The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black
Digital Audiobook narrated by Lauren Fortgang
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers on January 13, 2015
Genres: Fantasy, LGBTQ, Paranormal, Romance, Young Adult
Length: 336 pages or 8 hours, 39 minutes
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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?
I have to confess I wasn’t expecting much from The Darkest Part of the Forest. There are a lot of Holly black fans out there, so I can understand how that statement is most likely shocking. Truth be told, my previous experience with Holly Black has only been the Spiderwick Chronicles and while creative, I found them a little off-putting. Also, I experienced them as an adult, so the magic didn’t really work on me. I’m glad I kept other Holly Black titles on my TBR, because if there is a Queen of Faerie, it’s Holly.
The integration between faerie and modernity was so careful that this felt more like magical realism than fantasy to me. And I say that in all the best ways. Faerie was on the edges of things, a soft reminder when things were feeling too human that the Fae were Fairfold’s “giant ball of twine”, as Hazel put it. The integration was really successful and I enjoyed it. I don’t usually like faerie books, to be honest (too sappy and cheesy) so in many ways The Darkest Part of the Forest gave me hope that I could dive into the subgenre under Holly’s hand.
Plot-wise, this is more or less what I would expect from a book where a town and a faerie hamlet end up at odds – all that was missing was the torch and pitchforks. I liked the integration of Hazel being a knight and Ben and bard. There wasn’t a lot about the faerie courts and to be honest, I wasn’t personally interested in that anyway? But what was there was done well, it’s just not my personal preference. I also liked the subtleties of human misfortune that were shrugged into the background.
Okay. So there’s this scene where Jack confronts Holly about a how she once taught him how to forage for wild, edible food. When Holly brings this book up earlier in the story, she talks about it as a bargain bin book from a library sale that she and her brother used to supplement their play adventures as children. That’s delightful, right? Jack recolors this experience in the latter half of the book as a necessity because of the negligence of Holly and Ben’s parents. It added a whole different layer to the storytelling (making Hazel a somewhat unreliable narrator) and to both Hazel and Jack’s characters. It was really small and subtle, but it totally took me aback. It’s in the small things, like that, where I think Holly’s writing shines.
I’m not usually invested in a book as a whole. I usually latch on to characters, or I’m curious about the plot, or I love the worldbuilding. As I’m sitting here, writing this review, I find that I can’t pinpoint just one element that made this book really successful to me. If anything, I think it was just Holly Black’s ability to enchant her reader. It’s in turns a love story, a faerie story, a sibling story, a passion story, and even has LGBTQ+ rep. But it’s not any one of these things. She’s managed to wind them all together in a delicate braid that is completely enveloping for me as a reader. I’m impressed, and delighted, and I’ll be back for more of Holly’s faeries and humans.
With the astounding success of The Cruel Prince and The Wicked King, I hope that some of Holly’s other books – like this one – are popping back into view. If you like faeries, Holly’s writing, or endearing adventure stories, this is an excellent read.