When we left Jude Duarte at the end of the previous book, she had been tricked into exile from Elfhame by her own husband, King Cardan: back in the mortal world, she deals with heartbreak and anger by taking odd jobs from fae who live hidden among humans and by biding her time until she can achieve a comeback and reclaim the throne. This chance comes, quite unexpectedly, in the form of her sister Taryn and her plea for help: I want to avoid any spoilers here, because The Queen of Nothing offers many surprises that are best enjoyed with no previous knowledge, and all I can safely say is that Taryn’s revelation puts an intriguing spin both on the situation and her own character, while offering Jude the means of going back and setting her long-nurtured plans into motion.
This final novel in the Folks of the Air series turned into a very quick read for me, because events occurred at a fast pace and because I happened to start the book on a weekend and for once I could enjoy the rare occurrence of an almost uninterrupted read. If the story itself did prove at times problematic – but not enough to turn me away from it – the characters and the themes were more than enough to make up for what felt like a hurried conclusion marred by a few too-convenient events.
To get the negatives out of the way first, it seems to me that there were some avenues left unexplored, like the changes in the dynamic between the two twin sisters and the balance shifts between Jude and Cardan: in both cases the evolution of both kinds of relationship seemed to occur far too quickly, as if some important evolutionary steps had been kept off-stage, so to speak, which led me to wonder if I had not missed something along the way. This problem also concerns the narrative, particularly toward the end, where a highly dramatic situation is resolved far too quickly and in a way that felt “telegraphed” from its very inception: I could not get rid of the conviction that the author was in a hurry to end the story and therefore cut some corners to reach her goal, which is unfortunate, since the buildup of the previous two books deserved a much more articulated conclusion.
Still, as I said, the characters abundantly make up for this particular issue: Jude especially keeps being an intriguing creature, one saddled with many liabilities but also gifted with great strength and an enviable willpower carrying her beyond many obstacles and a lot of pain – physical and emotional. She can be ruthless with foes and incredibly gentle with friends or her young brother Oak, and there is no dichotomy here, both sides of her personality are equally valid and an integral part of her psychological makeup. Much as her relationship with Cardan can be fascinating – the attraction/repulsion dynamic is one of the defining points of their very convoluted exchanges – it’s not the one that best defines her, since this is left to her bond with Madoc, her adopted father.
Both of them love – crave – power and are determined to grasp it no matter the cost, which makes them at the same time potential allies and bitter enemies: for Jude, Madoc is the father who raised her, granted, the one who taught her sword skills and encouraged her dreams of knighthood, but he’s also the one who brutally killed her real father, and her mother, and wrenched Jude and Taryn from the only life they had known to throw them into an alien world in which they would always be outcasts. And for Madoc, Jude is the daughter that most resembles him, the child of his heart if not of his blood, but she’s also a contender for that power he covets, and his repeated offers of alliance look more like the desire to keep one’s enemies close rather than the need to have a like-minded partner.
And speaking of characters, there are a few minor ones that shine here, like the “new entry” Grima Mog, former fae general, exiled to the mortal world and with a penchant for cannibalistic murders: I know this description sounds far from appealing, but Grima’s personality – and scathing remarks – are a joy to behold and act as facetious interludes in the overall grimness of the main story. Weird as it might seem, her appearance on the scene always brought a delighted grin on my face…
Another thought-provoking angle comes from Vivi, Jude’s older, full-blood fae sister, and her human partner Heather and the latter’s desire to establish their relationship on a more equal footing, making the decision to move past previous misunderstandings and magic tricks but with the acknowledgement that whatever wounds she suffered are forgiven but not forgotten. And the human world gains more space in this third novel, not only because a good part of the action happens there, but also because there is a hint that the separation between the two realms might become thinner, more easily crossed in the future.
When all is said and done, I enjoyed this trilogy very much, and if its ending did not entirely meet my approval, I can assign this third book a slightly higher rating on the strength of its two predecessors. Whatever Holly Black will write next will no doubt end up on my radar because of these novels.