Review: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

Image via Holly Black.
Image via Holly Black.

Expected publication date: January 15, 2015 by Indigo

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 faeries 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?

There’s a monster in our wood. 
She’ll get you if you’re not good.
Drag you under leaves and sticks.
Punish you for all your tricks.
A nest of hair and gnawed bone.
You are never, ever coming…

Holly Black has done it again! In this newest tale, she offers a mysterious and scary story about a girl knight who swings a sword better than the fairies, about a brother who has the gift to charm everyone with his music, and about a beautiful, horned prince who is sleeping in a glass coffin in the middle of the forest.

Fairfold was a strange place. Dead in the center of the Carling forest, the haunted forest, full of what Hazel’s grandfather called Greenies and what her mother called They Themselves or the Folk of the Air. In these woods, it wasn’t odd to see a black hare swimming in the creek or to spot a deer that became a sprinting girl in the blink of an eye. 

Fairfold is a weird town. It’s full of fairies, magical creatures, and monsters. Locals are accustomed to its eccentricities, and tourists come specifically to see the wild forest and to try their luck with fairies. They come with the hope that the fairies can make their dreams come true, but they really ought to know better. The fairies of Fairfold aren’t known for kindness, and they certainly don’t do anything for a mere “thank you” in return. When outsiders mess with the fairies, bad things happen. The residents of Fairfold have been living in peace with fairies for a long time, but — as we soon discover — that was before.

In the depths of the forest lies a glass coffin with a boy with horns. He has pointed ears and an inhuman beauty and lies immersed in eternal sleep that no one has been able to wake him from. As such a permanent fixture, he became a tourist attraction, with people coming from all around to see him. For the residents of Fairfold, he’s a favorite topic, a collective friend, an inspiration. To our heroes, however, he’s something more.

Hazel and Ben have always been off-the-wall — as far as that’s possible in a town like Fairfold. In their youth, their parents were irresponsible and liked to party, not concerning themselves with raising their hungry children. Because of this, Ben and Hazel had to find fun ways to pass the time. They liked to imagine themselves as heroes, saving stupid people from creepy monsters lurking in the woods. They discovered that Ben could conjure any beast with his music, and Hazel discovered what she had always known from her earliest childhood: that she was destined to become a knight. While playing their fantastical games in the woods, they imagined themselves to be knights and faithful servants of the boy with horns — their prince.

Of running all the way to where the horned boy slept, singing songs and making up stories about him all afternoon, only coming home at night, exhausted, wild animals returning to a den.
They saw themselves as children of the forest, creeping around pools and hiding in the hollows of dead trees.

The older that Ben and Hazel grew, however, the more dangerous their entertainment became. One day, after another hunt for monsters that almost resulted in Hazel`s death, Ben refused to play “knights” anymore because he believed that his charmed musical skills were not enough to protect them. In desperation, Hazel made a deal with fairies to help her brother, and she promised to pay seven years of her life, which proves quite dangerous.

Years later, the fairies attack Fairfold, a horrific monster wreaks havoc on the town,  the boy with horns wakes up, and Hazel is reminded of her promise and summoned to pay her debts. Will Hazel and Ben be able to save the town from the monster? Will they solve the mystery of the horned boy and find their calling? Believe me, you will want to keep reading and find out!

Now, as far as the story goes, we are reading from Hazel’s POV for the most part, although sometimes it switches to others. Where Hazel is concerned, the word that comes to mind is badass. She is fearless, smart, courageous, weird, and faithful. I loved reading about her childhood because I could imagine this wild child wandering barefoot through the woods with a sword in her hand and her lips red from berry juice.

There was romance in the book (both heterosexual and homosexual relationships), but I felt that they were a little out of place and didn’t really add much to the story. I didn’t necessarily feel the romantic chemistry between the delegated couples, but I did love the relationship between the Hansel and Gretel-like siblings.

The writing style is what deserves the highest praise. I swear that it was the best yet that I’ve read this year. Even though the plot was chaotic and left some things lacking their full potential, I fell in love with the writing from the first page. The story was very atmospheric and reminiscent of the classic fairy tale. Thanks to the detailed descriptions, I could easily imagine a wild forest with monsters lurking in the shadows, waiting for their prey. Hell, I even dreamed about traveling to this town, despite the fact that all the tourists suffer from the fairies’ trickery.

Overall, this is a great fairy tale, and it’s written in the style of the Grimm Brothers. I recommend it to those who, like me, love to read about dark forests full of monsters and magic.

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