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Literature / The Folk of the Air

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"What could I become if I stopped worrying about death, about pain, about anything? If I stopped trying to belong? Instead of being afraid, I could become something to fear."
Jude Duarte

The Folk of the Air is a YA fantasy trilogy by Holly Black and set in the same universe as Modern Faerie Tales. The books in the trilogy are The Cruel Prince, The Wicked King, and The Queen of Nothing.

Jude and her twin Taryn are ordinary human girls whose life is forever altered when their parents are murdered by their mother's first husband. The faerie who killed their parents in order to have revenge and reclaim his heir, their older sister, takes responsibility for the children he orphaned, taking Jude and her sister back with him to Elfhame.

Growing up a human in the world of faeries, Jude has lived her life as an underdog who keeps her head down to avoid it being chopped off, and is sick of living in fear. In particular, she is sick of being the punching bag of the local bully, Prince Cardan, the cruel youngest son of the soon-to-abdicate king, who singles out her in particular when looking for someone to put down.


She aims to turn her life around by securing whatever power she can, and in doing so throws herself into the heart of a battle for control over the future of the crown.

In November 2020, How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories, a Cardan-centric novella was released. Part sequel, part prequel the novella centers around Cardan, exploring aspects of his past and bearing a small snipit of Cardan and Jude after The Queen of Nothing when Bryern summons Jude to the mortal realm for a job.


This series provides examples of:

  • Abdicate the Throne: A major plot point is that the current High King is about to abdicate the throne (since faerie rulers don't die of old age) to his son, Prince Dain. It's later all but stated that Dain was poisoning his father so he would feel exhausted and rush his ascendance to the throne, among many other schemes.
  • Acquired Poison Immunity: Jude starts doing this at the suggestion of Prince Dain. It ends up saving her at a critical time.
  • Aerith and Bob: “Jude” "Taryn" and "Vivi" stick out amidst the fae names.
  • Alcohol-Induced Idiocy: With his life in jeopardy and everyone searching for him in a bid to secure the next king’s favor, Cardan is casually wandering the palace with a wine glass that he’s too drunk to notice he’s holding sideways.
  • Alpha Bitch: Nicasia is the girl bully in Cardan's group who delights in tearing people apart verbally (while Valerian and Cardan do it physically). Her mother is the bloodthirsty queen of the ocean, and it's revealed in How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories that Nicasia hates everything and everyone on land, and so desires to gain power and crush everyone beneath her heel. Even cuckolding Cardan and breaking his heart was a way of gaining power over him, though she comes to regret it later and wants him back.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Taryn and Jude are aware that their respective love interests are not great romantic partners. This does not stop either of them.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Between Jude and Cardan, to the point that it's hard to tell at times if they're using 'hate' as a synonym for 'love'.
  • Big Brother Bully: It was Dain who barred Cardan from living in the palace, and the only sibling willing to take him in, Balekin, enjoys beating and belittling him.
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family
    • Jude’s family consists of her identical twin who lets her be bullied and duped in a bid to marry into status, a fae half-sister who does not fully appreciate how much danger her sisters are in, an adoptive fae father who murdered her real parents and still raised her with enough care that she can’t help but acknowledge him as somewhat of a father figure, his second wife who makes no secret of disliking her, and a younger step brother who is secretly royalty and also the biological younger brother of the man Jude’s sister is about to marry.
    • The royal family is a mess of siblings sabotaging one another for the throne, having affairs with their father’s consorts and then murdering the evidence, manipulating their father to try and make him abdicate faster, and beating on or otherwise completely ignoring Cardan because he’s the designated family punching bag. Without getting into any of Cardan’s issues. Bonus points for Cardan’s mom only ever noticing him to laugh when he misbehaves.
  • Big Sister Instinct: Both Vivienne and Jude agree about one thing: Oak is off-limits from the Faerie politics. Vivienne also tried to bring her sisters with her in her first escape from Faerie; she only let them return to Madoc's household when they couldn't adjust to normal life.
  • Can Not Tell A Lie: Faeries are incapable of lying. The mere fact that Jude can lie makes her worthy of being a spy for Dain, since the skill is so rare in their world.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Jude's Acquired Poison Immunity pays off when she gets Madoc to choose between two drugged glasses of wine while she drinks the other.
