Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult, Fantasy> Paranormal, Fairies
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Word Rating: Delicious
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I received this novel in ARC form at BEA 2014, and my bones have been aching in anticipation to read this (I didn't want to read too far away from the release date.) And it was well spent, because The Darkest Part of the Forest is drop-dead stunning.
If you don't trust me, the first seven chapters of the book have been digitally released free here on Amazon. The Darkest Part of the Forest follows the quest for meaning of siblings Hazel and Ben, the first headstrong but haunted, the second gifted and cursed. Their world is the town of Fairfold, where the Fae screw with tourists and the townsfolk are meant to keep quiet and stay out of the forest.
If you do trust me, here's why. With interesting, relateable characters, a charming and casually horrific setting, and a plot that keeps twisting even in the short 300~ pages, it seems like just another Holly Black novel and therefore, why the hell are you reading this just go buy it, right?
But it's not. In this novel, Black masterfully combines two aspects of Fantasy literature that have been slowly drifting apart, every so often knocking against each other: the Fairy Tale and the Realistic Fantasy. The clever, morally-drenched, and often short tales with loads of suspension of disbelief and quite one dimensional characters, molded with the more contemporary tales that stretch on and chart character development. She has done this before, of course, in a slightly more compact and different manner: The Modern Faerie Tales series sets twists on the old ideas, like many of Black's books. However, in The Darkest Part of the Forest, the Fairy Tale aspect is not re-crafted to fit within a Realistic Fiction setting, it is brought to its logical conclusion and intermingles with the Realistic Fiction world around it.
That might be very confusing, so let me offer an example. Throughout the book, Hazel and Ben, the main characters, often are seen in flashbacks that tell the increasingly interesting story of their childhood. When they were younger, they wanted to be a knight and a bard and hunt the Fairy monsters in the forest. In addition, there was a fairy prince in a glass coffin that was beautiful but could never be free and a monster in the heart of the forest made of bark and bone that would eat you if you got too close. These tales are told in a very succinct, clipped, and somewhat magical tone; the past seems to have this Fairy Tale aspect, while the rest of the novel is gifted Black's usual comedic and realistic wordplay. But as I said, the Fairy Tale is often used as structure to speak of the Real: "[The boy in the glass coffin] never ever woke up. He didn't wake up during the long summers, when . . . didn't so much as stir when Ben's friend . . . wrote IN CASE OF EMERGENCY, BREAK GLASS . . . or when Lloyd Lindblad took a sledgehamer and actually tried. (pg 1-2, Black, ARC)" In this instance, Black uses the boy to tell a short history of the people around him.
But that's not the only reason to read the book, of course. Out of this wonderful fusion world, we have such fantastic characters. The first of which is Hazel Evans. She starts the novel with kissing boys because "they were cute, because she was a little drunk, because she was bored . . . because it was lonely . . ." and seems to be haunted by something that happened in the past. Later on we learn she wanted and secretly still wants to become a Knight. She's unsatisfied with her life in Fairfold and she's a hell of a loner. I love Hazel: she's fearful but at the same time unnervingly brave. She keeps the heart of the Fairy Tale stories alive in her will to never back down and her ability to always get into the worst situations. And she's hilarious, and witty, and broken and flawed and she grows, man does she grow and it's fantastic. I recommend Hazel.
Her brother Ben has a gift for music but a broken hand. Mysterious, kind, loving, caring, and so very luxuriously gay Ben. It's hard to find queer characters that are at all realistic, but I enjoyed Ben immensely. There is no over-the-top reveal, there is no stereotyping, there is no overcompensation, Ben is just a person, and as part of being a person he likes men. Which is indicative of a much greater capacity for representation in Black's literature, but we know of that. Like Hazel, he gets into quite crappy situations: "'So how was your date?' she asked him. . . . 'We went back to his apartment and his ex was there. As in, his ex still lived there.'" (pg 23, ARC). The characters are all very real and charmingly, awkwardly teenager. If you removed the Faeries, it would be a pretty good contemporary YA book.
Other than those two, there is a myriad of wonderful side characters, like the romantic interests. The first of which is the boy in the glass coffin. The second of which is a changeling, whose adopted mother 'stole' him from his Fairy mother because she deemed him unfit. So two Fairy boys, what could go wrong? Well of course, the plot could totally send Hazel into the pits of the Forest and nearly kill Ben a hundred times, and actually kill members of the town.
All in all, a fantastic book.
What were your favorite fairy tales growing up?
Let us know in the comments!
Let us know in the comments!