“The Wicked King” is the second book in the “Folk of the Air” series by Holly Black. It was published in 2019 and continues the story of Jude Duarte, a mortal girl living in the world of Elfhame, which is populated by faeries and other magical creatures. The series explores themes of power, betrayal, and the complexities of morality in a world where deception is commonplace.

Short Summary of The Wicked King

The Wicked King: Plot Summary, Characters Overview And MoreJude Duarte, a mortal, has successfully maneuvered Cardan onto the throne of Elfhame, the faerie realm. Although King Cardan wears the crown, it’s Jude who secretly wields the real power as his seneschal. Her main goal is to maintain control until her younger brother, Oak, is old enough to take over. As Jude navigates a web of political intrigue, betrayal is constant and alliances are tenuous. Her complex relationship with Cardan evolves, even as external threats to the kingdom grow. Jude must outwit her enemies and manage Cardan to maintain her hold on power, while dealing with her complicated feelings toward the faerie king. The book ends with a shocking twist that sets the stage for the series conclusion.

Comprehensive Synopsis of The Wicked King

Introduction: The Power Behind the Throne

The book opens with Jude Duarte firmly established as the seneschal to King Cardan, the ruler of Elfhame. Although Cardan sits on the throne, it’s Jude who is the true power behind it. She has bound Cardan to obey her for a year and a day, and her primary concern is maintaining control of the kingdom until her younger brother, Oak, is ready to rule.

Political Maneuvering: Unstable Alliances

As Jude tries to solidify her power, she faces various challenges from different factions within the faerie realm. This includes dealing with Cardan’s own unpredictable behavior, as well as threats from the Queen of the Undersea and Cardan’s family. Jude must outwit these entities and make tenuous alliances to protect the kingdom.

Personal Conflicts: Jude and Cardan

Interspersed with the political struggles are Jude’s complex emotional entanglements, primarily her evolving relationship with Cardan. The chemistry between them is palpable, and there is an ongoing tension as each tries to understand the other’s motives. This relationship is further complicated by Jude’s mortal vulnerability in a world of immortal beings.

External Threats: The Queen of the Undersea

An external threat comes into play when the Queen of the Undersea, Orlagh, challenges the rule of Elfhame. She provides a ticking clock that adds urgency to Jude’s mission. Jude must now balance internal political squabbles with a looming external threat, making for a multifaceted struggle.

Betrayal and Regaining Control

As the story progresses, Jude is betrayed by those she thought she could trust. She’s forced to adapt, regroup, and rethink her strategies for keeping Cardan on the throne while preserving her own life.

The Climax: Twists and Turns

In a series of shocking turns, Jude’s control over Cardan is brought into question. The climax is a flurry of betrayals and political maneuvers that end with Cardan taking an unforeseen action, liberating himself from Jude’s control in a manner that jeopardizes her entire plan.

The Conclusion: Setting the Stage

The book concludes with a significant cliffhanger, leaving Jude in a precarious position and the throne of Elfhame in uncertainty. It sets the stage for the final installment of the trilogy, “The Queen of Nothing,” where all loose ends are expected to be tied up.

Basic Info About the Novel

  • Title of the work: The Wicked King
  • Author: Holly Black
  • Date of Publication: January 8, 2019
  • Original Language: English
  • Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
  • How long is it: 336 pages (hardcover edition)
  • Form and Structure: Prose novel, linear narrative, first-person perspective (primarily from Jude Duarte)
  • Setting: Elfhame, a fictional realm blending medieval and modern elements
  • Themes: Power dynamics, moral ambiguity, betrayal, complexities of love and hate
  • Publication Medium: Hardcover by Little, Brown and Company; also available in eBook, audiobook, and paperback
  • Diction: Modern, ranges from formal to colloquial depending on context; tailored for a young adult audience

Main Characters Breakdown

Jude Duarte

  • Personality: Jude is fiercely determined, intelligent, and resourceful. She has a strong sense of loyalty but also wrestles with a darker, more vengeful side. Her mortal status in a realm of magical beings fuels both her insecurities and her ambitions.
  • Age: She is a teenager, around 18 years old in “The Wicked King.”
  • Gender: Female
  • Role: Jude serves as the story’s protagonist and is also the seneschal to King Cardan. She is the power behind the throne and the central lens through which the story unfolds.
  • Additional Info: Being a mortal in a world of immortals puts her at a significant disadvantage, but it also provides her with a unique perspective. She has been trained in swordsmanship and is more than capable of defending herself. Her complex relationship with Cardan is a focal point of the narrative.

