The Darkest Part of the Forest is the latest novel by Holly Black. It’s also one of her strongest novels. As a Holly Black fan, I’ve read all her other novels and the majority of her short stories. The writing and character development in this one is strong and the plot is a tightly woven nest of intrigue and action.
Its strongest element is the characters. Their actions drive the plot, which is much more interesting than other plot driven fantasies which can come across as contrived. Each character has their own motivation which leads to conflicting desires and interesting interactions.
Another strong point is Ms. Black’s lush description of the forest and faerie. Her vision of faerie is dark, enchanting, wild, cruel, and beautiful. It gets back to the heart of faerie. You will not find any sparkly candy Tinkerbells here. Although some of the fae may be candy coated, for the beauty of faerie masks its capricious and inhuman heart.
The Darkest Part of the Forest is set in Fairfold, a modern small town that has a close relationship with the folk (the fae, the good neighbors, faeries). The story centers around Hazel, the protagonist, her brother, Ben, a mysterious horned boy who sleeps in a casket in the forest, and a melancholy tree monster who lurks in the heart of the forest. Hazel and Ben have long dreamed of waking the horned boy who they refer to as ‘their prince’ yet, when he does wake, their lives and the whole town are thrown into turmoil. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that nearly everyone has been keeping secrets, telling lies, and concealing their true selves.
All of this makes for a fast-paced read full of dynamic characters. Hazel, the protagonist, is very relatable. She is a young high school aged girl with a crushing secret. She wants to be strong, and protect those she loves, yet she is troubled by regrets. The burdens of her secrets cause her to keep everyone at arm’s length. As the story progresses, the lies and mysteries build. The story finds a good balance between providing answers while revealing just enough to keep the reader questioning.
The story reaches a satisfying conclusion when the conflict created by the characters’ secrets and the conflict created by the waking of the horned boy interweave in the final chapters. Faerie and the town collide and Hazel must finally face the monster that resides in the darkest part of the forest.
I do have a few criticisms of the resolution related to some clichés, but I will not go into detail as this is a no spoiler review. My only other criticism would be that while Ms.Black’s fae are refreshingly dark, at times this darkness becomes a little stale. Often she focuses on the faerie’s love of violence, cruelty, and inclination towards killing mortals. While I do not have a problem with this depiction of faerie, it is my belief that faerie would be odd in its dealing with mortals, their seaming cruelty a result of non understanding. A faerie that was more peculiar, instead of merely deadly would have been more engaging.
That being said, I completely recommend The Darkest Part of the Forest to anyone who enjoys well-written, character-driven stories. It is a very enjoyable read. And I was sad that I had finished it in only 2 days, when I had spent month’s waiting for it. If you are looking for a fairy tale that’s a bit on the dark side, then read The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black.
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