Tuesday, November 26, 2019

The Darkest Part of the Forest

Holly Black
Completed 11/26/2019, Reviewed 11/26/2019
5 stars

This book really knocked my socks off.  It was interesting, exciting, well-paced, and well-written.  Not one word was wasted.  It was sort of a young adult, modern, smaller scope take on Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.  It’s about faeries in the woods near a present-day American town and the teenage girl and her gay brother who try to save it from them.  Everything about the book is satisfying:  the plot, the characters, the world-building, the dark tone.  It wasn’t nominated for any LGBTQ awards, unfortunately, but was nominated for a Mythopoeic Award. 

Hazel and Ben live in Fairfold, a small American town which is known for its proximity to a forest with a strange inhabitant, a horned, faerie prince who has been sleeping in a glass coffin for hundreds of years.  Both sister and brother are in love with the prince and much of the town is infatuated with him.  The local teenagers hang out at the site of the coffin, drinking and making out, sort of like any middle American town with a tourist attraction.  One day the coffin is smashed, the prince awakens, and strange things begin to happen.  Hazel and Ben have been fighting bad faeries with Ben enchanting them with his faerie given gift of music and Hazel as a wannabe knight.  But now things reach a climax as the fabled monster of the forest starts wreak havoc in town and it is up to Hazel, Ben, the prince, and a changeling to save the day.

Hazel is glorious as the dark, brooding teen.  At age 11, she made a deal with the king of the faeries, the Alderking.  In return for getting her brother into a prestigious music school in Philadelphia, she serves the Alderking at night.  However, her day self does not remember the night activities.  In the meantime, she kisses boys, and some girls, at teen parties while secretly pining for Jack, a changeling.  She’s also obsessed with the horned prince.  Despite being a quirky teenager, she’s a strong female lead with just the right amount of angst.

Ben, her brother, is also terrific.  He’s not very adept at the dating scene in this small town.  In fact, he’s more obsessed with the sleeping prince than with any human boys.  He would go to the forest, lie down on the coffin, and whisper his deepest, darkest thoughts and secrets.  When the prince awakens, he has to reconcile his fantasy with this new reality. 

Severis the prince and Jack the changeling are good secondary characters.  The whole changeling story is in itself quite interesting.  Even though Jack is the faerie, his human family keeps him even after they get their real son back.  So he is brought up by his human family and is sort of a twin to his human brother Carter.  Severis is the son of the Alderking and heir to the faerie throne.  However, there is some bad blood between the two of them, and his character arc intertwines with Hazel and Ben’s. 

The pacing really surprised me.  There’s no lag in the book.  Every scene gripped me.  Even Severis telling his story should have felt like tedious exposition, but it was as engaging as if it were part of the action.  This is a testament to the author’s writing skill.  The world-building was extensive, even for a three hundred page book.  We only go into the faerie realm twice, but both times are quite profound.  The forest is almost its own character as Hazel and Ben go in it, searching for missing people and fighting bad faeries.

This book a five star book.  It just felt perfect in every way.  I was totally engrossed by it, and whole-heartedly moved.  I wasn’t near tears, but I found it hard to come down from the book and sit still enough to write this review.  It revved me up and I didn’t want to put it down.  When it was over, I felt like I wanted it to keep going, just to remain in the world with Hazel and Ben. 

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