Updated: Mar 19, 2020
If you haven't noticed, Holly Black's name has been popping up a lot around the YA fantasy community lately. The author of the increasingly popular Folk of the Air series (if you hang around the genre and haven't at least seen or heard of The Cruel Prince in passing, I'd be surprised), Black seems to be a rising figure when it comes to exploring faeries in fiction. And unless this is the first time you've stumbled onto my humble site, you probably know I adore all things fae. So I was definitely intrigued upon hearing about her books--but I have to admit, I picked up The Cruel Prince in a bookstore and put it right back down. Something about it just didn't speak to me.
But I figured this world must be good if it's so popular, so I tried out the related standalone, The Darkest Part of the Forest.
The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black
Set in the same world as The Folk of the Air, The Darkest Part of the Forest follows siblings Hazel and Ben among their adventures in a very strange little town where everybody knows the Fair Folk run wild--or near wild, as much as their leader, the mysterious Alderking, allows them. But when the town's most famous resident, a horned boy eternally sleeping in a glass coffin, vanishes the adventure really begins. With the help of a changeling, the siblings set out to find the horned boy and find themselves entangled among magic, secrets, deals, lost memories, and assassination plots, with questions of who to help all around them.
Blurb: 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?
Review: I'll start this by saying I tore through this book in 2 sittings (and only stopped the first time because I had to.) It's intriguing right off the bat, full of fun characters, and packed with magic and action. I loved stepping into the lives of Hazel and Ben and getting to know them through their colorful childhood and hidden selves. Both are realistic and relatable despite what on the surface seems to be some wild personalities. Following their relationship was heartwarming, and a breath of fresh air from romance taking the spotlight all the time. Not to say the romance wasn't there, and definitely worth a few fangirly moments. While I'm not a fan of the love triangle dynamic Black managed to subvert my admittedly disappointed expectations upon discovering it--though did play right back into my second guesses.
Surprisingly enough for the kind of reader I am, it was the writing that pulled me in more than the characters. The writing style was unique and made me feel like I was reading a children's fairytale, with a good kick of very un-kiddie danger. It perfectly suited the dreamlike setting. Certainly predictable in places, Black also threw in a few riddles that kept me guessing and trying to crack them before the characters did. All in all a fantastic read for a day I desperately needed to decompress and recharge my creative batteries, but I'm not sure one that will convince me to jump over to The Folk of the Air. But if you're a fan of the beautifully deadly brand of fae, The Darkest Part of the Forest may be right up your alley, if only for a bit of weekend entertainment.