Wednesday, October 28, 2015

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

By: Holly Black
Genre: YA Fantasy
Copyright: January 13, 2015 
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
POV: Close Third Person - Sometimes Alternating
Rating: 4 out of 5

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?
Main Character: Hazel - A 16-year-old girl who lives a bohemian life-style with her artist parents and older brother. She has lived with quirky and strange her whole life, and with parents who shun "normal" and "average" she fears that she is the most normal and average person in her whole artistic family. She has turned to certain defense mechanisms due to this, like being an unapologetic flirt.

What Holly Black does with her characterization in this book (especially Hazel's) is she presents layers of their personality out of order. So at first we think that all Hazel is is a girl who fears being average. However, it turns out that there are secrets that Hazel hides (even from her brother) that make it obvious that she's anything but average. I like this because we learn of her strength of character and bravery in a round-about way. In the end Hazel is a fantastic heroine, but she didn't start out that way narratively (even though she did chronologically).

Love Connection: Secret! Like seriously, I think it's worth it not to know, so I'm going to be a jerk and not tell you. Muahahaha.

Allies and Enemies: Ben - Hazel's older brother who was blessed with the gift of music by one of the fae. He is sweet and a romantic and just wants to find the perfect boy to love forever. He is the opposite of Hazel. But he and Hazel are super close (they are only 1 year apart and do everything together). He has his own inner demons that make him very tortured-artist-like.

Jack - Ben's best friend and a fae. He is a changeling who was switched with his brother Carter when they were babies. When Jack's human mother found out she forced Jack's faerie mother to return Carter, but also kept Jack as punishment (you getting all this?). Anyway, he's lived as a human his whole life and he's besties with Ben.

Horned Prince - The prince is asleep for the first half of the book, but since the book summary tells us he wakes up I don't feel like it's a spoiler to say that he does wake up. He is very faerie-like, and he has secrets of his own (obviously, he was asleep for like decades!). He is not what he seems, but then again faeries never are.

The Alderking - A powerful faerie who rules the forest by Fairfold. Not much is known about him. Except that he rules the fae and there is a truce of sorts between the fae and the citizens of Fairfold. The faeries do not harm the citizens as long as the people of Fairfold are respectful of them. So only tourists fall prey to the fae, unless a citizen goes looking for trouble or makes a deal with the faeries.

Setting: Contemporary East-Coast town close to Philidelphia.

Diversity: Ben is a secondary main character in my mind, even though his POV chapters are few and far between. But to know Hazel is to know a lot about Ben as well since they are so close. And his status as gay is not what makes him Ben. I like that Holly Black includes the fact that his sexuality is still a struggle in the way it can be for teenagers, but it's not all that his character focuses on.

Jack and Carter are technically side characters, but they are also a good source of racial diversity in the fact that they don't just exist to diversify the books. I think Holly Black does a decent job of incorporating diversity in her books in a seamless way. What I mean by that is that her diverse characters aren't there for diversity's sake. They aren't two-dimensional or peripheral-only. They are characters first and foremost and their diversity is just one aspect out of a dozen that make them who they are. That being said, I will point out that I wish there was more diversity in her settings and cultures, but the fact that her books are set in a western world isn't a bad thing. And she does a great job with world-building in general.

Random Thoughts:
 What I like the most about this book is how weird it is. I think that's also going to be what will make it a hard read for some people. Genre-wise it is contemporary fantasy or magical realism. But I think that Holly Black makes her magic a fact of the world instead of a special exception of reality. I love that. It's very Miyazaki of her (aka, Miyazaki movies seamlessly incorporate magic into the world without needing explanation). 

I also like that the characters are never straightforward. They're messed up and bruised and broken, but they're strong in at least one way or another. A strong character goes a long way with me as a reader, so I liked Hazel and Ben a lot. I also really liked Jack because he was a great bridge between the human world and the faerie.

The thing that was a great element for me was the romantic aspect of the book. It wasn't flowery, traditional YA-like. But it was definitely there, and it had a kick that I enjoyed. Like I say above, it's not clear who the love interest is immediately, but I think that gives a good flavor to the eventual love story. (And who knows, maybe other readers figured it out way quicker than I did).

Good, strange read. Entertaining in a slightly twisty way. Not for all, but for the people who do enjoy the unknown in their books I would recommend this.

2 comments:

  1. I'm one of these people who have not read it yet. It is on my TBR but I seem to be putting it off, I am not sure why tho. But I will get to it, nice review ;)

    New follower :)

    HannahCassie @ http://psilovethatbook.blogspot.co.uk/

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    1. Yay, thanks for stopping by! I did really enjoy the book and I hope you do too :)

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