In the woods is a glass coffin. It rests on the ground, and in it sleeps a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointed as knives....
Hazel and her brother, Ben, live in Fairfold, where humans and the Folk exist side by side. Tourists drive in to see the lush wonders of Faerie and, most wonderful of all, the horned boy. But visitors fail to see the danger.
Since they were children, Hazel and Ben have been telling each other stories about the boy in the glass coffin, that he is a prince and they are valiant knights, pretending their prince would be different from the other faeries, the ones who made cruel bargains, lurked in the shadows of trees, and doomed tourists. But as Hazel grows up, she puts aside those stories. Hazel knows the horned boy will never wake.
Until one day, he does....
As the world turns upside down, Hazel has to become the knight she once pretended to be. But as she's swept up in new love, with shifting loyalties and the fresh sting of betrayal, will it be enough?
The Darkest Part of the Forest, is the bestselling author Holly Black's triumphant return to the opulent, enchanting faerie tales that launched her YA career.
I read my first Holly Black book, Tithe, as a teenager. I loved it. I loved the dark atmosphere, the edgy main character, and the danger-tinged romance. To my teenaged self, it was everything I could have wanted for my own life, and I all too willingly and enthusiastically devoted an entire afternoon to it. Now, a whole decade later, those things I loved about Black's style the first time around are what caused the most eye-rolling this time.
The Darkest Part Of The Forest returns to Black's faerie roots. While (as far as I know) it's not set in the same world as her Modern Faerie Tale books, it boasts the same dark tone and dangerous fae. We're introduced to Hazel in the first pages, and how much she loves kissing boys. She loves kissing boys so much, guys. Like, even though it has given her a "reputation", she's still rebellious and confident and continues to kiss on those boys. This was probably the cause of most of my eye-rolls, because we rarely get two full chapters without having to read about Hazel either kissing someone, or reflecting on that time she kissed someone, or telling us how good she is at kissing. As a teenager, maybe I'd have gotten all wide-eyed and excited-shocked at the idea of a girl who so openly and willingly admitted to sucking face with relative strangers, but as a 26 year old woman who has been to places that serve alcohol, there is no shock value in a protagonist who kisses. Now, I fully understand that this novel was written for that teenaged demographic, and that the innocent Kelly from a decade ago would have had the more authentic reaction, but personally, I just couldn't see the kissing as anything other than a redundant annoyance. I'm starting to think that these party-type protagonists are just getting old for me.
My second - and probably biggest - issue with this book is Severin, the faerie who was trapped in that glass cage for years only to be mysteriously awoken somewhere in the first third of the novel. Snow White vibes aside, he is a theoretically fascinating character. When we were first introduced to the conscious version of him, I was super excited and ready for the book to go from entertaining but meh, to truly awesome. And at first, it seemed that was going to happen. But it didn't take long for my fascination with him to turn to downright fury.
Not only is there a textbook case of insta-love starring none other than The Boy No Longer In The Glass Coffin, but he's also kind of a sociopath. It soon becomes obvious that he directly caused the Big Bad From The Forest, and that he both shows no remorse and claims no responsibility for the part he played. And he's written as such a broodingly handsome, valiant faerie that we the readers are meant to just chalk his transgressions up to a centuries-old oopsie and praise him for trying to help save the town. Like he's some sort of hero. Sorry, but I wasn't buying it for one second. Despite it eliciting more eye-rolls, I could have maybe forgiven Hazle's loose tongue. I simply can't forgive Severin, who by all rights should have been the villain of the novel, being made out to be a hero.
There were still some things I did like about the book, though. The most obvious is that Holly Black is still a really good writer. Some of her characters may not be working for me anymore, but she's undeniably got a way with words. She's a master world builder. I may not want to live in all of her faerie tales, but she makes it so easy to envision them and imagine yourself there, which is truly one of the highest compliments I can give a fantasy author.
While most of her protagonists missed the mark for me, there is one that shines through it all. Jack is Hazel's brother Ben's best friend, and though he looks mostly human, everyone knows that he's not. He's a changeling who grew up with the human he was supposed to have replaced and that human's parents, and he's the only character that never once got on my nerves. I love his backstory, I love his depth, and I love his realized personality. I love how he struggles to fit in with his human family while his heart is still fae. I even love the slow-building romance between him and Hazel. To be frank, Jack is the only thing that saved the book from a two-star rating. He makes it worth reading, if you ask me.
Ultimately, what I got out of The Darkest Part Of The Forest is the bittersweet realization that my love affair with Holly Black's novels may be over. I'll blame this more on my age than any actual fault with her writing, because I'm certain I'd have loved this book just as much as her others a decade or so ago. Even with my lukewarm feelings about it, though, I can still count on Black to deliver an at least somewhat entertaining read.
3 Of 5 Stars