‘How The King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories’ is a Captivating Conclusion


“How The King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories” cover art. (Courtesy Holly Black)

By Whit Fuller, Arts Writer


Holly Black’s highly-anticipated conclusion to “The Folk of The Air” series was released on Nov. 24, 2020. “How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories” was anticipated by fans as both a sequel and prequel to the character arc of one of its principal characters, Cardan Greenbriar. 

Prequel Princeling

As the final novel in the main series, ”The Queen of Nothing,” leaves its main characters of Cardan and Jude Duarte in the modern world. This novella beautifully splits its time between current and past events in and out of the world of the Fae.

The tale begins with the now-rulers of Elfhame — Jude and Cardan — travelling to the mortal world on business. They’ve been summoned by a solitary Fae that Jude owes a favor to. This favor turns out to be hunting down a creature that is familiar to Cardan.

The novella then whisks the reader into the memories of former Prince Cardan. His childhood as a disregarded and mischievous boy is recounted. Moments from the series are told again through his own perspective instead of Jude’s. The reader is allowed to explore Cardan’s complexities as a character and to learn more about what preceded the events of the original novel, “The Cruel Prince,” and its sequel, “The Wicked King.”

The theme of a scorned troll woman named Aslog is recounted vividly in Cardan’s memories. She tells him a story about a boy with a heart of stone who falls in love with a monstrous girl. This tale is explored across several encounters between the two and given a different meaning each time it is told.

Black’s whimsical and ethereal storytelling style is merged beautifully with the artwork of Rovina Cai. Her work blurs the lines between realism and fantasy in true companionship with the way that Black’s writing operates. The muted tones and beautiful linework combine with the honeyed prose and biting dialogue to create a distinct and memorable novella.

Faerie Fables

As a longtime fan of Black’s “The Folk of The Air” series, I was thrilled to learn that there would be a fourth installment focusing primarily on Cardan’s character. Black created a whimsical universe with morally complex characters and an incredibly expansive lore that deserved the further expansion.

“How The King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories” is a worthy conclusion to a series that explores morality and power. The payoff for longtime fans comes from getting to watch Cardan grow through retrospective moments and present realizations. His character arc parallels the fables told by Aslog in incredible ways. Experiencing the stories within this novella makes for an experience on its own.

Black ended a beloved series with impeccable grace. Getting to spend nearly an extra two hundred pages with beloved characters was a gift, but seeing the character of Cardan from a more interior and personal perspective was the biggest payoff for me. I’d recommend this novella to fans of the series who’d like to see more of Cardan or explore the events of the previous installments from a different perspective. 


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