Book Reviews, Young Adult

Review: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

“Once, there was a girl who vowed she would save everyone in the world, but forgot herself.”

Image: Julia Dath

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Hazel and her brother Ben are no strangers to the world of faeries. In their town of Fairfold, locals know that the magic of the faeries in the woods is something you must know how to protect yourself from.

In Fairfold, faeries aren’t just hidden. For years, a glass coffin with a sleeping horned faerie boy had rested in the woods of the town. Nobody expects the boy in the coffin to ever wake up, especially Hazel and Ben, who have both been drawn to the magical boy for years.

The waking of the faerie boy ignites an ages old conflict and leaves the town of Fairfold at great risk. Can Hazel and Ben be the heroes the town needs, or will the complicated ties of love, lies, and betrayal be too much to bear?

I’ve taken a little break from my beloved YA fantasy lately, but I thought this stand alone novel might be a nice opportunity to get back into the genre. YA fantasy novels tend to fall in the 400+ page category. Don’t get me wrong, I love a lengthy read. But sometimes these stories get super bogged down in chapters and chapters of dense world building.

I really enjoyed The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black when I read it a few years ago. It is another standalone novel that doesn’t spend too much time on background establishment. I’ve also read The Folk of the Air series by Black, which includes The Cruel Prince, but I wasn’t totally in love with the story. I thought perhaps Black’s stand-alone books might be more preferable to me, so I thought I’d give this story a try.

I like the idea of characters living alongside magical realms. The concept reminds me a bit of The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness. In The Darkest Part of the Forest, the town has a pretty interesting relationship with magic. Everybody knows about faeries. They’re a tourist draw for the town, even if the locals know how dangerous they are.

We’re led to focus in on two characters: siblings Hazel and Ben. Hazel is protective of her brother and wants to be a hero. Ben is a more sensitive character and a musical prodigy. I always love stories about the bonds between siblings, so it was sweet to read about how Hazel and Ben used to team up to play brave heroes in the woods throughout their childhood. Black is clearly working to subvert gender expectations with Hazel and Ben. Hazel follows the heroes journey whilst Ben’s plot is more romantic.

Black sets up a brilliant world, and the allure of a sleeping faerie in the woods is so deeply magical. The setting, lore, and aesthetic are all very interesting.

But then comes the plot. This is also where The Cruel Prince fell apart for me. Black sets up so many pieces of mystery here, and Hazel is actively investigating throughout the entirety of the story. The story moves slowly as events happen that nobody can explain. The problem is that readers don’t get enough connective tissue to thread together any hunches. I couldn’t make out for myself what I thought was happening just like Hazel and almost put the book down for good without finish it. But I decided to see it through, and when I finally got to ‘figuring it out’ excitement, it felt rushed.

The story primarily focuses on Hazel, which I enjoyed, but none of the other characters felt particularly distinct to me. Both Ben and Hazel end up in romantic entanglements respectively, but I didn’t feel like I knew the two other love interests enough to connect with these relationships. The sibling bond ignites so much in this story, and I wish Black had zeroed in on Hazel and Ben together instead of leading them off on romance plots so much.

Still, if you’re a YA reader who really loves faeries, I think this one is worth the read. The foundation of this story is very interesting, but issues with pacing and indistinct characters hold it back from being a 5-star read for me.

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