Fantasy Author Holly Black Explains Why We All Have The Hots For Faeries Right Now

They are, by nature, very wicked beings!

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If you’re a millennial woman on TikTok, at some point, your algorithm has probably tried to serve you some videos from #booktok — and once you’ve gone deep on that community of avid readers, soon you’ll be reading romantasy novels. No doubt TikTok has contributed to the genre’s meteoric rise, but it’s a genre with a rich history, of which author Holly Black’s The Cruel Prince is one of the most recommended titles — on and off of social media.

But Black is not new to fantasy, having written 40 books and graphic novels, including The Spiderwick Chronicles, which has been adapted into a TV series set to release in April. Her Folk of the Air series, which begins with The Cruel Prince, spawned her latest release, The Prisoner’s Throne, the conclusion to a duology set in the same universe. The story follows Prince Oak and Wren, who has just reclaimed the kingdom she was raised to despise, as they get swept up in the battle for power over Elfhame and, naturally, their tumultuous relationship with one another.

When we meet over Zoom, Black’s presence instantly makes me feel like this is the most fun conversation I’m going to have today. She’s not just a fantasy writer but a fantasy lover. Her hair is blue, she’s wearing a little vial of something (maybe glitter?) on a necklace, and her ears have been cosmetically altered to be pointed like a faerie’s. As someone with a very visible Lord of the Rings tattoo, I’m giddy at feeling like the covert nerd for a change, and to chat at length with someone who lives and breathes fantasy.

Below, Black tells us what she’s anxious about now that readers have The Prisoner’s Throne in their hands and reveals that fans of The Cruel Prince will, in fact, be getting a new story about Jude and Cardan (though she can’t say whether it’s an addition to the previously-described-as-finished trilogy or something new). And most importantly, we chat about why faeries might be inherently a little kinky — my words, not hers — because they are, by nature, very wicked beings. (Hot.)

Katie McPherson: The Prisoner’s Throne is out now. Is there anything in the book you’re excited or nervous for your readers to react to?

Holly Black: Waiting for a book to come out is to be trapped between hope and fear at all times. I’m nervous because I hope people like how it ends. I’m excited for them to go back to Elfhame. But mostly what matters is do they like how this duology concludes? Do they like how the Oak and Wren story winds up?

KM: You’re speaking of where this story will go next, but the duology being concluded… What’s coming?

HB: Right now, I’m partway through Thief of Night, which is the sequel to Book of Night, which was my first adult book. After that, I can’t talk about what’s after that. But you’ve read The Prisoner’s Throne. It’s very obvious what I’m going to do next, right? It’s clear that Jude and Cardan have a thing they gotta do. So as soon as I finish Thief of Night, I’m going to start that.

As a fantasy author, why do you think romantasy has become arguably the most popular genre right now?

I think in part what we’re seeing is just a wider comfort level with high fantasy. We have people who have grown up with The Lord of the Rings just in the background or who watched it at a formative enough point that it became part of their vocabulary. Between that and the Game of Thrones TV show, I think people have the vocabulary of high fantasy. That’s always been, I think, the barrier to entry for fantasy — saying “OK, we have to learn a bunch at the beginning, and if you can get past that, you’re in.” But for some people, they’re like, “I don’t get it and I don’t want to get it. This is a different world. I’ve already got a world.”

Because of that [familiarity], it allows for this larger landscape of playing with the tropes of fantasy. And romance has always been the most popular genre. It makes absolute sense that you have a sub-genre of romance here where people are working within fantasy.

It used to feel like liking fantasy made you weird, and you have said in previous interviews you often felt “other” growing up. As someone who has loved fantasy her whole life, what is it like to see so many people eating it up now?

Sometimes it’s surreal, but it feels great. One of the defining moments for me of being a writer was thinking of myself as a weirdo, writing a book, and having people really like it and thinking, “Oh, maybe we’re all weird.” When I was a kid, I was on the outside of a lot of friend groups. I was a little bit of a loner. I remember sitting in science class, and there was this guy sitting in front of me, and he was very popular. He was a wrestler; he was a jock. And he tried to talk to me, and I was like, “I’m not falling for this. I know all your tricks.” He kept trying to talk to me, and finally he brought me this giant fat fantasy book, and I realized he wanted to talk to me because among his friends, no one read fantasy. He was like, “You. You like fantasy. We’re going to talk.”

It was one of those moments where I was like “Oh, I have a chip on my shoulder here about ‘We like weird things, and then there are the other people, who are the mundane folk.’” So it does not surprise me now that we all love this stuff, or at least a lot of us love this stuff, if we have the opportunity to be exposed to it.

Within fantasy, and especially on BookTok, faerie books are the ones that garner the vast majority of the attention. Why are we all so horny for faeries now?

I mean, faerie stories are great. I think we have associations of little sparkly children with wings when we think of faeries sometimes, but even among high fantasy, I think faeries do sit a little bit outside people’s comfort zone.

I love faeries and imprinted on the folklore at a very young age. I’m really excited that there are more faerie books in the world, tapping into the older folklore and the idea of faeries as being a very dangerous gentry who make bad bargains and who were called “the good people” and “the people of peace,” not because they were good or peaceful but because the people talking about them didn’t want to piss them off.

There’s this one story — it’s a Scottish story, right? So there’s a laird [Editor’s note: In Scotland, a person who owns a lot of land] and his wife, and they have a big castle on a hill overlooking the sea. Every night, a mermaid comes up on a big rock and sings. At some point, the laird and his wife have a baby. When the mermaid comes and sings, the baby cries. Laird’s wife says, “All right, we’re going to get rid of the rock, and the mermaid won’t come.”

So he sends down a bunch of people to break up the rock, and it falls into the sea. Mermaid comes and is like “Somebody messed up my rock.” And so she curses the baby to die and curses the family to become barren. And that’s the end of their line and also the end of the story. I’m like, “That’s faeries.”

Are there any depictions of motherhood in fantasy that you’ve really enjoyed?

There are some great ones. I was just reading Forgotten Beasts of Eld. In it, this woman who’s very isolated is given a baby, and that is the jumping off point for a lot of the drama that happens. That’s a fun book.

And this is science fiction, but the Miles Vorkosigan books. There’s a prequel to them, which is all about Miles’ mother and father and about the adventures around him being born, and them getting together and then him being born and various different crises on that. It’s really, really good.

Is your son as interested in fantasy as you are? Does he have any book recommendations for kids his age?

He’s going to be 11 real soon. He’s really into comics and manga more than straightforward fantasy. He really loved Dhonielle Clayton’s The Marvellers. He’s read all of the Bad Guys books. My Hero Academia, the Wings of Fire graphic novels, Heartstopper. He read all the Avatar comics. He goes through comics very quickly.

Has he read The Spiderwick Chronicles?

He has read Spiderwick. So this week [in class], they were told they have to find a book that is outside of their comfort zone. And he said he was going to try the first book in the series that I did with Cassandra Clare, The Iron Trials. I was like, “All right, try it. If you don’t like it, you’re going to complain at home.”

The Prisoner’s Throne is out now, wherever books are sold.

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