The Queen of Nothing, Holly Black (Little, Brown 978-0-316-31042-0, $19.99, 300pp, hc). November 2019.
Holly Black brings her Folk of Air trilogy to a glorious conclusion with the intense, dramatic, and thoroughly satisfying The Queen of Nothing. If she was not already firmly acknowledged as one of the most impressive names in contemporary fantasy, then this title will surely put to rest any doubts. The tightly written plot, first-class worldbuilding, and absolutely stellar character development easily lift the Folk of Air series to the top of any list of YA fantasy standouts. Everything a reader could want is found in these pages, and also, just as importantly, the books are the best sort of literary fun.
When last we left our protagonist Jude, everything had gone to hell in a hand basket (as things often do when dealing with the Faerie Court). She was banished from Elfhame, her king/husband/lifelong enemy Cardan was firmly on the throne and no longer beholden to her, and her twin sister had just married a truly loathsome faerie lord and stabbed her in the back. The only good thing was that Jude had gotten her little brother out of danger and they were both safe with her older sister in the mortal world. But Faerie drama never stays distant for long, especially when Jude’s foster father/most bloodthirsty-general-in-all-the-land is at the center of it, and in the opening pages of The Queen of Nothing, our heroine gets quickly sucked back in. Of course any return to Elfhame means seeing Cardan again, which is both nerve-wracking and extremely appealing to contemplate. But, mostly, going back means danger because war is brewing and if the court has any hope of survival, it will be up to Jude to navigate a metric ton of treachery and save them all.
Oh, and Cardan. A lot of Jude’s survival depends on Cardan, and figuring him out is THE BEST THING EVER.
Holly Black does all the things in The Queen of Nothing: she wraps up dangling plot points (and there have been a lot of them), she metes out serious justice, she throws a ton of surprises into the mix, and she gifts readers with one of the best YA romantic arcs to come along in ages. (Seriously – there are a lot of YA writers out there who need to deconstruct Jude and Cardan’s relationship and learn why it works so well.) She also develops all of her characters, from the main to the slightest of support, in deeper and richer ways. Not only do Jude and Cardan become even more intriguing (both separately and as a couple), but so do Jude’s siblings, her enemies, and her covert friends. A large part of the trilogy’s success is because of how interesting everyone in this world is, and on that score Black brings a level of texture and depth that continues to thoroughly engage readers. The Queen of Nothing is an excellent conclusion to the Folk of Air trilogy but, more importantly, it is yet another example that Holly Black brings a level of sustained brilliance to young-adult fiction that few authors can match.
Colleen Mondor, Contributing Editor, is a writer, historian, and reviewer who co-owns an aircraft leasing company with her husband. She is the author of “The Map of My Dead Pilots: The Dangerous Game of Flying in Alaska” and reviews regularly for the ALA’s Booklist. Currently at work on a book about the 1932 Mt. McKinley Cosmic Ray Expedition, she and her family reside in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. More info can be found on her website: www.colleenmondor.com.
This review and more like it in the February 2020 issue of Locus.
While you are here, please take a moment to support Locus with a one-time or recurring donation. We rely on reader donations to keep the magazine and site going, and would like to keep the site paywall free, but WE NEED YOUR FINANCIAL SUPPORT to continue quality coverage of the science fiction and fantasy field.