Friday, April 24, 2015

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

Publication Date:  January 13, 2015
Publisher:  Little Brown Books
Series:  Stand Alone
Pages:  328
Genre:  Fantasy
Synopsis:  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?  

Review:  This is a book of deception and whimsy, the modern world and that of the fae woven together into a captivating fantasy. I have never been one for faerie stories, but Holly Black may have just changed my mind.

This is a grand adventure, one I extremely wished I could fall right into and experience myself.  It is pure magic.  There are curses, bargains, and a deadly creature at the heart of the woods.  What else does a good fantasy story need?  

The writing itself is spectacular.  I mean, if Holly Black wrote a book about, say, paint drying, I would read every line of that beautiful story because her writing is truly gorgeous.  She weaves an intricate tale of knights and memories and heroism.  She has this understated style of writing that never tells you anything outright but conveys deeper meaning with each words.  My one issue with the plot is the pacing. Sometimes, it felt as if the story evolved at a breakneck speed.  A lot of things get thrown at you all at once and it can be a bit overwhelming.  

My favorite thing about this novel, besides the magic--which is both alluring and terrifying--are all the lies and foreshadowing. Sure, it isn't the most cleverly hidden plot twists in history, but I thoroughly enjoyed them.  Memories are repressed and time is stolen, which makes for a wonderful quest, which is exactly what this book was about.

However, I feel that the deeper themes and underlying conflicts could have been explored a little more.  To name a few:  the negligent parents, the discrimination of the town against Jack (who is a Changeling), and the fact that an entire town turned a blind eye to those the faeries killed.  

Now, the word that comes to mind when I think about Hazel is this: daring.  She is completely fearless.  The magic of the woods has always fascinated her and her brother, Ben.  But the thing about magic is that it always comes with a price.  Hazel handles dangerous situations extremely well, even going so far as to seek them out.  

Hazel has emotional issues, of course, because what great hero doesn't?  Yet, the greater plot overshadows much of her dealing with that inner conflict.  Character development, not just for Hazel but for all the characters, is pushed to the side in order to focus on the complex plot.

I liked a lot of the other characters, though none as much as Hazel. Jack is mysterious and otherworldly.  Ben is a sweetheart and a decent sibling, though that is what slightly annoyed me about him. I guess I just like my characters darker, a little meaner and a little more broken.  Which is why Hazel is my favorite.  But, let's not forget about the horned boy himself, Severin.  He is distant and cold, which is interesting, only he isn't in the story as much as I thought he would be.  The book focuses more on Hazel and the creature in the woods than the sleeping prince who suddenly woke up.  

In spite of my criticisms, The Darkest Part of the Forest is a compelling tale that delves into the topics of guilt, secrets, and what it means to be a human hero in a magical world.  This ambitious book is dark and atmospheric, one I would recommend to anyone.

4 Keys


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