Title: The Stolen Heir
Author: Holly Black
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date: January 3, 2023
Length: 358 pages
A runaway queen. A reluctant prince. And a quest that may destroy them both.
Eight years have passed since the Battle of the Serpent. But in the icy north, Lady Nore of the Court of Teeth has reclaimed the Ice Needle Citadel. There, she is using an ancient relic to create monsters of stick and snow who will do her bidding and exact her revenge.
Suren, child queen of the Court of Teeth, and the one person with power over her mother, fled to the human world. There, she lives feral in the woods. Lonely, and still haunted by the merciless torments she endured in the Court of Teeth, she bides her time by releasing mortals from foolish bargains. She believes herself forgotten until the storm hag, Bogdana chases her through the night streets. Suren is saved by none other than Prince Oak, heir to Elfhame, to whom she was once promised in marriage and who she has resented for years.
Now seventeen, Oak is charming, beautiful, and manipulative. He’s on a mission that will lead him into the north, and he wants Suren’s help. But if she agrees, it will mean guarding her heart against the boy she once knew and a prince she cannot trust, as well as confronting all the horrors she thought she left behind.
#1 New York Times bestselling author Holly Black returns to the opulent world of Elfhame in the first book in a thrilling new duology, following Jude’s brother Oak, and the changeling queen, Suren.
I was so excited to hear that Holly Black would be returning to the world of her excellent Folk of the Air trilogy! And a book about Oak — how fun did that sound?
Except… surprise! — Oak isn’t the main character! Nope, it’s Suren, last seen as the pitiable child queen of the Court of Teeth, horribly mistreated and abused by her parents, who want to use Suren as a tool to overthrow the High King and Queen of Elfhame.
In The Stolen Heir, years have passed. Suren has been living wild in the mortal world, a creature who haunts the forests, keeping an eye on her one-time mortal family, from whom she was cruelly ripped away as a child, and staying busy by breaking enchantments on humans. But one day, Prince Oak, a boy who treated her with kindness once and now grown into a mesmerizing young adult, tracks her down and asks for her help. Lady Nore, Suren’s cruel mother, is starting trouble in the north again. With Suren’s aid, Oak is sure he can stop her.
And so begins their quest, a journey of miles and kingdoms, in which they encounter trolls, malevolent queens, a storm hag, and animated stick soldiers. As the danger mounts, Suren realizes that Oak himself perhaps cannot be trusted. What’s his true motivation in seeking her out? And is his kindness and warmth just further manipulation, or are there actual feelings there?
After a somewhat slow start, the pace picks up the further along the quest Suren and Oak manage to travel. There are dangers and betrayals, daring rescues and near misses. As the story progresses, Suren also starts to learn more about her own history, including the possible unraveling of everything she once thought she knew.
While I enjoyed The Stolen Heir once I got further along, it doesn’t quite measure up to the Elfhame books. Suren is hard to get to know, and the quest as it’s presented is confusing and a bit muddled. Eventually, the pieces come together more strongly, and the final third is actually quite good, with breathtaking action sequences, a few horrifying developments, and plenty of big reveals.
The Stolen Heir ends mid-story — we’re left hanging at a crucial moment of change. This book is #1 in a duology, with #2 — The Prisoner’s Throne — scheduled for publication in 2024. Obviously, I’ll have to read it! I can’t just be left hanging after that ending forever…
I recommend The Stolen Heir for fans of the Folk of the Air trilogy. Word to the wise — Jude and Cardan are discussed in this book, but they don’t actually appear at all. Here’s hoping they show up in The Prisoner’s Throne!