Cardan Greenbriar

  • Personality: Enigmatic, unpredictable, morally ambiguous, both cruel and kind.
  • Age: Around Jude’s age, slightly older.
  • Gender: Male
  • Role: High King of Elfhame, puppet ruler under Jude for much of the book.
  • Additional Info: Complicated relationship with Jude, tumultuous family history.

Orlagh, Queen of the Undersea

  • Personality: Manipulative, calculating, regal.
  • Age: Adult faerie, possibly centuries old.
  • Gender: Female
  • Role: External threat to Elfhame and Jude.
  • Additional Info: Adds geopolitical tension, urgent external conflict.

Taryn Duarte

  • Personality: More compliant than Jude, seeks societal acceptance.
  • Age: Around 18, same as Jude.
  • Gender: Female
  • Role: Secondary character, significant impact on Jude’s choices.
  • Additional Info: Contrasts with Jude’s ambition, offers different perspective on mortal life among fae.

Oak Duarte

  • Personality: Innocent, naive.
  • Age: Child, much younger than Jude and Taryn.
  • Gender: Male
  • Role: Jude’s half-brother, heir apparent to Elfhame.
  • Additional Info: Symbolizes innocence, primary concern for Jude.


  • Personality: Cunning, ruthless, strategic.
  • Age: Adult faerie, much older than the teens.
  • Gender: Male
  • Role: Adoptive father to Jude and Taryn, primary antagonist.
  • Additional Info: Political ambitions, formidable opponent for Jude.


  • Personality: Proud, contemptuous toward mortals, loyal to her mother.
  • Age: Teenager, same age range as Jude and Cardan.
  • Gender: Female
  • Role: Jude’s romantic and political rival.
  • Additional Info: Complex relationship with Cardan, link between Elfhame and the Undersea.

Balekin Greenbriar

  • Personality: Sadistic, power-hungry.
  • Age: Adult faerie, older than Cardan.
  • Gender: Male
  • Role: Cardan’s eldest brother, principal antagonist.
  • Additional Info: Unscrupulous political machinations, direct threat to Cardan and Jude.

Interesting Facts about “The Wicked King”

Critical Acclaim: The novel received favorable reviews from critics and was well-received by readers, maintaining high ratings on platforms like Goodreads.

Bestsellers List: “The Wicked King” hit several bestsellers lists shortly after its release.

Fan Following: The series has amassed a large fan following, inspiring fan art, fan fiction, and various merchandise.

Author Inspiration: Holly Black is known for her fascination with folklore and faerie tales, which deeply influenced the world-building in the novel.

Exclusive Editions: Several bookstores released exclusive editions of “The Wicked King” that contained unique cover designs, fan art, or additional content like short stories.

Character Complexity: The book is noted for its morally grey characters, which has sparked many debates and analyses among fans and critics alike.

My Take on “The Wicked King”

“The Wicked King” elevates Young Adult fiction by diving headfirst into ethical ambiguity and complex human psychology. Unlike typical YA narratives that champion idealized love and black-and-white morality, this book embraces the messy, complicated nature of relationships and power dynamics.

Jude, the protagonist, is not your standard likable heroine; she’s a cunning manipulator. Similarly, Cardan defies the norm of the “redeemable bad boy,” remaining morally complex. Black isn’t interested in making her characters easily relatable; she wants them to challenge us.

“The Wicked King” respects its young readers by not sugarcoating life’s complexities. It sets a new standard for what YA fiction can be, offering a mirror to the real intricacies of human behavior and governance.

What do you think? Share your opinion in the comments section!

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