Capes for my nieces, that’s the main thing keeping my hands busy this month. While the old curtains they currently tuck in the back of their shirts get them where they need to go, they lack the flare of lightning bolts and twinkle stars. These girls love a good adventure as long as they maintain complete control. The bad guy is expected to fight back a little, but in the end must always submit, must walk herself to the couch jail until it’s time to make them pancakes shaped like diamonds. What would they do if faeries really lived in the woods behind their house and didn’t play by their rules? Me thinks they wouldn’t like it.
Holly Black’s The Darkest Part of the Forest is about a girl and her brother and his changeling best friend and a horned prince. It’s a story about what happens when playtime ends and a real quest comes a knocking. I loved both The Coldest Girl in Coldtown and Doll Bones and correctly figured this would be entertaining. If you’re looking for an imaginative, not scary book to give a reader for Halloween, this isn’t a bad one.
Fairfold is a town where humans and faeries live in a sort of harmony. They have an agreement that town children are not to be stolen. Tourists are fair game and Fairfold attracts a hole bunch of them on account of all the faerie magic. Oh, and the horned boy encased in glass.
Food tasted better in Fairfold, people said, infused as it was with enchantment. Dreams were more vivid. Artists were more inspired and their work more beautiful. People fell more deeply in love, music was more pleasing to the ear, and ideas came more frequently than in other places.
Hazel longs to be a knight, to fight monsters and protect her town. She and her brother, Ben, are drawn to the sleeping fairie prince trapped in an indestructible glass coffin in the middle of the forest. They dream of freeing him. That’s what heroes do, right? They rescue humans and creatures too beautiful to be as dangerous as she knows they are.
Then one day the tomb is shattered and left empty, Hazel and Ben believe they must find him first. Nothing unfolds as they imagined.
I love Holly Black’s ideas. A town of mortal and immortal residents where heightened senses are the trade-off for a tourist’s body turning up dead now and then. Where, as long as they use common sense, townspeople are usually left alone and many profit off the inspiration and tourists who aren’t killed. Then there are our flawed heroes. Hazel and Ben have feelings for the same boy but it doesn’t change their relationship. Their sibling relationship is fully developed and central to their lives. They feed off of the town’s charged atmosphere and rise to danger in amusing ways.
Black continuously orients her readers in this lush, magical world as experienced through the eyes of humans who are curious, afraid, angry and in love. Even with characters who are caught between two worlds, neither this nor that, at any given time you know about as much as Hazel does. The author plants some mysteries, but the guessing game isn’t the only thing driving the plot. We get all kinds of romance – interracial, interspecies and gay – and it’s normal. Better than normal, it’s so what? Black doesn’t wave the this-is-a-diverse-book flag or announce stand back while I do something wild and insert a gay relationship here. What?
Parts are dark, others soft and sweet. The plot adds up and that can’t be said about every YA book. The fight scenes are entertaining and the last act is well done. A secret is kept until it can be held no longer and then the climax unfolds at rapid pace like the last big hill in a roller coaster.
Given the implied danger of this town, I wanted sharper edges. There’s an animated Disney-esque quality to Black’s writing style that kept me from really connecting to the book. I sat back at ease when I wanted to fear for the characters. Yes, this is a book for younger readers, but awareness of murder is ingrained in this town’s culture sooo when the taut line keeping the two sides playing nice snaps, you’re ready for real chaos and the book doesn’t deliver. The setup is great and ending works. It’s just too mild in the middle.
Overall, this is a good book. I didn’t like it as much as The Coldest Girl and Doll Bones, but I’m still a fan of Holly Black.