Review: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

Darkest Part of the ForestThe Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

Genre: Fantasy, YA, Romance

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers on January 13, 2015

Audio Rights: Narrated by Lauren Fortgang for Hachette Audio

Source: Library

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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 fae 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?

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A knight, a bard, a changeling, and a horned prince walk into a bar…

Well, small town America – the sleepy village of Fairfold. There’s nothing too remarkable about Fairfold, a town so small that there isn’t even a decent grocery store. Nothing remarkable, that is, aside from the Fair Folk. The Folk are simply a fact of life in Fairfold, a town that is in all other respects exactly as you might imagine middle America. There are even benefits to be had from their presence: tourism in Fairfold is booming, as the mysterious slumbering Horned Boy in his glass coffin draws many curious onlookers.

Fairfold borders a dark and mysterious wood, a place the locals know to be full of Fae creatures that frequently cause mischief for the townspeople and offer a much more sinister fate to tourists. But for Hazel and Ben Evans, the forest is also a place of wonder and adventure. As children the two siblings would use their gifts – reckless bravery and musicianship, respectively –to hunt down and kill malicious Fae. Telling stories and playing knights, they are invincible. Until one day they aren’t.

Ever since that fateful day the siblings Evans have been separated by secrets too personal, too shameful to confess. But things are changing in Fairfold, and secrets can never stay buried. The Folk are no longer honouring their tacit agreement to leave the locals be…and the Horned Boy no longer lies sleeping in his coffin.

There’s a lot to love about THE DARKEST PART OF THE FOREST, not least of which was Holly Black’s writing. She has a very distinct, smooth style that’s readable without sacrificing that elusive lyrical element associated with traditional faerie tales.

Like many old school Fae stories, THE DARKEST PART OF THE FOREST is really a meditation on love, loyalty, and family – and how those things are often in conflict. Hazel and Ben love each other dearly but the complexities of their relationship are often the source of some pretty major drama. Ben’s best friend and Fae changeling Jack says about the siblings’ relationship:

“You think I want to hurt Ben?” [Hazel asked.]
Jack shrugged. “I think both of you always want a little bite of whatever the other person’s got.”

Trust me when I say that Jack hit the nail on the head with that one. Hazel and Ben often want the same things…and sometimes even the same people. Ben is openly gay and he will often discuss boys with his little sister, which led to some pretty hilarious moments. I loved that Holly Black included Ben’s sexuality as an important part of the story, but she didn’t make it the only thing about him. If you’re looking for swoon worthy romantic subplots, you’ll definitely be satisfied by Ben and Hazel’s respective storylines.

My one complaint about THE DARKEST PART OF THE FOREST is that everything wrapped up a little too quickly and tidily. I get that romance is a large component so some form of HEA is basically required, but this standalone would have benefitted from an extra fifty pages to even things out a bit more at its conclusion.

I listened to THE DARKEST PART OF THE FOREST in audio format and absolutely adored Lauren Fortgang’s narration. Her pacing, tone, and voice pitches were all flawless and she helped emphasize the lyricism of Holly Black’s writing. Plus her dry delivery of zingers made me laugh.

THE DARKEST PART OF THE FOREST is a whimsical and romantic modern faerie full of adventure and danger. Recommended for fans of the Fae, YA romance, and of course Holly Black lovers.

What are your favourite YA fantasy standalones? Have you read anything by Holly Black? If so, were you as impressed by her style as I am? Inquiring minds want to know!

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  • Hahaha you’re awesome! Do you know, I wanted to start my review of Kiss of Deception in exactly the same manner, though there’s an actual bar involved 🙂

    And yeah, I’m adding this one to my tbr. I saw some reviews when it was first published but it didn’t strike me as anything special – but you make a pretty fine case for it. And a standalone! I’m always searching for these.

    Umm except for Uprooted, the standalone to beat all others, I recently enjoyed The Accident Season – I just reviewed it, it’s pretty cool – and then there are Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White (I think), which was great but had a similar problem to what you mention here: because it’s a standalone, I found the ending a bit abrupt (still a 4-star read for me!).

    • Hehe, glad someone thinks I’m funny! 😉 I have a very bad habit of laughing really hard at my own jokes…Oooh now I’m even more intrigued by Kiss of Deception! Love! Princesses! Bars! Haha.

      Yes, standalones need to be published/written more frequently! Or even a solid duology. I love a good duology.

      Uprooted. Gah, what do I even say about that book?! Loved everything about it. Every. Single. Thing. Thanks so much for recommending it to me! I think I would’ve gotten around to it eventually but your praise for it definitely made me read it sooner. 🙂 I’ll have to take a look at the Kiersten White book, I’ve read and enjoyed her stuff before…plus I have a soft spot for witches!

  • Lisa (@TenaciousReader)

    So glad you enjoyed this one! 🙂 And yes, the ending did all tie up rather quickly, but it was still good.

    • Yeah, Holly Black’s writing just does it for me! 🙂 I’ve heard that The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is also really good so I need to pick that one up too.

  • I have heard so much gushing about Holly Black that I want to check her out but hadn’t really decided where to start. I think you’ve persuaded me that this might be a good place – the story sounds unique and interesting and you did a good job whetting my appetite without revealing too much – SO hard in a review.

    • YAY! I’m very glad to hear that. Sometimes I definitely struggle with not revealing plot points, although admittedly it’s easier when reviewing a standalone (because well, there are fewer plot points). I would recommend either this or White Cat by HB if you’re looking to jump in!

      • Thanks for the recs on where to start!

  • Holly Black is an author I still need to read. It’s between this or Coldest Girl in Coldtown, but since I like fae more, this might win out 🙂

    ~Mogsy

    • Oooh all these Holly Black newbies!!! I remember reading Tithe when that first came out – I was in middle school I think – and I’ve been a hardcore fan ever since. The Fae in this one were really cool, but I’ve heard great things about Coldest, too! I actually still need to read that one.

  • I’m dying to read this. I have a copy but I just haven’t had time to fit it in. Glad you enjoyed it!

    • It was so good, I hope you end up liking it! If you’re finding yourself too busy to read then I definitely recommend the audio version for when you’re driving/commuting to work or doing housework. Lauren Fortgang did SUCH a good job on the narration!

  • Lynn Williams

    I can’t wait to read this and so happy that you loved it. I really like Holly Black and I’ve had this for a couple of months now but review books have been taking over the show.
    Lynn 😀