SALT LAKE CITY — Best-selling fantasy author Holly Black has a surprising gift.
"Writing bad old guy advice, for whatever reason, is something I could do all day," Black said in a recent phone interview.
Luckily for her scores of readers, she's employed her gift well in her most recent book, "The Wicked King" (Little, Brown Young Readers, 336 pages), the follow-up to her 2018 best-seller "The Cruel Prince." The old guy dispensing the bad advice that Black loves to write is the adopted father of the series' main character, Jude. But he's not the only one promoting things that aren't great — Black called Cardan, the series' vice-ridden bad boy and the wicked king of the title, "the worst."
And yet, she said, it's the characters that she loves most about writing this series, a young adult fantasy trilogy based in a fairy world. The third and final book in the series, "Queen of Nothing," is scheduled to release Jan. 7, 2020.
"The Wicked King" continues the story of Jude, a human who was raised in Faerie by the man who killed her parents when she was a young child. Through her scheming, she's positioned herself so it is she, not her nemesis, Cardan the High King of Faerie, who holds the true power. In this second book, Jude's test will be to see if she can keep that power without getting herself or the people she cares about killed. She must fight her way through political scheming, betrayal and her own complicated feelings for Cardan to make him the king that she needs him to be.
Black, who rose to national fame thanks to her mega-popular books "The Spiderwick Chronicles" (co-authored with Tony DiTerlizzi), is no stranger to fantasy. She started her career writing about fairies with her debut book "Tithe" and fairies have peppered her works over the years. She thinks she keeps coming back to fairies because of the sense of awe and wonder they bring.
"They're like nature," she said. "They're beautiful and terrible and inexorable."
Black came to the idea of "The Cruel Prince" through her main character Jude and how being raised by the man who killed her parents would shape her. Jude's complicated childhood also interested Black because, while the book is mostly set in Faerie, which gives it a feeling of high fantasy, every once in a while Jude puts on jeans and sneakers and goes to the mall in the human world. For a writer (and her readers), the contrast is significant.
Toggling between a fantasy land and the real world is tricky, but Black said one of the most difficult parts of writing "The Wicked King" was plotting. Events that she originally planned for the second book ended up at the end of "The Cruel Prince," so she had to rearrange the timeline. But after writing a host of books series, Black knows her way around writing second books.
"What I love about them is we already know the characters and now basically (I'm) just escalating all of the tension," she said. "But escalating is not necessarily easy to do, so that is both the fun of it and also the nervous-making part."
The second book also allowed Black to get at what she sees as the series' big question: What Jude would be willing to do for power?
"She has a different view of the world because of who she was raised by and she has a different moral system," Black said. "And she is now a person who is becoming an adult navigating that moral system and saying, 'What do I really believe? What is good? What is bad? And how much bad can you do in the service of good?'"Comment on this story
These sticky moral questions are one of the factors that make Black's books stand out from the YA fantasy pack, along with her fast-paced writing and intricate plotting. And her fans show their love for their author in typical ways — like beautiful fan art — and some not-so-typical ways, like a joke Twitter account called IncorrectCruelPrince. Black loves it.
"It's so funny," she said. "Maybe it's wrong that I'm so pleased, but they're making loving fun of these characters who absolutely deserve people to make fun of them."
If you go …
What: Holly Black book signing in conversation with Ally Condie
When: Monday, Jan. 14, 7 p.m.
Where: The King's English, 1511 S. 1500 East