My Rating: 7/10
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… (Goodreads Summary)
I kind of happened on The Darkest Part of the Forest during one of my usual Barnes and Noble trips. Intrigued by the fairytale-esque nature of the narrative with talks of knights, bards, Horned boys, and fairies, I decided to check it out at my local library. I’m always on the look for a good fairy tale.
I have to admit that I didn’t know much about Holly Black’s work when I started the story. When I read her bio on the back sleeve of the book, I came to find out that she co-authored the Spiderwick Chronicles which I knew with passing familiarity (but unfortunately, more with the 2008 movie than the actual children books). From what I could glean from the summary, these books deal with some of the same topics and plot devices present in The Darkest Part of the Forest with children battling against mischievous (perhaps evil) fairy tale creatures. The book I’m reviewing however is geared more towards a teenage audience dealing with themes of love, acceptance, and coming into the world of adulthood.
My overall opinion of this book is that it was pretty good. It definitely satisfied my fairy tale fix where the magic of Fairfold and the world around it emanates off the page. The prose itself did more to bring this enchanting world to life, it being so poetic and lyrical. I loved to read the description of the forest and how this ancient world kind of melded together with the modern one. Even signs of human waste on the forest floor sounds beautiful (Ex: “…the grass sparkled with decades of broken bottles in green and amber, so that the bushes shone with crushed aluminum cans in silver and gold and rust–and no matter what happened at those parties, nothing could wake the boy inside the glass coffin”). I can’t harp on how much I loved the prose of this book enough.
The characters were also fairly interesting and mysterious. The book is told from a limited third person perspective following Hazel throughout most of the narrative with occasional chapters from Ben’s perspective. I really liked most of the characters in the book. The main characters, Hazel and Ben, are a sister and brother with a bit of a strained relationship. They both have their secrets but they still manage to get along with each other despite it. The most interesting aspect of their relationship for me was revealed in how they relied on each other to kill off evil creatures dwelling in the forest, Hazel acting as the sword wielding knight and Ben acting as the talented Bard able to enchant their enemies in their youth. They have to deal with their magically rich childhood as they slowly approach the threshold of adulthood.
Even the romantic element in the story (which would usually bring up a tiny red flag when reading certain YA novels) I became fairly interested in. It is not often I come across LGBTQA relationships in YA books so I was pleased that this book had some representation and managed to do it very well. The only problem I had with it is that I kind of wanted to see more development of the relationship within the actual narrative rather than it being referenced in hindsight. Also, though there wasn’t much of it, the actions scenes in the story were done pretty well.
Despite my love for the characters, it was strangely hard to really connect with them. They never felt real to me which, I know, is really strange to say seeing that this is a modern fairy tale. I don’t know how to properly explain it but I found myself more invested in the plot of the story rather the actual characters within. I mean, I did care enough about them but I was much more intrigued by the other plot elements like the setting, the mystery of the Horned Boy, Hazel’s secret (the nature of it in particular), and the relationships that many people in the town had with their magical neighbors. The perspective added to this feeling as well. There is a strange distance between the narrator and the main players of the story. Though it was told from a certain perspective, you didn’t necessarily get too deep into the character’s head which contrasts to other limited third person perspectives that I’ve read recently.
Another qualm I had with the story is how it seems to skim past plot elements that I was personally curious about. The major one I won’t name because of spoilers but I will say that there is a person that seems to hold a lot of secrets in the narrative that we never really meet. I really wanted to meet this character but the story kind of avoided it for some reason. Not to mention, some major plot elements were brought up in an “It’s all in the past” kind of way. Things happen in the past and that serves as the basis of what happens in the present narrative. We never really get to see these moments but we have to accept them in either case. I wouldn’t mind this too much if it wasn’t done so often.
I still think this is a good read for anyone who wants a bit of a nice fairy tale fantasy. I ended up really enjoying it despite my nitpicks.