Book Review: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

Posted January 22, 2015 by Renae // 9 Comments

Book Review: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

Title: The Darkest Part of the Forest
Author: Holly Black
Release Date: January 13, 2015
Publisher: Little Brown BFYR
Rating:

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?

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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.

Holly Black, The Darkest Part of the Forest

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…

Holly Black, The Darkest Part of the Forest

and

Hazel never cried. She was forged from iron; she never broke. No one was tougher than his sister.

Holly Black, The Darkest Part of the Forest

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.

Renae has written book reviews and other miscellany for Respiring Thoughts since 2012. She loves dogs, Mexican food, mountains, Shakespeare, and procrastinating. She's currently working on an undergrad degree in English/Spanish lit in the Midwest. Connect with Renae on Twitter, Goodreads, and Tumblr.

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9 responses to “Book Review: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

    • Renae

      Yeah, for me, the not-perfect narration was slightly frustrating, but not enough of an issue to put me off of the book entirely—Black’s ideas and characters were enough to carry everything through.

  1. I’m really struggling with this one, Renae. But I think it’s a case of “me not you”. The writing is beautiful but I’m just not connecting with the story. I’m close to halfway and I don’t see the big picture yet. Maybe I should keep going? I agree with you, I’d like to see more textual evidence as well, instead of being force-fed stuff. Fantastic review, Renae! x
    Jess @My Reading Dress recently posted…The Mime Order Blog Tour: Juicy Excerpt and Special AUS CompetitionMy Profile

    • Renae

      I honestly struggled in the middle sections too. I really enjoyed the story and the premise, but I don’t, objectively, think Black’s writing was very good, which was rather an issue. Hopefully the ending will pay off for you, Jess!

  2. I’ve heard that the mixing of worlds can come off a little clumsy but I’m happy you enjoyed this! I agree with you about sibling relationships. I want more in the world, specifically the trials and tribulations of sisters. 🙂

    And I just noticed this was tagged as lgbt. Now I MUST read.
    Amber Elise recently posted…Weekly Wrap Up: January 18-24, 2015My Profile

  3. My biggest issue with this book was that it felt very forced, like the author had a great idea, but wasn’t sure how to pull it off. I loved the concepts and the setting and the magic of the novel. It kept me going. However, I wasn’t too thrilled with the characters or the lacking emotion of the book.

    Wonderful review!
    Lyn Kaye recently posted…Book Review: The Fiery HeartMy Profile