  • Crossing the Burnt Bridge: Thanks to the events of the books, Taryn and Jude are estranged. Book three starts with Taryn asking Jude for help. Jude at first understandably refuses, pointing out that even if she wants to help, she's got a little problem called exiled from Fairie.
  • Decadent Court: The court consists of a bunch of beautiful Gentry faeries vying for power through murder. Additionally, the culture of the court has a very Might Makes Right attitude, and members who display any perceived ‘kindness’ are generally only serving their own ends. For example, Dain branded himself as good and honorable only to gain favor from his father.
  • Didn't Think This Through: The supplemental material reveals that after banishing Jude, Carden missed her. He wrote letters inviting her back to Faerie. Besides the fact that it took him a few letters to realize that he didn't revoke the banishment, he doesn't have her address or a means of reaching Vivienne's place. In the main book series, Jude tells Carden she never got his letters, for those reasons. On top of that, in the main series it becomes clear that, while he may have pardoned her in the letters to get her to come home, he didn't tell anyone else that she was pardoned; when she's discovered in the royal palace attempting to prevent Carden's assassination, the guards there are ready to kill her on sight.
  • Et Tu, Brute?: There are a lot, considering this is a book series about the fair folk, it's to be expected though:
    • In The Cruel Prince:
      • The most shocking one: Madoc betrays both High King Eldred and Prince Dain, for the possibility of either having a bloodthirsty king who would bring more wars, or putting his own child as a child king he could easily influence as a regent for the sake of the exact same outcome.
      • Taryn towards Jude Because she knew that Locke was dating both her and her sister and not only did nothing about it, but agreed to be complicit for the sake of marrying Locke when he finally aknowlodged her as being capable of being like one of the Folk.
      • Jude herself does this to Cardan, she convinced him of swearing an oath of obedience to her for a whole year in exchange of promising him that if he helped her have Oak crowned he would be able to walk away from Court, she instead had Oak crowning him so he would basically be a puppet king for her.
    • In The Wicked King:
      • The Ghost pulls this on Jude, by aiding the minions of Queen Orlagh to abduct her which eventually lead to her being made prisoner and tortured, his reasoning? Because he served Prince Dain, not her.
      • This time Madoc and Taryn do this to Jude, after Madoc discovers that Jude has Cardan bound by an oath, he convinced Taryn to go an pose as her to him to command him, so he can take control of a good chunk of his army and presumably take over Elfhame.
      • Cardan towards Jude, he convinced her to release him from his oath and then to marry her to strengthen the crown, only to humiliate her in front of his entire court by exiling her of Faerie while she screams that she is the Queen of Faerie and he simply ignores her. Granted Jude killed Balekin even after he asked him not to, and he was practically surrendering, but he basically had her dumped back in the mortal world by herself and it's mentioned she had to walk a long way under the rain before she found Vivi.
  • Evil Prince: Both Balekin and Dain.
    • Balekin is a psychopath who not only murders his entire family as a bid for power when his father picks his younger brother as heir, but also takes out his insecurities on his youngest brother and ward, Cardan, through physical and emotional abuse.
    • Dain is a sociopath who will take out anyone that puts the throne in jeopardy for him. This includes murdering his lover and unborn child, scheming so his youngest brother loses his home as a child, and torturing his spy, Jude, just to prove her loyalty.
    • Interestingly, the Cruel Prince himself, Cardan, is the only crowned prince who doesn’t fit this trope. Cardan lacks the ambition, and, despite being bratty, is more ethical than his brothers.
  • The Fair Folk: The book series.
  • The Family That Slays Together: Madoc’s take on things.
  • Fantastic Drug: The Faerie Fruit works like this for mortals, when they eat it they become very complacent and it's easy to make them do anything for another taste of it.
  • Fantastic Racism: Faeries have little respect for humans.
  • Gang of Bullies: Cardan and his friends in The Cruel Prince.
  • Geas: Dain puts one on Jude so that no fairy can Glamour her apart from him.
