The Darkest Part of the Forest
This was my first book by Holly Black, but I am already on to another. She has a real skill for world building and it shows in The Darkest Part of the Forest. Fairfold is painted with such realism as a town where human and fairy folk are so used to coexisting that it is no longer of much interest. That is, until the relationship sours.
Black begins by introducing us to the fact that there is a horned boy who has been sleeping in a class coffin in the woods for generations. He’s a tourist destination, a place for teens to party, and an interesting quirk of their town, but no one seems all that concerned that he might wake, except for Hazel and her brother Ben.
Something I loved about Hazel, and that makes me appreciate Black as an author, is that she isn’t the sheltered innocent that I am sick of seeing in YA books. She kisses boys, lots of them, just for the fun of it. She even kisses a fairy girl at one point and no one seems to care. In effect, she’s more of a legitimate teenager than most female leads are allowed to be. I liked her back story of wanting to be a knight, and fighting fairy folk. However, it is incredibly sad at times. I do have to wonder if some of traumatic things from her childhood, paired with some less than stellar parenting, wouldn’t have left someone worse off than she is, but I was willing to forget that.
I enjoyed the first inklings that there might be more than friendship between her and her brother’s friend, Jack. I especially liked that because we are told early on that Jack is a fairy changeling who was raised by humans, but in Fairfold that is just acceptable. The relationship wasn’t as fulfilling as I would have liked because, even though they got a few make out scenes, their romance isn’t very fleshed out.
The primary relationship in the book is between Hazel and Ben. I liked that they were obviously close for siblings, yet each has their own secrets. There is also the issue that they have both always had an infatuation with the horned boy. I felt that, while it is nice to see more LGBT characters being represented in YA, Ben’s romance felt a bit too hasty and convenient for me. I wanted more longing and questioning, especially considering the differences between the people involved.
Where the book lost some points with me was toward the end. The atmosphere gets much creepier once the horned boy wakes and the monster in the forest starts terrorizing the town. However, as eerie as things got, I just never had the sensation that the stakes were high enough. I wanted some more tension. With how horrific the monster is, I wanted to feel that chill down my spine, or truly be worried that things wouldn’t work out. I wanted life to get a little messier for everyone. In the last quarter or so The Darkest Part of the Forest kind of lost my attention. I wanted to be there with it, but all the fairy politics and such just weren’t working for me.
All in all, this is a strong paranormal/fantasy read with fantastic world building, a variety of relationship types and issues, and a nice touch of traditional fairy lore thrown in for good measure.