Overall Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️++
How do you know if a book is a 5 star read? I think that’s always the question when you sit down to review a book. For me, it comes down to two things: does the book make me feel? Does it elicit any level of emotion from me? And secondly, is there some degree of believability to the story or the characters? For me, tied to that believability is the authenticity of emotion. Are the feelings I’m feeling (anger, sadness, frustration, happiness, joy, etc) true feelings? Even more, where do those feelings spring from? Has the writer hit to my most basic emotions? What bruises from my past does the writer press on with his/her characters and/or story? All of these questions drive my reviews even when the subject matter of a book isn’t anything I’ve experienced or far from the experiences in my past.
Ashley Jade’s Cruel Prince shouldn’t really capture my attention. I’m a woman in her 40s with a young adult son who is far past the “new adult” experience. Should I really want to read about the romance of teens who are burgeoning into adulthood? This has been a personal question since I’ve noticed a bit of a surge in the New Adult romance genre. But here’s the thing. Ashley Jade’s Cruel Prince is so well written that you can’t help but need to read it. For me, it’s one of the best of this genre this year. And why? Because she crafts characters and storylines that hit to the core of the truth of feelings. Even in the darkest moments of this book, I believe the motivations of her characters driving their actions, that I don’t look at the story from the perspective of a 40-something woman or the mom of a young adult. I can find some piece of myself in the a-hole emotionally complex hero and the subversive powerful heroine. From my perspective, being able to craft this relationship between the reader and the story’s characters is the genius of this book.
At its core, Cruel Prince is a character study in the reciprocity of pain. There are various levels of emotional pain perpetrated on the characters of this story. There are no redeeming adults in this story; the main characters, the teens of this story, are the most mature people in this book. As such, the adults in their emotional neglect and selfishness have created these kids who must learn to handle life and trauma on their own. From Jace’s inner guilt and heavy feelings of personal responsibility for his siblings to Dylan’s feelings of being unloved to Oakley’s father’s censure and step-mother’s selfishness, the pain inflicted by physical, mental, and emotional trauma embody these characters, make them who they are. It’s this embodiment of pain that draws you as a reader to them, no matter your age or background. Reading their experiences and empathizing with their feelings, even their actions (yes, even when Jace is horrible to Dylan or other characters I understand his motivations; I empathize with him and his pain), are what kept me reading this book overnight instead of sleeping. I needed to know that they would be “okay” in the end, so the characters of Cruel Prince are what engaged me in the story: Jace’s perpetual malice to cover his pain and guilt, Dylan’s internal strength to endure the people who mete out pain on her, Oakley’s humor and drug use to cover his pain from not really being seen, Sawyer’s insecurity about herself even as she lives in her truth, and Cole and Bianca’s guilt and lack of parental direction. This is Ashley Jade’s strength; it’s what makes her writing deep and engaging because she magnifies the human experience in her characters. It’s also why people are rabid for her books.
Because I believe in her characters, I have a horrible habit of wanting to “chat” with her through comments on Facebook. I oftentimes forget that they are her babies, and I make selfish comments that might be construed as not believing in Ashley as their creator. This is furthest from the truth. I believe in Ashley Jade’s vision, as, I’ve noted above, she makes her characters believable for me. For my selfish comments, I am sorry, but I think it shows my belief in her writing genius. At least, that’s what I’ve hoped she might see.
Along with the development of character, the storyline is a mighty driving force of Cruel Prince. There is definitely typical bully behavior in this romance. There are mistakes, misrepresentations, and falsehoods that keep the reader suspended in the story. The biggest piece of the story isn’t revealed until almost 80ish% in the story, so if you are looking for a quick, easy resolution in Cruel Prince, it isn’t found here. It’s that tension, though, that engages you, keeps you focused on the page. Additionally, this story is mostly focused on Jace and Dylan’s story. However, pieces of other future stories are doled out as little crumbs. Jade provides just enough to pique your curiosity. I think this is important to the story because the angst over the brokenness of Jace and Dylan’s friendship/relationship can feel overwhelming at times. However, with the interjection of other characters and their potential storylines, you receive an interlude that gives you respite for a short time before gutting your heart again with Dylan and Jace’s story. It’s this cycle that drives you forward in the story, thirsting for a happy ending. It’s why I didn’t put this book down until 5 a.m.
If you are like me and need to feel “all the feels” of a story, then Cruel Prince should be at the top of your list. It’s a complex weaving of pain, brokenness, redemption, humor, and love. It doesn’t matter if you’re a teen, a 20-something, or even an old lady like me because Ashley Jade’s ability to construct the human experience in her characters and their story grips you in Cruel Prince. I may be far, far from teenhood, but the pain of a person’s betrayal and the need to be loved wholly and exclusively are emotions that transcend any age, any time. Ashley Jade’s Cruel Prince delivers on this message, making it one of the best new adult books of this year.
In love and romance,