  • Glamour: Yet another staple given that it's a series about The Fair Folk, the ability allows faeries to mind-control humans, or cast illusions for them, but special mentions goes to the fact that Elfhame does have certain regulations to deal with mortals, and while there are humans who are glamoured into being treated as slaves while thinking they're somewhere else; most are treated better and usually in a one-time and being paid very generously for their services, they're just glamoured to not know who or where they were working with.
  • Glamour Failure: As part of her pledging her service to Prince Dain, Jude asks protection from being controlled by any glamour, which he concedes, with the sole exception of him. This gift last even beyond Dain's death.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: One of Cardan’s reasons for hating Jude is that her family is kind to her.
    • In How the King of Elfhame learned to hate Stories, it's revealed that Cardan and company started picking on Jude and Taryn specifically because of Locke dumping Nicasia for one of them (though she doesn't know which). Nicasia asks for Cardan's help in making the twins' lives miserable out of envy, and he agrees because he also feels envious at the thought that Jude might be the one Locke is interested in.
    • Jude in general feels this way about fairies, longing to be like them: immortal and beautiful.
    • Taryn feels this way about Jude, when Locke seems to be taken by her defiance of Cardan.
    • Nicasia is so upset that Cardan has moved on from her that in The Wicked King, she tries to assassinate one of his assorted lovers at an orgy.
  • Heel Realization: Cardan doesn't react well in Queen of Nothing when he and Jude reunite after she nearly dies saving him from an assassin. Jude calls him out for the exile and thinking they were cool. He honestly told her that he used Exact Words to exile her and then revoke the banishment at the same time, but no one picked up on it, including Jude. Cardan hadn't realized that he hurt Jude's feelings, her pride, and her trust in him all at once. He said he wasn't sure she was capable of being broken. To top it all off, when attempting to send letters of reconciliation, he took a while to revoke the banishment and didn't know how mortal mail worked. Needless to say, Cardan is disappointed and kicking himself when Jude says of course she didn't trust him because you can't trust the Folk.
  • Horned Hairdo: Jude's most prominent style is her hair styled into upturned horns, done by Tatterfell, her house servant.
  • Identical Twin Mistake: The faeries are not good in general at telling Jude and Taryn apart. Jude is mistaken for Taryn even when acting in distinctly un-Taryn-like ways. Taryn starts taking advantage of this and the fact that faeries don't automatically suspect outright lies in order to walk around claiming to be Jude. Interestingly, despite having raised them, even Madoc took longer than it should have to figure it out. However, Cardan picked it up right away.
  • Immortal Procreation Clause: One of the reasons humans, while seen as lowly creatures by the Folk, are also a necessity is due to faeries' low birth rate. Humans serve not just as wives, but also as midwives and even wet nurses for the near-infertile faeries. It's to the point that most fairy households would be satisfied with having one child in their lifetime, and anything more is seen as lucky.
  • Interspecies Romance:
    • Jude and Cardan
    • Locke and Jude/Taryn
    • Vivi and Heather
    • Madoc and Jude's mother, although it fell apart before the story began.
  • Jerkass Realization: Queen of Nothing has Taryn suffering one for all her actions. She manipulated Jude, served as Madoc's pawn willingly, and was more than happy to throw her blood sisters under the bus to marry Locke. Taryn gets a big one when Jude agrees to pose as her for a glamour inquest, which ends in Madoc "rescuing" who he thinks is Taryn by kidnapping her and later stabbing Jude fatally. Taryn noticeably has a horrified expression as Jude struggles to walk while losing blood, and stitches her up without complaint
  • Killing in Self-Defense:
    • After one too many attempts on her life, Jude fatally stabs Valerian.
    • Balekin also forces her hand by challenging her to a duel with the intent of killing her. Since she had already tossed around the idea of assassinating him, Cardan is not convinced of the self-defense angle.
  • Land of Faerie: Unlike the author previous series, this one takes place almost exclusively on Faerie, specifically Elfhame.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: In a fit of spite and wounded pride, Madoc killed his wife and her new husband in front of their daughter and his stepkids before essentially kidnapping the little ones and adopting them all. Vivienne, his only full-blooded daughter, said nuts to that and ran back to the mortal world as soon as she was old enough. The trilogy ends with Jude sentencing him to live in the mortal realm for the rest of his days; Vivienne and Oak are willing to tolerate him at least.
