Review: Holly Black, The Stolen Heir (2023)

We’ve been meaning for some time to post regular reviews of books and such that have attracted our interest yet always seem be too busy! I had to share this one, though, and I hope we can do more reviews.

The Stolen Heir is another wonderful Elfhame novel from Holly Black, continuing from the series The Folk of the Air and related to her earlier Modern Faerie trilogy and The Darkest Part of the Forest. Black takes the changeling plot from traditional fairy lore, already Gothically dark, and gives it new life as a dramatisation of such themes as being outcast, of family love, trust, and betrayal. As in her other fairy novels, she juxtaposes the realism of the familiar, contemporary world with the fantastic, often sinister, glamour of Faerie and with a convincing sense of interiority and characterisation. She employs familiar fairytale motifs such as the ambiguous bargain and the fairy banquet and also embeds miniature narratives which feel like authentic fairy tales.

Saren, or Wren, finds herself abandoned in the human world, living feral like a wild child, fleeing her cruel mother Lady Nore of the Court of Teeth and threatened by the vicious hag Bogdana. She encounters Prince Oak, the heir to Elfhame, and they embark in an uneasy alliance on a quest. Oak has a dangerous allure and the now familiar ambivalent attraction/repulsion of paranormal romance develops between them (though, strictly speaking, the novel is a mutation of paranormal romance in that neither lover is human). Their relationship is distrustful and conflicted, and unresolved at the end of the novel—luckily there will be a sequel, which I eagerly anticipate!

This is a deliciously rich novel from one of my favourite YA fantasists. There’s a pleasurable interplay between the matter-of-fact human world and the dangerous but tempting possibilities of enchantment that the best of this genre is so good at revealing.

About William the Bloody

Cat lover. 18C scholar on the dialogue and novel. Co-convenor OGOM Project
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