Tuesday, February 2, 2016

THE DARKEST PART OF THE FOREST: A REVIEW

The Darkest Part of the Forest
Written by: Holly Black
Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: little, Brown Books
Language: English
January 2015
Genre: Young Adult/Urban Fantasy

Children can have a cruel, absolute sense of justice. Children can kill a monster and feel quite proud of themselves. A girl can look at her brother and believe they’re destined to be a knight and a bard who battle evil. She can believe she’s found the thing she’s been made for.

Hazel lives with her brother, Ben, in the strange town of Fairfold where humans and fae exist side by side. The faeries’ seemingly harmless magic attracts tourists, but Hazel knows how dangerous they can be, and she knows how to stop them. Or she did, once.

At the center of it all, there is a glass coffin in the woods. It rests right on the ground and in it sleeps a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointed as knives. Hazel and Ben were both in love with him as children. The boy has slept there for generations, never waking.

Until one day, he does…

As the world turns upside down, Hazel tries to remember her years pretending to be a knight. But swept up in new love, shifting loyalties, and the fresh sting of betrayal, will it be enough?


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I have been a Holly Black fan for a while. I love her young adult fiction as I don’t feel like they are intensely dumbed and watered down like so many other young adult books out there. Her characters feel real to me. They are flawed. They are often selfish and impulsive and don’t always see the larger picture. They smoke, they drink, and often have sex with the wrong people and for the wrong reasons. They aren’t rich and they aren’t the Homecoming Queen. There is also something about the world building in Black’s books. There is a certain darkness glittering around the edges, but that isn’t always a bad thing. I was excited to see a new book from her and bought a copy before the ladies and I went to Emerald City Comic Con last year, though I did not get around to reading it until earlier this month.

Fairfold was a strange place. Dead in the center of the Carling forest, the haunted forest, full of what Hazel’s grandfather called Greenies and what her mother called They Themselves or the Folk of the Air. In these woods, it wasn’t odd to see a black hare swimming in the creek or to spot a deer that became a sprinting girl in the blink of an eye.

Fairfold is a strange little town. The citizens know what lurks in the forest. They have their own wards against the fae folk even though they live side by side in an uneasy truce. Tourists come and go, hoping that the fae will make their dreams come true, to spy the horned boy in the glass coffin in the forest. But the townsfolk know better. The Folk are not known for granting wishes. The residents of Fairfold know that the fae are far more likely to take your sanity, your years, or even your life. Ben and Hazel have lived in Fairfold most of their lives. Ben has a gift for music, Hazel has…other gifts. For years Hazel and her brother would visit the horned Prince, convinced that one day they would wake the sleeping boy and become his Champions. And for a while they did become knights. But then they grew up as all children do. When the glass coffin goes empty Hazel and Ben’s lives change forever. There is something else that lurks in the woods and they will need the horned boy to save them all.

 Things I liked: This is a story of secrets and the forest, of the sidhe and monsters, of mortality and longing. It is everything I like in a book. It is not perfect, but I was hooked enough to read it in one sitting. I love the world building of course as I am always drawn to tales of the sidhe and I probably always will be. But it is the characters that really draw me in. I love their diversity. I love that they don’t fit in the typical molds that are so common in young adult fiction.

Like many of Holly Black’s characters Hazel is flawed though she feels real to me. She is messy, kisses boys that she shouldn’t and is prone to bouts of moodiness and snark. And yet she is also loving, loyal, and above all…fearless. I loved Hazel’s journey. Not just her quest, not in the realization of mortality or maturation, but how to be a more complete person. I loved how she learned to cope with her past and her future, how she learned to deal. Hazel was fractured by deeds of her own doing, then again some not. It’s not until the two halves come together once again that she truly starts to heal and there is a lot of healing. Holy metaphor to life Batman! Seriously. And how it resonates with me. The great thing is though is Hazel knows she is flawed even before the coffin is broken, even before secrets come to light, and the ‘quest’ begins. I find that refreshing in a book, especially a young adult book. I like that she isn’t your typical heroine. I like that she is prickly. And I love that she is fiercely protective. I love that she still has a hell of a long way to go, then again maybe we all do.

When I read about her childhood, I could easily imagine her as this fearless little knight in service to her horned prince, battling all of the monsters and keeping Fairfold safe. How easy was it to be fearless at such a young age, feeling invincible and courageous. How much did the reality and imagination blur? Sometimes you don’t want to remember the past the way it really was. You want to remember the adventures, even though each ‘adventure’ was tinged with darkness. Hazel wants to remember that living with her bohemian parents meant that there were surprises at every turn, excitement with each passing day. She doesn’t want to remember the constant upheaval or how her parents were never really good at being parents with her and Ben. She does the same thing with her monster hunting days as a child. And when the realization of that comes back, of everything she did, as a young adult…yowser. But despite a healthy dose of PTSD and another dose of denial about a lot of things in her past she comes to terms with it all, the best way she can.

Another aspect of the characters I really liked was the relationships. There is the relationship Hazel and Ben have with their parents, parents who are flawed (Jack remembers how Hazel’s parents used to have these amazing parties even if it meant Hazel and Ben may have eaten food out of the dog’s bowl) and yet love their children. I love the relationship Hazel and Ben have which is flawed as well. There is sibling rivalry, jealousy, and a kinship that is so hard to explain. They love each other despite their faults and share a lifetime of secrets and shame, laughter and adventure. They share a closeness that I don’t have with my own brother.

Of course I would be lying if I didn’t say I enjoyed the relationships that Hazel had with The Prince or with Jack. I love the exploration of wanting something you shouldn’t have, this attraction to darkness and danger. I completely understand that. I think I may have also written many little bits of fanfiction about it. And of course there is the lure of immortality and the fae have always represented that otherworldly presence. And then there is Jack, the boy she thought she could never have.

What else did I love? I like that the Prince has had a lifetime of secrets told to him by everyone who has visited him and thought that he could not hear. I love that Ben is the dreamer and the lover. I love that the parents had wards and superstitions. I loved the prose. Let’s face it we all want to be kissed like they ‘were a shark and I was blood in the water’. Hot damn. But I also like that ‘Mortality is a bitter draught’, ‘And yet I would have the full measure’. Holly Black, my dear, you rocketh.

Things I didn’t like so much: The plot overall is a bit uneven and the romances are a bit too quick and tidy in the end. Then again I felt like they were not the most important part of the book. It was a happy addition, but surprisingly it was the one part I had to just go with (yes I know this a book about the fae). Romance just isn’t the focal point and thank the gods for that.

Plus let’s face it if I knew there was a monster in the heart of the forest that made other monsters afraid, I would move. Even though I love the woman weeping monster/ghost motif so much fun. Not sure why.

Buy or Borrow: Buy. While not my favorite Holly Black book, I enjoyed it. Despite the minor dislikes and a vast majority of likes, I loved the book. I was entertained. I felt connected to the characters and like most Holly Black books this one is a keeper.

Part of:Stand alone.

Also Recommended: Please read some Holly’s other books. The Modern Faerie tales series is one of my favorites, but I also really like her anthology The Poison Eaters. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown reminds me a bit of The Darkest Part of the Forest but with vampires. For more Fae I recommend Melissa Marr’s series beginning with Wicked Lovely or the Toby Daye series by Seanan McGuire.

4 out of 4 happy bibliosnark bookmarks 

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