Review: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

darkest-part-cover

three-and-one-half-stars-rating

 RATING: 3 1/2 STARS

They were in love with him because he was a prince and a faerie and magical and you were supposed to love princes and faeries and magic people. They loved him the way they’d loved Beast the first time he swept Belle around the dance floor in her yellow dress. They loved him as they loved the Eleventh Doctor with his bow tie and his flippy hair and the Tenth Doctor with his mad laugh. They loved him as they loved lead singers of bands and actors in movies, loved him in such a way that their shared love brought them closer together.

[THIS BOOK IN ONE SENTENCE: A brother-sister duo fight evil faeries, catty high school students, and shameful secrets that exist underneath the surface of a cursed town with a strange, sleeping prince.]

Ahh… the young adult (YA) novel. I’m only 21, but I still feel like I’m reverting to a much different “me” with some of these publications. This, well, this is one of those times. I feel like a squealing 15-year-old who’s just discovered the bad boy character trope, reading under her desk because she SO cannot wait to see if the girl and the super-duper-dangerous-guy-with-a-badass-leather-jacket get together. Yeah. That was me. The Darkest Part of the Forest brought the batshit crazy adolescent back. But just because I devoured it doesn’t mean I loved it. I’ll elaborate further.

* * * Skip down to the MY THOUGHTS section for my opinion and review only; the MY SUMMARY section explores the book as an unspoiled synopsis.

MY SUMMARY:

Fairfold residents and the Fair Folk have lived side-by-side for generations. There’s a shaky unspoken truce that locals should not be harmed and that tourists are fair game. But even the most native of Fairfold residents must be on their guard.

The most peculiar resident of Fairfield is also its central attraction: the faerie boy in the casket. He’s a handsome, horned young man with sharpened features, an alluring complexion, and the ability to romance every girl in town without even being conscious. He’s been sleeping in that impenetrable casket for time immemorial. No one knows his name or why he’s there.

Hazel, the female protagonist and an adventurous high school student, spent her childhood dreaming about the prince: fighting over him, wanting to kiss him, and hoping he’d join her in battles against the dark forest. She and her beloved brother Ben used to talk to the prince’s casket as if he heard them, telling him all their glorious plans that could never really come true.

The prince might be right there in town, but he’s just as unattainable and admirable as a rock star millionaire. Grinning families arrive from faraway cities to take selfies with the famous sleeping prince. Local girls and boys of every generation have kissed the casket, hoping to be the ones who will wake him up and fall in love forever. Fairfold teenagers hold wild parties by the casket every weekend and leave broken beer bottles in their wake.

Hazel seems to be the only one who believes that the faeries’ actions against tourists and locals need to be stopped; her views are solidified when she encounters the corpses of local children in the woods at a young age. A long time ago, she desperately wanted to be a soldier in the forest with Ben as her warrior bard, hacking away at the tricksters who took victims. But Hazel’s 16 now and more preoccupied with kissing boys to distract from shameful secrets. That is, until the casket’s finally broken and the prince is awake.

When they were little, Ben and Hazel made him flower crowns and told him stories about how they would rescue him. Back then, they were going to save everyone who needed saving in Fairfold. Once Hazel got older, though, she mostly visited the coffin only at night, in crowds, but she still felt something tighten in her chest when she looked down at the boy’s strange and beautiful face.

She hadn’t saved him, and she hadn’t saved Fairfold, either.

Hazel and Ben become the sleuths they were as children and search for the prince, leaving food and clothing near his possible hiding spots. They think he needs their help and certainly don’t want their idol to starve. Meanwhile, Hazel has been waking up clumped in mud and moss with mysterious notes in her pocket. She thinks that a faerie she met long ago is finally returning to fulfill a dangerous promise. But the girl doesn’t have much time to wonder; Fairfold is falling into chaos. Many believe that the breaking of the casket has summoned something terrible.

