Review: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

And look at that gorgeous butterfly bookmark!

4 out of 5 magical stars

I love fae and faeries and magic and enchanted swords….and dark forests and mysterious ladies. I mean, who doesn’t love that stuff? It’s not all Tinkerbell and Keebler elves, though. The forest around Fairfold, the setting for this story, is dangerous. The fae are tricksy and most have teeth and claws. And magic. The thing is, sometimes humans have magic, too.

The story is about Hazel and Ben, siblings in Fairfold. Their parents are irresponsible artist-types. Well, formerly. Their childhood was wild and unsupervised. It seems Hazel is the focus, at least at first, and I had a weird misconnection with her. At first, she’s this daring kisser of boys, but in everything else she seemed very safe and consistent. Then there is this switch, where she’s characterized as this go-getter, a brave and dauntless person. All of a sudden we learn that she and her brother used to go out in the forest and hunt and kill fairy monsters. I guess I just didn’t get a good hold on her personality and felt a disconnect in the first 1/3 – ½ of the book. Which to me seems like a long time. That was gone by the time I really got into the story. I mean, she’s a knight. I was not getting knight vibes from her at first. But she is totally a knight. I liked the diversity of this book as well, and the switched gender roles. I think 15 even 10 years ago, Hazel would have been the touched-by-fae musical prodigy, and her brother the knight-errant. But, Hazel is our knight. And she has done the knightly thing by braving the dangers of the forest and the fae. She struck a deal with the fairy King for her brother, and things haven’t been right since then.

So now I have to talk about her brother Ben. He was touched by fae when he was just a baby and gifted with music. The thing is, his magic is wild and untamed and he has trouble controlling it. Ben is gay, and he wants to be in love. Where his sister does lots of kissing but no dating, he dates, but never finds what he’s looking for. It might be because he has his heart set on the unattainable  – in this instance, a horned fairy prince that sleeps in a glass coffin in the forest. Since he was a child, he’s been visiting him, laying on the coffin and telling him all his deepest secrets. And then one day, the coffin is found shattered, and the fairy prince and his glorious horns are missing.

And what is a fairy story without a changeling? Fairfold is a really unique place, and what with an enchanted sleeping fairy it gets a lot of tourist activity. Sometimes, well, most of the time, the tourists are stupid. Sometimes, they go missing. The inhabitants of Fairfold say that the tourists deserve what they get, and so do any locals who have unfortunate fairy things happen to them. But… the unfortunate things seem to be happening more often. The people of the town have done what they are supposed to  – everyone has a little saucer out they put milk or honey in for the fairys. They leave part of the harvest out for them. For a long time, that had kept them safe. But one of the locals had a son stolen and a changeling left in his place. Jack is that changeling. He’s also Ben’s best friend, and Hazel’s crush. Sadly, the people of the town are starting to blame him for what is going on.

Now we know that Hazel is keeping secrets. She didn’t exactly tell her brother about her dealings with the fairy king. The fairy king didn’t exactly tell Hazel everything about that deal, either. Ben thinks that Hazel might have something to do with the missing fairy prince and shattered coffin. Jack also knows more about what goes on in the forest than he lets on. Basically, there’s secrets and crushes and lies and drama all over the place!

So often, the fae are just like border characters. The author tells us they are dangerous and dealing with them takes smarts, but they don’t show us. In this, she brings us amongst the revels and we see the fae creatures doing their terrible deeds. They really are dangerous and despite my own silly love of them, I found myself shouting at the characters to get out of the forest! It’s dangerous in there! But it’s also awesome and intoxicating and offers you so much that you can’t get anywhere else… and isn’t that the worst danger of all?

Holly Black is an amazing writer, and the prose in this is beautiful. It took me awhile to connect to the characters but I did eventually and really liked the core of friends, working together. The ending was sheer perfection. I really recommend this if you like fantasy and would like a standalone, if you love the fairy-fae, or want to check out some Holly Black.

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