In The Cruel Prince by Holly Black, protagonist Jude Duarte is one of the few humans living in the world of Faerie after being taken from her home in the mortal world. The book (and the whole trilogy, which I highly recommend), follows Jude as she navigates the complicated politics of the Faerie realm and tries to prove that she can be extremely powerful despite her being a human.
The challenges that Jude faces due to her being human clearly reflects social issues in the real world regarding discrimination, even if it sometimes gets lost in the magical world of the book. Many fantasy novels and worlds have discriminatory elements between different magical beings (i.e. “mudbloods” versus “purebloods” in Harry Potter, and humans versus elves in The Witcher).
While these instances may not be direct commentaries on social issues, we can use them as a new lens in which to view these problems and how they compare to the real-world thing.
In The Cruel Prince, Jude is considered lucky to be living the life she lives. Because her father is of high ranking, she and her sister are able to attend one of the best schools and live in an extravagant house. While this would be a blessing for anyone, a fortunate life for a human in Elfhame has even slimmer chances. Because of their short lifespans and susceptibility to “Glamour” – the Faerie ability to basically control minds – humans are most often used as brain-numb servants.
Even in the best case, such as Jude’s life, humans face harsh criticism and mockery from the other inhabitants of Elfhame. Throughout the series, Jude is very often treated as a waste of space.
Obviously, nobody in the real world is facing discrimination based on the fact that they’re human. However, the relationship between humans and Faeries in The Cruel Prince parallels many struggles that religious, racial, and sexual minorities face today. It can be harder to gain powerful positions and to be seen as equal for both Jude and these minorities.
It’s important for authors to make these parallels, even if not completely intentionally, so we as readers can learn and empathize with these issues.
The Cruel Prince by Holly Black is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Libby.