One very violent night leads Hazel directly to the royal faerie. His name’s Severin, and he happens to be an irresistible manipulator. He causes Hazel’s blood to run cold; he can make it rush; he wields the power to charm and to kill in not a moment’s notice. One thing is certain; this prince is the embodiment of a beautiful nightmare, not a dashing dream.

Severin may very well be Fairfolk’s greatest enemy. But the real question is, will Hazel join the prince or fight against him?

MY THOUGHTS:

The Darkest Part of the Forest is ripe with thematic significance; it’s not just a cool tale about faeries in a modern forest. It brings “what a tangled web we weave, when we practice to deceive” to the forefront. Secrets and memories, altogether poisonous, shameful, and sad, threaten to tear Hazel away from her friends, family, and community.

I also found the mixture of mythical beings with modern society hilarious. One great example is the tourists coming to take selfies with the prince as well as the teenage girls texting as they casually plop down on the prince’s ancient casket. This is a fairytale that exists in today’s tech-obsessed society. It’s interesting to see how fiction is reflecting the new relationships between age-old legends and the Millennial generation’s technologically focused world.

Relationships between the characters were solid and definitely an essential element of the plot. I appreciated Hazel and Ben’s interactions; they were authentic and sweet but also deeply troubled due to deception. Their relationship paralleled other familial relationships in the book, between faeries and humans both, that heavily affected the story’s path.

Overall, I liked this book, but it wasn’t extraordinary. One aspect of the story intrigued me: the prince. I stuck around for him.

The plot was slow at first, but as soon as the prince woke up, shit got real.

Severin’s the reason I bumped this novel up half a star. He’s glittering and lovely and so many other things. The moment Hazel encountered him, the story suddenly changed for me. I rooted for him from the beginning and didn’t care whether he was evil or good. I still don’t care. I have an enormous crush on this fictional, but oh-so-real faerie dude.

I hesitantly liked Hazel. I feel like the author did too much telling and not enough showing. I couldn’t see the alleged strength that everyone seemed to believe she had. In fact, I think this was forced more than a little bit. However, I appreciated that the author includes LGBT characters who aren’t simple stock characterizations or ill-mannered exaggerations. The LGBT interactions and relationships are emotionally raw, realistic, and respectful.

It’s obvious that the author did her research on faeries, what with the many traditional deterrents and fey mannerisms she’s thrown into the book. She got the basics right but made the faeries far too uncharacteristically malevolent for my tastes. I absolutely adore faerie literature – but only when it’s done correctly.

When I first read the synopsis of this book, I rolled my eyes because I’d hoped faeries weren’t becoming the new and very stupid werewolf/vampire/zombie/supernatural teen trend. All I can say is that if you want a more accurate portrayal of faeries (at least in my humble view), pick up one of Juliet Marillier’s beautifully intricate novels. She’s done far more research than Holly Black.

The Darkest Part of the Forest was guilty pleasure candy for me; it tasted sweet but definitely didn’t have enough substance, leaving me empty and unsatisfied. Its status as a young adult novel does not change this fact or give such shallowness an excuse. No matter what, the book’s still enjoyable; it’s just not great.

I’d recommend this novel to bad boy loving teenagers (haha), paranormal fantasy enthusiasts, and anyone who enjoys a quick allegorical tale about lies, love, and belonging.

The Darkest Part of the Forest was originally published on January 13th, 2015 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

3 thoughts on “Review: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

  1. aentee @ read at midnight says:

    I love this review, you go into so much detail and really showed your own perspective on it. This looks interesting and I’m very keen to find out more about Severin. Love the gender reversal on the classic Snow White tales. Holly Black is so good at mixing modern elements with classical tales!

    Liked by 1 person

      • aentee @ read at midnight says:

        I think if you like how she handled te balance between modern works and magical elements you would enjoy THE COLDEST GIRL IN COLDTOWN. My favourite book by her is WHITE CAT though, great worldbuilding and characters, quite a unique story.

        Like

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