“Come now, my child, if we were planning to harm you, do you think we’d be lurking here beside the path in the very darkest part of the forest?”
These ominous lines by poet Kenneth Patchen serve as an epigraph to my new favorite faerie-based urban fantasy, by an old favorite author—Holly Black. You may remember my recent review of Holly Black’s morbid middle grade ghost story, Doll Bones. Well, Black has come back into the wonderful world of YA with one of her newest novels, released last year, The Darkest Part of the Forest. While nothing will ever replace vampires for me in the paranormal romance department (sorry, werewolves and zombies), faeries tend to come in second among my favorite supernatural creatures. Like vampires, they force you to confront the paradox of beautiful monsters. How can something so alluring be bad? And how can something so dangerous be beautiful? While confronting these paradoxes outwardly, the characters of The Darkest Part of the Forest also have to come to terms with the beauty and the monsters inside themselves.
Hazel and her brother, Ben, live in a town called Fairfold, where interactions with the Folk are part of everyday life. Ben and Hazel have always been fascinated by this magical world. As children, they loved to make up stories about the beautiful faerie prince who had been sleeping in a glass coffin in the middle of the forest for as long as anyone could remember. But just when Hazel and Ben are starting to feel they are too old for fairytales, their prince wakes up. This isn’t the only disturbing change in the town of Fairfold—the faeries have gotten darker and more dangerous. A creature called Sorrow has emerged from the depths of the forest, trailing grief and greenery behind her as she lurks through the town. Even more worryingly, Hazel begins losing time and finding cryptic messages reminding her of a bargain she made long ago. Could she have something to do with the sudden changes in Fairfold without knowing it? Then there’s her brother’s best friend Jack, a changeling raised among humans. Hazel has always felt something a little more than friendship for Jack, but in the fight between humans and faeries, which side will he be on? And of course, there’s her brother, Ben, who is tormented by a gift from the faeries that has come to feel more like a curse. Hazel, Ben, and Jack all must face the sides of themselves they’ve been trying to keep secret and come to terms with their whole selves if they’re going to be able to save the town from the dark forces of Faerie.
Like all of my favorite authors, Holly Black cleverly sidesteps clichés and twists old tropes. The knight in shining armor? In this story that’s the female protagonist—not her love interest or even her brother. The fairytale prince? He’s not the one for her, she’s got someone else—and so does he. Even having a gay brother is a nice departure from the stereotypical gay best friend. And he’s not just a supporting character whose gayness helps prevent you from mistaking him for a love interest. He’s and integral part of the plot, with his own romantic subplot that you’ll be emotionally invested in, as well.
If you love faeries, urban fantasy, and kickass teenage girls—or if you’ve always been one yourself to wander into the darkest part of the forest without fear—this book is for you! Check it out and let me know what you think in the comments.