ARC Review: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black


title:  The Darkest Part of the Forest

author:  Holly Black

pages: 336

format: Paperback

isbn/asin: 978-1616203535

buy it: Amazon  Goodreads  B&N

rating: 4/5 [in the genre] or 7/10 [all books I’ve ever read].

recommended for:  Fans of Cruel Beauty by Rosamunde Hodge, fairy tales, and whimsical adventures.  

will i read this author again?:  Absolutely  
will i continue the series?:  N/A, I think.  
My Ratings Explained

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?

the basics
This is the kind of magical, atmospheric, fantastical, exciting book that keeps me reading and fills me with the urge to write.  Black's Fairfold is a believable fantasy town where humans coexist with faeries and look the other way when the faeries wreak sometimes deadly havoc--as long as it's on tourists, of course.  A place where a little girl and boy can slay monsters in the woods.  A place with a boy in a glass coffin--and this part alone gave me that sense of mystical darkness that chills and excites.  The rich world is bolstered by Black's sharp, gorgeous writing and intriguing characters.  Hazel is a spitfire haunted by a bargain from her past; Ben is the tortured romantic.  Their love for the coffin boy thrusts them into the heart of a battle that has faeries pitted against humans and against each other, all against the frightening monster in the forest's heart.  It's a plot straight out of a fairy tale but entirely new, packed with enough battling, romance, and endearing teenage awkwardness that it's nearly impossible to stop reading.  It's a book that filled me with wonder, kept me up past my bedtime, and made me love young adult fantasy all over again.   It's a fairy tale with an edge, darkly humorous; it takes no prisoners.  

plot . 4/5
Black doesn't work with dead space.  There's no fluff.  She opens on the oddly familiar scene of a teenage party in the woods, with all the usual suspects: beer, brawling jocks, debauchery, a boy in a glass coffin.  Oh, you didn't have those?  It's a clever way to introduce the strange betweenness of Fairfold.  Hazel is at her usual tricks, kissing random boys because she feels like her time is running out.  Then strange things keep popping up.  Notes in walnuts.  Creatures out of place.  A horrifying message on Hazel's wall.  And a broken, empty coffin.  Hazel, Ben, and their friend Jack are suddenly warriors in a fight they don't understand, and the plot races forward as they investigate the strange secret messages--and seek to keep their own secrets from each other.  The chilling presence of the monster lurks at the edge of every page, creating a taut, tense feeling that doesn't let up.  Sprinkled throughout are lies and friendships, uncertain romances, angry mobs, and the thin line between a blessing and curse.  Black packs a lot into a short book without making it feel overstuffed.  I was trapped from the first page.   My only complaint is the monster.  For some reason, I was expecting something different and more psychologically chilling.  

concept . 5/5
Black takes a cheeky approach to the fairy story.  She doesn't just give us a town where the residents are aware of the fay folk.  She gives us a town where the residents' awareness of the fay is blase, almost commonplace.  Where it's shocking if someone goes around without wearing charms and protections; where the biggest gossip is who bargained poorly at the wishing tree.  Where the townspeople are happy to leave the faerie folk alone, and to turn a blind eye when the occasional tourist disappears or shows up headless.  Because magic isn't superstition or even secret, it allows for a much different tact than your usual fairy story, where only the heroine is privy to the secrets of the underhill.  Black's execution is perfect.  She blends the two worlds so seamlessly that the fay all at once seem both mystical and mundane.   

characters . 4/5
The characters really carry this book.  It would stand on plot and style alone, but the characters distinguish it and make it memorable.  Hazel is so different from your typical insecure loner meek type.  She's fierce.  She's a little bit of a mess.  She kisses boys but doesn't date, and she longs to relive her childhood, when she chased monsters with a golden sword.  In short, she is a certified badass--with enough insecurities to keep her endearing.  Ben is difficult not to love.  He's adorable, conflicted, melancholy, obsessed with true love, and haunted by the power he was given unasked.  As siblings, they play off of each other; their bond is clear in the text, and the secrets they keep from each other drive the plot as much as the magic does.  My issue was with Severin and Jack. I love them both, but I found myself filling in elements of their personalities, especially for Jack.  There was so much potential to explore Jack's torment as a fairy raised by humans, but Black didn't take it far enough.  Still, I wanted to hug him so very much.  And Severin, while thin, is hysterically impish.  

style . 5/5
Black writes in the way I've always dreamt of writing.  It's some of the prettiest I've read in young adult fantasy, and works perfectly for urban fantasy.  Her prose is somehow both simple and lavish at the same time.  Her dialogue is snappy, and her descriptions of even the modern and mundane afford a sense of magic.  There are no wasted words here, no flowery interludes or notes of dullness.  There's also a note of whimsy and sarcasm that runs through the text, and this tone really enhances the book's eerie fairy tale wonder.  An example:
No matter how many parties had been held around the horned boy—generations of parties, so that 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.

mechanics . 4/5
Everything was pretty much in order except or the points of view.  It's Hazel, all Hazel, for almost the entire way through, and then suddenly we start getting Ben.  Just a few chapters when it's needed, and then back to Hazel.  It's really useful to have Ben's perspective, especially since he and Hazel are keeping so much from each other.  But it seems abrupt.  It would have been nicer to have a Ben section or two up front, to establish his voice.  

take home message
A darkly humorous fairy tale that mingles magic, romance, and and a thrill ride of a plot.   

Note: I received this copy in exchange for a review.  The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.

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