The Darkest Part of the Forest

The Darkest Part of the Forest

by Holly Black

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?

Hazel and her brother Ben grew up in Fairfold, the human town on the edge of Faerie land. They know how real and dangerous the Fae can be, but when the two of them work together, they can be dangerous too.

The narrative is split between Hazel and Ben, but Hazel is definitely the main character.
As their parents weren't the most traditional or reliable people, Hazel and her brother have learnt to be independent, and look after themselves. Whereas the rest of the town are wary about the forest, and the magical dangers, Hazel and Ben embrace the wilderness and feel at home there.
From a young age, they vow to protect tourists and other foolish humans who have stumbled into the path of the fae.
Ben has a faerie gift/curse, his music is enchanting to any that hears it, and he can stun the creatures long enough for Hazel to kill it with a sword she found in the forest.

There has been a glass coffin with a sleeping horned young man in, for as long as anyone can remember. No one has been able to free him, or find out how he got there, but Ben would make up epic stories, that he was a prince, and he and Hazel were part of his court.
Until one day, the coffin is destroyed. The prince is free, and is on his way to find them.

I liked this story. It had a decent amount of intrigue, trying to find out who was the real enemy, and how to stop them.
I thought that Hazel's split life was an interesting touch, as she comes to realise that her night self existed, and couldn't necessarily be trusted. I was a bit disappointed that we didn't get to see more of Night Hazel or her actions, other than a quick recap at the end when the Alderking returns her memories.

I really liked how the people of Fairfold are just as dangerous as the fae. How they could make appalling decisions, like their mum did for Ben; or the real extent of their parents' neglect when they were younger. Or how the town had whipped itself into a mob and wanted to take out their fear and anger on a teenage boy.
It felt so sickeningly realistic. Just normal(ish) life that got messed up by what started as good intentions.

The plot is good. I also liked the level of romance, it never overtakes the main story.
I think the main negativity I had, was that I read The Cruel Prince first. This earlier book naturally feels more timid compared to that masterpiece which really showed the author's ability to create a highly-complex plot of betrayals and dangers.


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