"The Stolen Heir" and the Monster in the Mirror

Review of The Stolen Heir by Holly Black

Written by Teen Writer Yuena Kim and edited by Kyle Gerstel


Holly Black establishes herself as the ultimate advocate for all “monster girls, girls who have lived wild, girls who are strange.” This theme provides the pulsing heart of her works, most explicitly divulged in How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate with, “You don’t think monster girls and wicked boys deserve love?”

Black poses this same question in her newest addition to the intoxicating world of Faerie. In the outskirts of the suburbs, where the boundary blurs the Folk and mortal realms, The Stolen Heir introduces Suren. Unloved and unwanted, Suren remains caught on the margins, neither place willing to claim her as their own. Paired in an uneasy allyship with Oak, the heir to the ruling High Court of Faerie, Suren sets off to reclaim her identity and possibly her birthright as the leader of the Court of Teeth. A triumphant return to the familiar world, The Stolen Heir incorporates the gritty, biting tension of Black’s previous works while developing a unique investigation into the meaning of acceptance.

“Sometimes it feels as though there’s a knot inside me, and were it to come apart, whatever emerged would be all teeth.” (97)

Navigating the treacherous lands of Faerie illuminates Suren’s internal conflict of finding a place among mortals, who fear her, and the Folk, with whom she refuses to associate. Embroiled in roiling Folk politics that she never chose to be part of, Suren battles the contempt that both her homes hold for her. Suren shares a similar distrust towards them, having faced the brunt of their cruelty in both their terror and shows of love, the ghosts of which still haunt her. However, this conflicts with her desire to be loved, immediately recognizable to readers caught in the awkward stages of adolescence, dangling between adept adult and carefree child. Ostracized as a member of the Folk in the mortal world, especially due to her physical differences, Suren’s experience is all the more tangible to immigrant children in the United States who commonly struggle with being fully accepted in the different circles of their identities. The fantastical aspect heightens Suren’s struggles but speaks to the universal desire that clamors for love.

“It’s too easy. I’m hungry for kindness. Hungry for attention. I want and want and want.” (118)

One of Holly Black’s greatest strengths lies in creating captivating characters. Suren, especially, represents neither good nor evil, encapsulating the eternal state of limbo that ultimately renders us human. Though Suren continually makes decisions that hinder Oak’s agenda, her staunch refusal to bend to others’ wills produces a powerful, unabashed figure to root for. Her empathy towards others, even when it puts herself at risk, only strengthens her relatability as a protagonist. Staunchly believing that she must repay the kindness her mortal family showed her when they first believed that she was human, Suren pays retribution for her supposed crime of existing. Breaking curses on twisted Folk bargains allows her to play guardian angel to the mortals who refuse to acknowledge her while also acting as revenge for the trauma the Folk inflicted on her. Suren’s shame illustrates a heartbreaking exploration of worth, highlighting the hope that one day, she, and by extension, us as readers, will be able to live on our own terms.

“Just because a pawn is better treated doesn’t make it safer on the board.” (179)

In that way, Suren is similar to Jude, the protagonist of The Stolen Heir’s predecessor series, The Folk of the Air. Both are equally compelling in the search to prove their worth as outsiders. Fear is their primary motivator, but while Jude’s suffering manifests as rage that she carefully hones in her search for power, Suren’s pain lashes inward. Suren’s continued connection to mortals over her Folk kind veers into self-hatred, possibly reflecting what we consider the most monstrous parts of ourselves. But even while Suren remains unsure of her own standing, never knowing who poses as friend or foe, she still stands firm in what she believes to be wrong. In the midst of those who only seek to use her, Suren’s adamant refusal to be seen as a pawn demonstrates another form of strength beyond physical capability. Her strength functions as a mirror, encouraging readers to probe our own fears to uncover a path towards healing. Perhaps the monster in the mirror is only frightening in its honesty, unafraid to bare our deepest vulnerabilities.

“Fear is not love, but it can appear much the same. So too, power.” (349)

With each character following their own set of principles and hiding contrasting motives, The Stolen Heir provides an intriguing dialogue on morality and the journey to uncover the meaning of what it means to be good. Backed by haunting and poignant rhetoric, the ever-twisting plot explores how the hunt for love may prove just as lethal as the greed for power.

Lead Photo: The Stolen Heir (2022). Photo courtesy of Goodreads © 2023 Goodreads, Inc.

The TeenTix Newsroom is a group of teen writers led by the Teen Editorial Staff. For each review, Newsroom writers work individually with a teen editor to polish their writing for publication. The Teen Editorial Staff is made up of 6 teens who curate the review portion of the TeenTix blog. More information about the Teen Editorial Staff can be found HERE.

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