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…
Being a fan of Holly Black’s Folk of the Air trilogy, I was thrilled when I read that The Darkest Part of the Forest actually takes place in the same world. I was also intrigued by its unique synopsis. I ended up reading it over the winter break as a virtual book club with a few friends, so I soared through it eager to discuss. However, even though it was a quick read, I found The Darkest Part of the Forest to be a bit disappointing. Although it wasn’t particularly painful for me to get through, I could tell it lacked the depth that we see in her later Folk of the Air series. There were some interesting twists, but the way they were dealt with felt predictable and anti-climatic, especially compared to the twists we see in Folk of the Air. (If you know, you know)! I think the ideas behind the book were really compelling, just at times, the execution was off. Though fantasy does require some suspension of belief, there were moments that felt undeveloped and interrupted the flow of reading as it was hard to believe. Other times it felt like it was a result of flat characters that certain plot points even happened.
Overall, I found The Darkest Part of the Forest to be entertaining but nothing life-changing or particularly memorable. I feel like if I had read it a few years ago, I may have enjoyed it more, but now that I am older I have become more critical and have higher expectations when it comes to fantasy. If you are looking to read a novel by Holly Black, I would recommend skipping over The Darkest Part of the Forest in favour of her Folk of the Air series.
“They were in love with him because he was a prince and a faerie and magical and you were supposed to love princes and faeries and magic people. They loved him the way they’d loved Beast the first time he swept Belle around the dance floor in her yellow dress.”
!Spoilers up ahead!
What I did like:
The sorrowful school scene – this was cool. It had a good amount of creepiness, mystery and excitement. My friends and I also had a good laugh at the whole spinny chair situation and how they put Molly in it instead of hoisting her up on their shoulders.
The Ansel Reveal – Okay, so I didn’t quite see this one coming. I liked the folk tale that went with this reveal as well. I did find the whole Night/Day Hazel situation a little confusing as it isn’t really clear at first as to what happens to her memory or how the Alderking is taking time from her.
What I didn’t like:
Hazel and Ben’s parents… I’m a sucker for well-written parent/parental figure and character relationships in books but this just wasn’t it. They were extremely flat characters and it seemed like only for the sake of the plot. They were neglectful artists which led to Hazel and Ben adventuring and doing dangerous things (parading through the forest with a sword to hunt faeries) on their own. Later Hazel says, “they’re better now,” but they still don’t notice their kids coming home late covered with wounds or leaving the house? There also is no explanation for why the parents are the way they are or what the reason is behind their change in behaviour.
I also found it a bit unbelievable that they barely react to Ben staying in Faerie at the end of the book because “there’s not much we can do.” I think that this was supposed to be an emotional scene, (and had the potential to be) but ultimately with their characters (or lack of), it just fell flat. While we’re on the topic of parents… it also seemed highly unlikely that the whole town would gather to discuss sending Jack to the fae in his own home. It also seemed a little superfluous for them to let this whole debate go on only to say they had no intention of sending him away.
Missing details – There were also small details throughout the book that tended to bother me, as they did not seem entirely thought through and interrupted the flow of reading. For example, Jack and Hazel literally stand in the back of his house for minutes while the townspeople discuss his fate and no one even looks up to notice them or see them walk in? Similarly, there is the scene where Hazel tells Ben they need to drive to the scene of the crime because she left her bike there, but when they go by, her bike isn’t even mentioned. Though these are tiny details, I found I stopped each time to consider them which jolted me out of the overall story.
Though I didn’t particularly love The Darkest Part of the Forest, I still had fun reading it and discussing it with my friends. I think discussing it with them in a fun but critical manner made me realize how much I had to say, and what important points there may be to look at while editing other’s work in the future.
Have you read The Darkest Part of the Forest? What did you think of it? Should I check out more of Holly Black’s books? Let me know in the comments below!