  • Little Bit Beastly: Each member of the royal family has some animal part somewhere on their body, which while normal in common faeries, is unusual for the Gentry (noble), they have it because as the house of Greenbriar they are all descendants of Mab, the first queen who unified the Seelie, Unseelie and Wild Fey under her rule; she had a horned consort, and it's because of their union that despite being Gentry they all have some animal part:
    • Dain is mentioned to have hooves and the hind legs of a deer.
    • Balekin has thorn-like spikes in each knuckle and along his arms.
    • Cardan has a tail, that he keeps hidden most of the time.
    • Oak has tiny horns, which was one of the hints of his heritage.
  • Loving Bully: Unlike most examples, this is fully played for drama and Jude is in utter disbelief when Cardan admits his attraction to her.
    Cardan: Most of all, I hate you because I think of you. Often. It's disgusting, and I can't stop.
  • Madness Mantra: What Jude thinks she's found when she finds Cardan's diary with pages of just her name written over and over and over in all capital letters. It's seen again in the final letter of the Barnes and Noble edition of Queen of Nothing's exclusive "Cardan's Letters to Jude" where the pages are stained with ink from his frantic writing, giving it a desperate and unhinged look.
  • Massive Numbered Siblings: Cardan is the youngest of six. This is very unusual for fairies and is seen as a ‘vulgar fortune.’
  • Mind Game Ship: Locke’s favorite kind.
  • Murder Is the Best Solution: Locke tells Jude that her family would be surprised to learn murder can't solve all their problems. Jude agrees that she would indeed find that surprising.
    • This is also remarked by Cardan in The Wicked King in regards to Jude and the Court of Shadows:
    Cardan: The three of you have one solution to every problem: Murder. No key fits every lock. Someone tries to betray the High King, murder. Someone gives you a harsh look, murder. Someone disrespects you, murder. Someone ruins your laundry, murder.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Supplemental material in The Queen Of Nothing revealed that although Carden banished Jude when she took the Geas off him and left her to rot, he did send multiple letters that she never received in the mortal realm. Several of them have him admit that he misses her, and asks where she is. He even writes that he revokes the banishment if that's what it will take for her to return. While he can't write out a full apology, and their relationship is beyond apologies, he comes close to it.
  • Never Say "Die": Madoc tells Jude that abdicated fairy kings are off seeking the "Land Of Promise". Jude suspects that means dying but Madoc refuses to admit it.
  • New Neo City: There's a visitor from a fairy kingdom off the coast of America called New Avalon.
  • No Periods, Period: Averted, one of the reasons Jude and Taryn go the mortal world is to buy tampons, since Jude suggests that because faerie females only get one cycle per year or so, they don't have anything of the like in Faerie, instead relying mostly on padding, Jude says that everything about it is embarrassing.
  • No Such Thing as Alien Pop Culture: The first chapter consists of one line explaining that Faerie has no fish sticks, ketchup or television.
  • Offing the Offspring: Attempted by Dain on account of an omen that he won’t be king if his child lives.
  • Poison-and-Cure Gambit: Balekin’s scheme to get the crown back.
  • Polar Opposite Twins: While not exact opposites, there are notable differences in Taryn and Jude's personalities. Taryn relies more on her appeal to get ahead while avoiding confrontations, while Jude prefers picking fights and seizing power for herself in order to get ahead with minimal reliance on others. Taryn also acts more selfishly while Jude, though not selfless, is more likely to act with the well-being of others in mind.
  • Raised by Rival: The protagonist, Jude, and her sisters Taryn and Vivienne, are raised by the man who killed their mother and father (or stepfather, in Vivienne's case).
  • Rebel Prince: By the end of the series, Oak completely rejects his role in Jude's plan as prince and future king, prefering instead of grow up in the mortal realm.
  • Royal Blood: It's mentioned early on that the Blood Crown of the High King is enchanted so that a new king can only be crowned by a someone from the Greenbriar line, who are descended from Queen Mab who unified Elfhame under her rule. This becomes relevant in The Cruel Prince after the entirety of the royal family is murdered minus Balekin and Cardan, meaning that the former needs the latter to become king, and becomes the most searched person after the bloodbath that was the coronation party, and then we find out about Oak
  • Royally Screwed Up: The Greenbriars are not exactly a healthy family. It could probably be argued that the reason for this was cultural due to the toxic and competitive environment of Elfhame, and the pressure and gossip of being in the spotlight. Of the members of the family we see:
    • Eldred: While little is known about the patriarch’s personality, it doesn’t appear he was a good father to his children. Two of his sons plot to murder him and he neglects and later exiles his youngest son.
