- On Sale
- Nov 24, 2020
- Page Count
- 208 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers