I have read a total of four books by Holly Black: The Cruel Prince, The Wicked King, The Darkest Part of the Forest, and The Coldest Girl in Coldtown. The best I gave a four star rating (The Cruel Prince). The worst I gave one star (The Wicked King and The Coldest Girl in Coldtown). My average rating for them all? Two. As you can see, I haven’t enjoyed her books much and I’ll explain why.
Glorification of Evil
Holly Black seems a little obsessed with things that are pretty wrong. Time and time again she paints these beautiful words full of darkness. But the darkness isn’t bad… or good. It just is, and everyone is perfectly fine with that. Out of every character she has written, only one-maybe two–have been anywhere near good examples. Cardan is an arrogant and cruel prince (care to guess what book he’s in?); Jude is straight-up evil at times and doesn’t care; Severin is lustful and kisses people without consent, yet somehow manages to fall in love with someone (another guy, for that matter); Hazel fights evil, but has no problem killing people and doesn’t really seem fazed by it; Aidan sleeps around, purposefully manipulates and hurts his girlfriend, and will kiss anyone as long as he’s having a good time. All of these characters lean more on their bad habits and flaws and readers embrace it. Which isn’t good. Partying and drinking are another issue in her books. It is shown that getting drunk, disobeying the law, and partying till the sun comes up is just having a good time and that there’s nothing wrong with it. The more books I read by Holly Black, the more I realize that I am becoming jaded to the evil elements within her stories. Because they are that frequent. Her books are dark with no hope of light and seem to embrace that the darkness just is.
Unnecessary Sex/Makeout Scenes
I get that some people can gloss over or skim over a sex scene or make-out scene. Some of the time, I can too. But Holly Black’s novels are descriptive, which is great, unless we’re talking about sex. Then it becomes erotic to the point where I feel it has completely left the YA spectrum and jumped into the Adult Romance genre. And again, the more I read her books, the more indifferent I become to the inappropriate content she allows. In The Wicked King, a scene occurs where clothes are pulled off of each other, hands to roam to questionable areas of the body, and sensual pleasure is described. This is NOT OKAY! I don’t care if some teens are comfortable reading this, because if they are, they always can just find a book in the Adult section of their library. It should not be in the Teens section. In The Darkest Part of the Forest, two teens almost have sex and things get pretty heated before they stop. We are giving teens the impression and idea that having sex that young is perfectly normal and acceptable, when actually it’s quite dangerous and can lead to some tough consequences that they’re not prepared for physically, emotionally, and mentally.
Everything is Turned Sexual and/or Dark
Going off of my last point, so many things are turned sexual and dark in her books. The crude innuendos, the overly detailed descriptions of what it feels like to touch and kiss someone you’re attracted to, how sin is considered totally fine and fun… the list goes on. It is giving teens today this very flawed and broken view of how we’re supposed to act. It shows that drinking your worries away, partying so long and hard that you drop, and that having sex with someone you barely know are all perfectly fine. Because of this, I won’t be reading any of Holly Black’s books for a while.
I get that not everyone will agree on my stance on this issue, so if you’d like to discuss it in the comments, please just make sure that you keep it clean and respectful.
9 thoughts on “Why I have Issues with Holly Black Books”
I read the darkest part of the forest because of the high reviews and I wanted to get a feel of her writing as she’s highly rated. It felt like a let down and you’ve basically pointed out most of the things I did not like but her style of writing is also something I’m not fond of. I was curious if someone shared the same sentiments and stumbled on this post.
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Hey there! I agree – I don’t think I’ve read more of her work since I wrote this post. I’m a fan of a good dark/edgy story, but it always felt overdone & forced with her work. Underwhelming with how overwhelming her “darkness” got… especially for a YA writer. Thanks for reading!
I think the very point of her characters and the situations they find themselves in is to behave problematically. That is what makes her characters real to me and I often see myself in characters like Jude (albeit without the murderous tendencies) because they are so flawed. Real people are not good or evil, we are all grey and to say that you yourself (I am also speaking to myself here) have never been problematic, toxic, or abusive is to be naive and not self aware. We are all terrible people to someone and that is the reality I think Holly Black tries to emulate in her heroes. Likewise, she includes heavy topics like sex, abuse, addiction, and such because this is a reality for so many young people and novels are a way for us to experience and process these realities in a safe space, especially when we see them reflected and handled in the media we consume. For instance, you mention Hazel. Side note: She makes no mention of killing people (unless you count nighttime Hazel convincing her fairy counters to turn the family into rocks, but this is an entirely different conversation to be had about whether nighttime Hazel is the same as daylight Hazel, along with the implications of her forced servitude to the king), but will attack the fae and fae-creatures. Yet, she refers to herself time and time again as a knight, and what do knights do? They fight and kill in the name of whatever cause they are rallied for. Or even Jude (one of the most complex and intriguing heroines I have ever read despite my not agreeing with her decisions at every point in the book), she is raised by an abusive (maybe even narcissistic) father who only taught her violence. It is an indirect, yet direct discussion of complex family relationships and how they can manifest in your own life without it meaning to. Several times she references how she sometimes hates being just like her father or mentioning the lack of tools he gave her to resolve her problems without violence or being rash. It does not mean she’s evil, she is still a child (at least in the first book), who was a victim of trauma and abuse. And children of trauma and abuse will react with the tools their parents gave them and that does not make them evil, they are kids. This same argument rings especially true in the case of Cardan. He was raised by cruelty, where do you expect him to learn kindness if he has never been shown it. Thus, the character development we see from the Cruel Prince to Queen of Nothing is so stark and so much like what children of trauma face, when they are removed from the care of their abusers and have to handle the repercussions of that abuse and how they themselves have become the abuser as well. It makes kids like me and so many others who had experienced trouble in the home life and how that warped our reactions and perceptions on reality feel seen and understood. To reduce these characters to evil is like reducing real life people who have faced similar situations like these characters to evil. How we review and digest media has an impact on real life, whether we want it to or not and having a discussion in which we are labeling clearly acknowledged (in the books, while the word abuse is not used, through characterization and recounts of traumatic events it is very clear most of Black’s characters are trauma and/or abuse survivors) victims of abuse (who are still kids, might I once again add) as evil or cruel is so dangerous to the kids who are showing similar characteristics to these characters as it is invalidating and gives the sense that there is no complexity or redemption to these people. If we do not read these characters as complex, how are we going to read real life people who also show these traits as complex? This is a long winded singular example and way of saying, that in my opinion, this take misses the point of how writing morally grey characters often reflects true experiences and the real world. And my final point: once again, these characters are kids and will do what kids do. That means they will party, drink, have reckless sex, and make unwise decisions and that is the very experience of most teenagers. There is no censoring them from the real world and to try to do it through the media they consume is fruitless and frankly also harmful, but that’s a discussion for another day.
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Hi, M! Thanks for the thoughtful and well-explained response! I totally see what you’re saying here and a lot of your points I agree with (about writing characters who are realistic especially). I think this might be something we just have to agree to disagree on, but thank you for choosing to state your position in such a polite manner; I appreciate it!
Do you know in any way if Holly Black is a problematic author? With issues such as racism, etc.?
Hi JJ. It’s been a while since I’ve read one of her books, but I don’t remember any of them being problematic in terms of racism and such. However, her The Cruel Prince trilogy has a pretty toxic relationship that appeared abusive at times to the woman. Hope that helps!
All the reasons you listed above are why I’ve avoided this author. I have no desire to read her books at all especially after reading this. No, thank you! As a Christian, none of this content makes this book seem appealing in any way. It’s so sad to see so many “YA” authors putting this kind of content in their books!! 😦
What’s annoying is that she’s a descriptive writer and talented. So people are drawn to her writing and excuse the major flaws it has content-wise. I’m glad this has helped you steer clear. Because seriously, they’re not worth it.
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It’s always so sad to see talented authors wasting their talent writing such awful stuff!! I have seen that a lot in YA fiction where an author is super talented but the books they write are no age appropriate like the market says they are!