    • Balekin Murders his entire family in a bid for power, roiling the kingdom. Additionally, interactions also show he was very insecure, and he took these insecurities out on his youngest brother.
    • Dain: Had an affair with his father’s consort. Additionally, plotted and manipulated his way into being next in line for succession, including poisoning his own father in order to become king quicker. He also attempted to murder his unborn child.
    • Cardan: An eighteen-year-old alcoholic who doesn’t try at anything because he’s afraid he’ll be picked on. His family members neglected him, framed him for murder, exiled him from his home, and physically abused him. Complicating matters, Cardan winds up as king, and has to figure how to sort through his traumas in order to be a competent ruler. He succeeds.
  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy:
    • Dain is told that if his child lives, he will never be king. Attempting to murder his unborn child by poisoning the mother succeeds in killing only the mother. The child ends up in the hands of Madoc who, having his hands on a secret member of the royal family and aware of Dain’s depravity, decides to shift loyalties, resulting in Dain’s murder just as he was about to be king.
    • Jude’s mother is told that her child would alter the fate of the faerie world. Thinking it to be about Vivienne, she fakes her death and flees back to the mortal world. It’s suggested that the prophecy was actually about Jude, who was only born because her mother ran away from Madoc and remarried a human.
  • Self-Poisoning Gambit: Jude pretends to poison herself in a bid to ‘confirm’ that Balekin’s antidote is the real deal, tricking him into giving her a dose that she then spits into a vial for Cardan.
  • Selkies and Wereseals: A few from Orlagh's kingdom appear wearing their skins like cloaks.
  • Shared Universe: Takes place in the same world as Modern Faerie Tales.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Without actually mentioning the title, Jude watches Yuri!!! on Ice at the end of The Wicked King.
    • Again, without mentioning a title, in How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories Cardan watches Knives Out with Jude in the mortal realm.
  • Sibling Murder: Balekin kills or orders the death of almost all of the royal family in the course of threatening them to crown him. leading to...
  • The Starscream: Madoc helps Balekin kill Dain with the intention of getting Oak on the throne later on.
  • Stockholm Syndrome: Jude and Taryn have grown to love Madoc like a father while resenting him for killing their parents at the same time.
  • Succession Crisis: Averted at first, since Eldred has the exceptional luck (for someone of the Folk) to have six possible heirs for the crown, with Dain being the favored one to become the next High King, then played straight when Eldred, and four of the siblings are murdered at Dain's coronation party, leaving only Balekin and Cardan. Because of Royal Blood magic, one can only be crowned by a member of the family, meaning that the party ends with barely the exact number of people needed to crown a new king.
  • Tangled Family Tree: Not nearly as bad as it could have been, but Oak is Cardan's nephew and Jude's (adoptive) brother. Meaning that he is also Jude's nephew and Cardan's brother-in-law. If Jude and Cardan ever had a kid, Oak would be the child's uncle and cousin.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: This is pretty much the staple for Cardan and Jude teaming up in the aftermath of the failed coronation in the end of the first book; in the second one, this is played with since Jude doesn't want to trust Cardan or even think of him as capable of being a competent king, whereas it's heavily implied and later he admits as much that Cardan goes along with her whims because he wants her to trust him.
  • Then Let Me Be Evil: The reason why Cardan got his reputation. When he was a child, his brother Dain dared him to shoot a walnut off a glamoured mortal's head. Instinct told Cardan to stay his hand because he felt it wasn't sporting and something was off that day. Dain then shot Cardan's arrow and told it as if Cardan had been the one to shoot the mortal. From that day on, with his mother getting punished in his stead and being given to an abusive brother, Cardan decided to be the monster that everyone thought he was.
  • Wrong Guy First: Locke is played up as the member of Cardan’s posse with less stomach for cruelty who takes a shine to Jude and gets her to drop her guard. Too bad he’s really into scandal and seduced her just to form a rift between her and Taryn.