58 pages 1 hour read

Holly Black

The Queen of Nothing

Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 2019

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Summary and Study Guide


The Queen of Nothing (2019) is the third book in Holly Black’s young adult fantasy series The Folk of the Air, following The Cruel Prince and The Wicked King. Marking the series finale, the book situates elements of mythology and folklore in a contemporary universe. The novel follows a mortal, Jude Duarte, as she returns to the troubled Faerie realm to solve an important riddle and save the king and the land she loves. Like its predecessors, The Queen of Nothing examines themes of power, gender, love, and the desire for belonging. The series is a New York Times bestseller. This study guide cites the 2019 Hot Key Books Kindle edition.

Holly Black has written over 30 fantasy novels for children, young adults, and adults. The recipient of the Mythopoeic Award, a Nebula Award, and a Newbery Honor, Black lives in New England with her husband and son. Her books have been translated into 32 languages.

Plot Summary

Jude Duarte, the 19-year-old mortal High Queen of the faerie kingdom Elfhame, has recently been exiled to the human world by her husband, High King Cardan, after she killed his scheming half-brother, Prince Balekin. Jude feels betrayed by Cardan, whom she married in secret in The Wicked King. Jude now performs dangerous chores for the faeries who live on the edges of the mortal world so she can support her sister Vivienne and her younger brother Oak. During one such job, she meets Grima Mog, a fierce faerie commander in exile. Jude wins Grima Mog’s respect by defeating her in battle. Grima Mog tells Jude that her father, Madoc, is plotting to attack Cardan. One day, Jude gets a visit from Taryn, the estranged identical twin she left behind in Faerie. Taryn has murdered her husband, Locke, and wants Jude to assume her identity during the murder inquest. Since Jude has a protective charm on her, she cannot be enchanted to tell the truth during the trial; thus, Taryn can escape her sentence. Jude agrees to go to Faerie, the realm where the Fae folk live.

Disguised as Taryn, Jude launches a successful defense before Cardan’s court. The courtiers are still suspicious of her, since Taryn is the sister of Jude, whom they consider dangerous. Cardan declares he will question Taryn in private. Alone with Jude, he tells her he saw through her disguise immediately. As they talk, it becomes clear that Jude’s prolonged exile is because of a miscommunication. Meanwhile, Madoc attacks the palace and takes Jude away, thinking she is Taryn. Cardan manages to escape. Jude discovers Madoc has allied with the Court of the Teeth, a kingdom to the north of Elfhame, to attack Cardan. Madoc and Jude have a complicated relationship. Jude and her sisters grew up in the mortal world with their parents, Eva (who was once Madoc’s wife) and Justin. When Jude was seven, Madoc broke into her home and killed Justin and Eva. He took Vivienne, his biological daughter, and Jude and Taryn to Faerie so he and his wife Oriana could raise them. He raised Jude as a warrior, training her in combat. Unknown to Madoc, Jude went on to join an elite group of spies, and through her wiles and courage, she ultimately became Cardan’s seneschal, or chief advisor. Oak is the foster son of Madoc and Oriana and, through blood, an heir to Cardan’s throne. Madoc planned to use Oak’s claim to the throne as a means to take power for himself. When Jude refused to ally with Madoc and Balekin against Cardan, she fell out of Madoc’s favor.

In the present, Madoc is late to realize it is Jude whom he has taken from Cardan’s palace. Meanwhile, Jude learns that Grimsen, the master smith who crafted the crown Cardan wears, is working for Madoc. Madoc is also keeping the Ghost, Jude’s former spy-friend, a prisoner. Jude’s plans to rescue the Ghost are thwarted when Madoc finally learns her true identity. Madoc confronts Jude and injures her badly. Jude is rescued by a team comprising Taryn, Vivienne, Cardan, Grima Mog, and her friends the Roach and the Bomb. When Madoc’s soldiers strike the Roach with a poisonous dart, Cardan and the Bomb take him away. The sisters and Grima Mog drive off Madoc. Jude asks Taryn to pack earth into her side and stitch it; the soil magically heals Jude, proving she is tied to the land. Grima Mog bends her knee to Jude, declaring her the true queen.

Jude and Cardan reunite at his palace. It turns out that Cardan’s decree of exile was mainly for show and contained a loophole for Jude’s return. It said that Jude could return only when the crown allowed it. Since Jude herself is the crown, she could have returned at her will. Cardan sent many letters to Jude, begging her to return, but these letters were intercepted by Cardan’s mother, Lady Asha. Lady Asha and the other courtiers have always been skeptical of Jude, since she is a mortal, and try to undermine her authority. Cardan publicly announces Jude as the High Queen and his wife to quell these voices of dissent. Jude tells Cardan about Madoc’s alliance with the Court of Teeth and his plans to attack Elfhame. Madoc and his allies visit Jude and Cardan with their parlay before battle. Cardan breaks his crown to signify the end of the old ways of lusting for power. He also intends the gesture as a means to fulfill a prophecy about him: that Cardan would be the end of the crown and that out of his blood a great ruler would rise. Unknown to Cardan, the crown, made by Grimsen, is cursed. Breaking it transforms Cardan into a giant serpent. Cardan slithers toward Grimsen and swallows him whole. Jude is now left the sole ruler, tasked with rescuing Cardan. The courtiers ask her to kill Cardan, but she refuses.

Jude gathers her family and allies to tackle the current threat. The Ghost is forgiven for his betrayal and reunites with the Bomb and the Roach. Mother Marrow, an old smith at the court, tells Jude she already knows the answer to reversing Cardan’s transformation. Meanwhile, Lady Nore and Lord Jarel of the Court of Teeth offer Jude a magical golden bridle so she can control the serpent, in exchange for marrying their daughter, Queen Suren, to Jude’s brother Oak. Jude sees through the ruse and realizes the bridle is meant to control her. She invites Madoc’s forces and her own armies to witness her bridling of the serpent. At the last minute, Jude kills the serpent instead, fulfilling the prophecy about Cardan’s blood leading to the rise of a great ruler. Jude’s gamble pays off, and Cardan emerges from the serpent’s body, more powerful than ever.

Jude and Cardan declare their love for each other and usher in a new era. The Court of Teeth must pledge loyalty to both their daughter and Jude. If they try to betray Jude, it is Queen Suren who will punish them. Grima Mog is made general of all armies. Mother Marrow, the Ghost, the Roach, and the Bomb are rewarded. Jude spares Madoc’s life and forbids him ever to use a weapon again. She exiles him to the mortal world, where Oriana and Oak join him. Cardan and Jude visit Vivienne, Taryn, and Oak in the mortal world, and everyone promises to have new adventures.