Photography by Carri Angel
While browsing the Waterstones in Waterloo train station in London, I read this on the cover of The Cruel Prince: “I can see why humans succumb to the beautiful nightmare of the court, why they willingly drown in it.” I was sold. This deliciously twisted modern-day fairy tale by Holly Black introduces us to the world of Elfhame, where the inhabitants are malicious, cruel, and spiteful creatures of the mystical and magical. Humans are merely toys for their pleasures, having succumbed to their immortal charms. Be sure to not forget your rowanberries if you get a chance to visit their world: They can protect humans from prankster enchantments!
At the beginning of The Cruel Prince we are introduced to Jude Duarte who has been adopted by Madoc, a Faerie lord who had been in love with her mother. The story evolves around Jude’s perspective and how she survives growing up as an outcast, so very far away from the world she remembers from childhood: “What they don’t realize is this: Yes, they frighten me, but I have always been scared, since the day I got here. I was raised by a man who murdered my parents, reared in a land of monsters. I live with that fear, let it settle into my bones, and ignore it. If I didn’t pretend not to be scared, I would hide under my owl-down coverlets in Madoc’s estate forever. I would lie there and scream until there was nothing left of me. I refuse to do that. I will not do that.”
As the story progresses, we’re introduced to the Faerie Royals through her adoptive father’s connection to the court. Cardan Greenbriar, the youngest prince of his siblings and the most reckless, encounters Jude through their schooling. Along with his companions Locke and Nicassia, they often seek out Jude to torment her. Unlike her twin sister Taryn, who manages to fit in much sooner, Jude struggles to control her anger toward the injustice of these entitled fae folk: “I am going to keep on defying you. I am going to shame you with my defiance. You remind me that I am a mere mortal and you are a prince of Faerie. Well, let me remind you that means you have much to lose and I have nothing. You may win in the end, you may ensorcell me and hurt me and humiliate me, but I will make sure you lose everything I can take from you on the way down. I promise you this is the least of what I can do.”
What I absolutely love about Black’s Folk of the Air Series is how relatable the characters are. Unlike many modern fairy tales, the world of Elfhame offers all the beautiful ornate and refined elements that make a fantasy world a place we want to melt into, despite all the challenges we face alongside Jude on her quest for love and self-discovery, fighting for her rightful place at court!
For the past ten years, I’ve been lucky enough to be featured in, produce, and direct fantasy concepts with some extremely talented photographers and filmmakers. Upon discovering The Cruel Prince, I was deeply drawn to Cardan’s eccentrically dark personality that stemmed from a twisted childhood. As his relationship with Jude evolves, I just knew I had to explore their story and bring it to life for the camera. “ ‘Have I told you how hideous you look tonight?’ Cardan asks, leaning back in the elaborately carved chair, the warmth of his words turning the question into something like a compliment.”
I was certain that photographer and seamstress Carri Angel would be the perfect artist to collaborate with. Her talented eye for detail, sculpting light, and producing narrative costumes brought more to the project than I could have hoped for. My creative companion, actress Sorcha Verey, naturally oozed so much of Jude’s essence. Working with artists who have the ability to act makes the process that much more real and exciting to work with in front of the camera, bringing raw emotion to the surface. Featured jewelry designers Under the Ivy and Miriel Design each custom-made a crown worn by Cardan. The details were so wonderfully accurate to how Black described them in the books, giving us the opportunity to make their aesthetic that much more real for readers. We also were able to incorporate pieces from jewelry designer Sabrina Ulbrich at Ausgefuchst Art, who creates beautifully ornate elven ear cuffs that cleverly add the pointed illusion of an ear tip without the need for prosthetics. This was an item of jewelry we could absolutely imagine Jude adorned in at court parties. This visual detail wonderfully contrasts with Cardan’s “real” ears, crafted by Madhouse FX Studio.