📑 Review: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black
"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 pointy 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 and a hero is needed to save them all, Hazel tries to remember her years spent pretending to be a knight. But swept up in new love, shifting loyalties, and the fresh sting of betrayal, will it be enough?" - From Amazon.com
The story of The Darkest Part of the Forest, for the most part, revolves around siblings Hazel and Ben. They are the children of absent minded artists, both in love with the horned boy, both wanting to save the town from the darkness at the heart of its forest. There is, of course, the horned boy, and Jack, and the Alderking, but I'll be focusing on Hazel in this review(and Ben to a lesser degree), because they are the catalysts.
Also, if I got into the other characters, you’d have to cancel all your other plans, and I wouldn’t want you to do that for little ol’ me.
Ben, the Bard, older, the hopeless romantic, has the gift and burden of being so musically talented you can't help but stop and listen, a gift imparted on him as a baby by one of the Folk. Ben fears the lack of control he has over his talent, fears he'll put Hazel in harms way, and that it is the music, and not himself, that will get him the love he desires. Ben and Hazel have always relied and confided in each other, but it is to the Horned boy in his glass casket that Ben has spilled his secrets out for as long as he can remember. But then the boy is freed, and the darkness follows him into town.
Hazel, the Warrior, the cynic, is haunted by a simultaneously selfish and selfless bargain she made with the Alderking as a child and the choices she's made growing up that she systematically represses. Not knowing when the Faeries will come collect their due, she struggles to get something more from life, for herself, than the normalcy of adolescence, and is unable to find it in the kisses of boys or in the righteousness of fighting the particularly malevolent Folk. She isn't gifted in the arts like her parents, or magically like her brother, but she does have the passion and drive to battle all who wish to harm those she loves.
Holly Black has this way of taking fantasy and supernatural elements and weaving them seamlessly into our modern world (if you have yet to read The Coldest Girl in Coldtown and like vampires, please do as soon as possible). Her descriptive style almost seems made for towns where faeries, or "the Folk," are a norm. A town that could be located in the middle of the United States, somewhere you'd stop while on a Road Trip from the east coast to the west.
"[Other places] had scenic waterfalls or shimmering caves full of jagged stalactites or bats that slept beneath a bridge. Fairfold had the boy in the glass coffin. Fairfold had the Folk."
Black weaves the past into the present to enrich the history of the town as well as make the reader understand why the characters are the way they are. Why Hazel, specifically, is the way she is. Despite being in third person perspective, you get a sense that Hazel is telling her story, or, rather, Hazel's story is being told. And Hazel, with her loss of time and admittance of keeping memories locked up and buried deep, is the ultimate unreliable (though indirectly) narrator.
What made The Darkest Part of the Forest so appealing to me was how much it contained, despite being a standalone.
There's a mixture of darkness and magic, awe and fear, that permeates the whole story, the separation of us and them that goes beyond just the us and them of humans versus faeries. There’s an almost ingrained prejudice in the Townsfolk when it comes to both the faeries (that they respect and fear in equal measures) and tourists who come to experience the quaint magic and myths of Fairfold. It’s a prejudice that the Faeries have too.
“Because everyone believed--everyone had to believe--tourists did stupid things that got them killed. And if someone from Fairfold very occasionally went missing, too, well, they must have been acting like a tourist. They should have known better.”
There isn’'t just one kind of faerie in Fairfold, Black makes sure to include mentions of old folklore from around the globe; there are Changelings, like Jack (Ben's childhood best friend), redcaps and nixies, water hags and ogres, and, of course, the monster at the heart of the forest.
There's the prerequisite love stories, but they are not ones that appear out of nowhere, an instant passionate fire, but rather preexisting embers that smolder gradually before igniting, in one of the cases, in a marvelously ridiculous revelatory way.
(I clearly like me my fire metaphor.)
The book isn't perfect, of course. The alternating between past and future, and the occasional switch in focus to Jack and Ben, if not others, can cause a little confusion when trying to keep track of when exactly the events are unfolding. Hazel's unreliability, and the subsequent slow reveal of some of the things she's done can get frustrating. This is especially true when a few reveals from Hazel's childhood, reveals that make you go 'oooh, now I understand her,' end up being explained to the reader, rather than simply illustrated.
The pacing also got frustrating, it felt very slow for a large portion of the book, with a lot of the main action concentrated towards the end, like a dam had broken all of a sudden (which isn’t necessarily true, it just felt that way). In retrospect, the abrupt switch in pacing makes sense to me, but while reading, though I was definitely engrossed, I felt the lack of action.
With that being said, The Darkest Part of the Forest was a book I had a hard time putting down.
It's more than just an urban fantasy with faeries, it's a story about love and acceptance, desire and growing up, and facing the reality that everything you ever wanted might not necessarily be something you should have. It's about family and friendship, selfishness and its consequence, the balance between things that are extraordinary and ordinary, and I absolutely loved it, even with the smattering of cheesiness that it contained (re:love story, you'll see what I mean).
At the end of the day, the question that remains with you long after reading is: What would you do it if the fantasy/hope you had throughout your childhood suddenly became a reality?
(Some) Memorable Quotes:
“I don’t want to kiss a stranger,” Cath would answer. “I am not interested in lips out of context.”
“How do you not like the Internet? That’s like saying, 'I don’t like things that are convenient. And easy. I don’t like having access to all of mankind’s recorded discoveries at my fingertips. I don’t like light. And knowledge.”
“Sometimes writing is running downhill, your fingers jerking behind you on the keyboard the way your legs do when they can’t quite keep up with gravity.”
“There are other people on the Internet. It’s awesome. You get all the benefits of 'other people’ without the body odor and the eye contact.”
If anyone has read The Darkest Part of the Forest let us know what you think in the comments below! Comments also open to further book/movie/show recommendations, anything you’d like to see reviewed, or general feedback. We’d love to hear what you have to say!