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.
I first fell in love with Holly Black when I was much younger and she was co-writing the Spiderwick Chronicles with Tony DiTerlizzi. The books were small, sleek hardbacks illustrated by DiTerlizzi, and I adored them. The books and the accompanying Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You was the seed of my obsession with all things faery and folk. One of the greatest things about Holly Black is that, for the most part, she stays in that category of fae writing, but we don’t get the same world and characters recycled over and over again. The Darkest Part of the Forest, for example, is far different from the Spiderwick Chronicles, even though both deal with the fantastical realm of faeries.
In The Darkest Part of the Forest, Hazel lives with her brother Ben in the strange town of Fairfold, where faerie folk and townspeople seem to live peacefully side by side. The townsfolk are safe from dangerous fae mischief as long as they follow the rules, but the town is also a big tourist attraction, and tourists are fair game for the fae. At least one tourist every season winds up brutally murdered. The people of Fairfold accept the missing tourists as long as it means the regular townspeople are safe.
However, stranger (stranger than normal) incidents begin to occur. Townspeople who have lived in Fairfold all their lives are now beginning to be killed or seriously injured by the creatures in the forest, and the town is desperate to have things back the way they were. The main tourist attraction, a fae boy trapped in a glass coffin, is damaged: the coffin is shattered and the fae boy has vanished. No one knows who broke the coffin, but it may be the reason why the truce no longer seems to be applicable.
Hazel, having believed since she was a child that she was destined to be a knight who protected the town, is determined to find out what happened.
I loved this book because Hazel was such a strong female character. Her confidence, her proximity to being a true knight, her bravery were all explained and defined in the book in such a satisfying way. What I mean is, she wasn’t just a badass woman because badass women are popular characters who sell books. Hazel is a fully-fleshed out individual with flaws and strengths and limitations, but at the end of the day, she still shows up and kicks butt.
The other characters are vivid and well-developed too. Ben is complex, and Jack is an enticing romantic interest as well. Even the minor characters, such as Ben and Hazel’s parents, feel like real people rather than stock background parents who pop in every now and again to ask if the main character is okay.
This book is a good start if you want to get back into fantasy books without committing to a long series, as it is a stand-alone novel. The world-building is also minimal, as the setting is our world but with a little faery mischief sprinkled in, and Black makes sure to include the lore for every magical creature she introduces so that you’re never lost or confused. If you liked the Spiderwick Chronicles as a kid, the rest of Black’s books on fae are basically adult versions of the kids books.
PUBLICATION DEETS: Little, Brown, & Co., January 12, 2015, 324 pages
CATEGORY: YA, fantasy, folklore