To those who have already devoured Holly Black’s The Cruel Prince since it was published at the beginning of January, and are already eagerly awaiting what’s coming next: EW has your exclusive first look at The Wicked King.
The new novel in the fantasy series, due at the beginning of next year, picks up following the aftermath of the jaw-dropping revelation that (spoilers) Oak is the heir to Faerie. To keep her younger brother safe, Jude bound the wicked king, Cardan, to her, and made herself the power behind the throne. Navigating the constantly shifting political alliances of Faerie would be difficult enough if Cardan were easy to control. But he does everything in his power to humiliate and undermine her even as his fascination with her remains undiminished.
“I’ve been writing standalones for the past couple of years and one of the great pleasures of writing trilogies is getting to set up things in the first book that pay out in the second and third,” Black tells EW of how she’s approached building out the Cruel Prince universe. “In The Wicked King, I am delighted to be able to deepen what we know of the characters and share some of what I had to keep back. It’s also exciting to explore more of Faerie. If the first book asks what Jude might be willing to do for power, the second book is about her struggle to hold onto it.”
Black has exclusively shared with EW an excerpt from The Wicked King that is sure to entice fans, as well as the book’s official cover. Read on below.
Excerpt from The Wicked King, by Holly Black
We danced once before, at the coronation of Prince Dain. Before the murdering began. Before I took Cardan prisoner at knifepoint. I wonder if he is thinking of it when he spins me around the Milkwood.
He might not be particularly practiced with a blade, but as he promised the hag’s daughter, he’s a skilled dancer. I let him steer me through steps I doubtless would have fumbled. My heart is racing and my skin is slicked with sweat.
Papery moths fly above our heads, circling up as though tragically drawn to the light of the stars.
“Whatever you do to me,” I say, too angry to stay quiet. “I can do worse to you.”
“Oh,” he says, fingers tight on mine. “Do not think I forget that for a moment. You’d never allow it.”
“Then why?” I demand.
“You believe I planned your humiliation?” he laughs. “Me? That sounds like work.”
“I don’t care if you did or not,” I tell him, too angry to make sense of my feelings. “I just care that you enjoyed it.”
“And why shouldn’t I delight to see you squirm? You tricked me,” Cardan says. “You played me for a fool and now I am the King of Fools.”
“The High King of Fools,” I say, sneer in my voice. Our gaze meets and there’s a shock of recognition, of mutual understanding that our bodies are pressed too close. I am conscious of my skin, of the sweat beading on my lip, of the slide of my thighs against one another. I am aware of the warmth of his neck beneath my twined fingers, of the prickly brush of his hair and how I want to sink my hands into it. I inhale the scent of him — moss and oak wood and leather. I stare at his treacherous mouth and imagine it on me.
Everything about this is wrong. Around us, the revel is resuming. Some of the Court glances our way, because some of the Court always looks to the High King, but Locke’s game is at an end.
Go back to the palace, Cardan had said and I’d ignored the warning.
I think of Locke’s expression while Cardan spoke, the eagerness in his face. It wasn’t me he was watching. I wonder for the first time if my humiliation was incidental, the bait to his hook.
Tell us what you think of our Lady.
To my immense relief, at the end of the reel, the musicians pause again, looking to the High King for instructions.
I pull away from him. “I am overcome, your Majesty. I would like your permission to withdraw.”
For a moment, I wonder what I will do if Cardan denies me permission. I have issued many commands, but none about sparing my feelings. My mistake.
“You are free to depart or stay, as you like,” Cardan says magnanimously. “The Queen of Mirth is welcome wheresoever she goes.”
I stumble away from him and out of the revel to lean against a tree, sucking in breaths of cool sea air. My cheeks are hot, my face is burning.
At the edge of the Milkwood, I see waves beating against the black rocks. Then I notice shapes on the sand, as though shadows were moving on their own. I blink again. Not shadows. Selkies, rising from the sea. A score, at least. They cast off their sleek seal skins and raise silver blades.
The Undersea has come to the Hunter’s Moon Revel.