Sunday, October 18, 2015

REVIEW | The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black
The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black
Publication Year: 2015
Genre: YA, Fantasy
Series: NA
Awards: None
Format: Audio (from Library)
Narrator: Lauren Fortgang

Why?: I run into mentions of Holly Black all over the blogosphere and her books are recommended by a number of bloggers I trust.  The Darkest Part of the Forest was most prominent on my radar, I guess because it's her newest book and because it has a really interesting premise.  I was intrigued by the idea of a sleeping fairy prince with horns and a human community that lives in uneasy co-existence with the fairy world and as a result is a tourist spot.

I knew this book featured a brother and sister but in many ways this story is almost entirely a story of siblings.  There are three pairs; all of them unusual and all with tight but somewhat strained bonds of love.  Hazel and Ben, Carter and Jack, and Severin and Sorrow.

Ben and Hazel are at the center of the novel with Hazel being the main Point of View character.  Ben is the older and he is more sentimental and less daring than his sister.   He is looking for true love and has poured his heart out to the sleeping prince in the woods lying in his glass coffin.  Hazel is tough and brave and all she wants is to keep the people of Fairfold safe by hunting down and slaying some of the more sinister fairy folk in the woods. With her brother.  And there's the rub.  Ben very quickly lost the stomach for slaying monsters, or perhaps he never really had it, and Hazel desperately misses the closeness of their slaying days.  At ten years old, with very little knowledge of people and life, she tries to recapture the glory days by doing something very very stupid which then has repercussions for many years to come.  I really adored Hazel and Ben.  There is so much love and friendship between them but also so many secrets and more than a little jealousy.  The protectiveness they have for each other is equal parts frustrating and admirable.  It definitely made me wish I had a sibling that I was that close to and really sympathise with their situation.

The story picks up speed and complexity as the fairy prince, Severin, inexplicably awakes and bad things start happening to the residents of Fairfold.  Fairfold's residents, who have always had an uneasy truce with the fair folk, focus their blame on Jack who is in fact a changeling that his human family kidnapped and have raised along with their natural son Carter.  The whole town is in an uproar with Hazel, Ben and Jack in the middle of things for different reasons but still all connected. 
A surface, newspaper headline description of the story might read "Scary fairies meet their match in feisty, emo teenagers" but that only makes it sound mildly interesting. I found the book to be MUCH more interesting and complex than I was expecting. I was completely sucked in from page one and found each of the characters and the twists and turns of the story continually surprising me.  Really all the stuff about fairies and their unusual relationship with the town felt like flavoring while the meat of the story was about the characters and the secrets and hidden dysfunctions of their relationships. 

I was honestly very surprised by how much I loved this book.  There’s a group of young(ish) YA authors who all seem to be friends; Holly Black, Cassandra Clare, Maureen Johnson, Libba Bray, Laini Taylor. They all kind of swim together in my mind but not in a bad way.  I’d read something by all of them but Holly Black and they are all competent to quite good writers that I generally like but their books do all hover on the line of YA that annoys me.  So I was expecting more of the same and instead I hardcore adored this book. A lot. I had resisted reading Black because I read many descriptions of her as a “dark” writer which doesn't usually float my boat.  This book felt grounded and real, surprising when one considers it is about a clash between fairies and humans, but not really dark.  Not in the way I was imagining at least. There is nothing truly disturbing here but there are also no purely good  nor purely bad characters.  I liked that Jack is perhaps less "nice" than he at first appears.  That there is a real current of bitter jealousy that flows along with the love between Hazel and Ben.  That Severin in ignorant cruelty had ruined his sister's life though even that story is not entirely clear cut.  Basically, the book gave me more depth of character than I expected paired with a modern day fairy story.  I loved almost every minute of it!

It wasn't all rainbows and unicorns, of course. I didn’t love the ending.

FINAL VERDICT:  A story ostensibly about fairies in conflict with the human world but which is really about the nature of siblings.  It was fantastic!  4 out of 5 Stars.
OTHER OPINIONS: The Book Smugglers | Smart Bitches, Trashy Books | The Guardian

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