REVIEW: The Prisoner’s Throne by Holly Black

With the Stolen Heir duology, Holly Black takes us back to the fae realms of her Folk of the Air series. For those familiar with the series, The Stolen Heir and The Prisoner’s Throne are a spin-off, featuring Oak – the younger brother to Jude, heroine of the Folk of the Air books, and heir to the throne of Elfhame – and Wren, a mostly new character – the heir to the Court of Teeth. Wren, my feral child, is a brilliant addition to Black’s menagerie of complex, morally ambiguous characters. These novels are far darker than the reader would expect based on their packaging. This may be YA, but it is textbook grimdark as we understand it, and I mean this in the best way possible.

Cover of The Prisoner's ThroneThese books are strongly part of a series, so the reader will enjoy them more if familiar with the world. I read the Folk of the Air series a few years back and could spot the continuous references to their story but did not remember enough to be able to place some of them. The Stolen Heir duology would work fine as a standalone series – but the two books, The Stolen Heir and The Prisoner’s Throne are one story split over two. I would recommend the reader pick up both and enjoy the story in close succession. The Prisoner’s Throne picks up where The Stolen Heir ended, with Prince Oak the prisoner of Wren, paying for his betrayal. The court of Elfhame (Jude and Cardan, leads of the Folk of the Air series) is more than keen to get Oak back, no matter the cost. As war looms large, Oak and Wren both have their competing aims, desperation to keep family safe and reliance on subterfuge. The Prisoner’s Throne is a delicious series of betrayals, a reminder that the best of intentions do not always show a clear path forward.

Oak and Wren are both fantastic leads, complex characters stubbornly insisting that they know everything worth knowing. Oak is the softer of the two, though he has been quietly manipulating the court at Elfhame for most of his life. He doesn’t know how to be honest, how to show vulnerability. He is your cocky pretty boy, except he does have a great mind for strategy and war. Wren, Wren my precious feral child, is a walking disaster. Navigating missing memories and cruel torture (one of the more memorable scenes in The Stolen Heir includes Wren being parted from her tongue), she’s never learned to trust people. She will go berserk for those she cares about – like her adoptive sister from Wren’s time living in the mortal world.

The shift between worlds worked really well in the Stolen Heir duology. Set largely in the fae realms, the mortal word functioned as a sort of background character development canvas. Through flashback and short scenes, the reader gets an impression of the characters’ lives, of who they are in different worlds. I am impressed with how well Black managed to show and not tell. The impact of circumstances in the different locations, even within the fae realms, was one of the strongest elements in these books. The characters are different people depending on where they found themselves. This makes the story feel all the more real, as I think we readers are all familiar with how we change depending on where we are and around which people. Just think about how easily we tend to fall back into childish patterns when we’re staying with family.

I thoroughly enjoyed my return to Elfhame and surroundings, and am curious to see what Black comes up with next. Her YA novels are cult classics for a reason, and we get to enjoy a queen at the top of her game with The Prisoner’s Throne.

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Fabienne Schwizer

Fabienne Schwizer

Fabienne can usually be found with her nose in a book or two. Most of her life revolves around words, be that reading, writing, or editing. You can find more of her ramblings over on www.libridraconis.com, where she also reviews YA books and more lighthearted Fantasy and Science Fiction, as @FLSchwizer on Twitter, and @libri_draconis on Instagram. If you're curious about what she is currently reading, check out www.goodreads.com/libridraconis.