Summary from Goodreads:
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?
Once, there was a girl who found a sword in the woods.
Once, there was a girl who made a bargain with the Folk.
Once, there was a girl who’d been a knight in the service of a monster.
Once, there was a girl who vowed she would save everyone in the world, but forgot herself.
The story of Hazel Evans is the story of a young woman who longs to fight for a cause bigger than herself. Hazel wants to be a knight, a hero—but she makes mistakes along the way. Not everything turns out as planned. The Darkest Part of the Forest is about how Hazel comes to understand where things went wrong, and how she attempts to put things back to rights. With its dark, fairytale-esque backdrop and good ideas, Holly Black set herself for a fairly successful novel. Though it wasn’t great in every aspect, I’d still say this book was very good.
The town Hazel and her brother, Ben, live in is one where fairies and humans exist side by side. They’ve cut a deal: the fairies are allowed to molest the town’s tourists in any way they wish, but the townsfolk themselves are off limits. But when the glass casket in the center of the woods breaks, and the slumbering fairy prince wakes up, and when some dark force starts putting townsfolk into comas, it becomes clear that all bets are off. And Hazel and Ben, who’ve both been in love with the fairy prince since they were children, are quick to go off in search of him.
Black’s premise and the ideas that fuel The Darkest Part of the Forest are good. This book is reminiscent of Brenna Yovanoff’s YA paranormal, with the same hint of the weirdly magical (also, you know, the changeling plot point reminded me a lot of The Replacement). Having only read Black’s Curse Workers trilogy, it’s a different style for her, compared to what I’ve experienced formerly. And while the ideas and creativity are just as strong, I was disappointed by the lack of finesse in the author’s prose that I experienced with this novel. Towards the middle of the book, there’s a very lengthy and awkward info-dump where the fairy prince tells his entire life story to Ben in one sitting. The transitions between characters’ perspectives were often rough and jarring. And a lot of characterization was unsubtly told to the reader, for instance:
Hazel was bigger than life; she always had been. Always trying to protect people…
Hazel never cried. She was forged from iron; she never broke. No one was tougher than his sister.
While I love these details about Hazel and really admire her as a protagonist, why did Black have to so clumsily tell the reader that Hazel was strong and tough like that? Shouldn’t there have been enough textual evidence for the reader to have gathered that Hazel was strong and protective and a fighter? This all seems like shoddy writing to me.
Yet while I had significant problems with writing and presentation, the story in The Darkest Part of the Forest is wholly satisfying. I think sibling relationships are far too often ignored in YA, but the bond between Ben and Hazel was strong and defined. (I wrote a blog post just last month about how I wanted books about siblings saving the world together, and that’s what happens in this book.) Even the fact that they were both romantically attracted to the same boy didn’t affect the love the two of them had together. I love that about this book. I loved the grim, charged atmosphere of the town and its mortal and immortal inhabitants. I loved Jack the changeling, bridging the gap between two existences and feeling like he belonged in neither. I loved how Black ended The Darkest Part of the Forest, bringing everything together so spectacularly and perfectly. I finished reading this book with the biggest smile of my face.
This book is one that works, in spite of its technical difficulties and issues. Holly Black’s imagination and creativity are what make this book into a success. I’ve read better written books than The Darkest Part of the Forest. Black has written better books than this. But the story itself is strong and captivating, and that’s what made this work, in spite of all my complaints.