The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

Genre: YA, Fantasy

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers on January 13, 2015

Audio Rights: Narrated by Lauren Fortgang for Hachette Audio

Source: Library

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Children can have a cruel, absolute sense of justice. Children can kill a monster and feel quite proud of themselves.View Spoiler »

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A knight, a bard, a changeling, and a horned prince walk into a bar…

Well, small town America – the sleepy village of Fairfold. There’s nothing too remarkable about Fairfold, a town so small that there isn’t even a decent grocery store. Nothing remarkable, that is, aside from the Fair Folk. The Folk are simply a fact of life in Fairfold, a town that is in all other respects exactly as you might imagine middle America. There are even benefits to be had from their presence: tourism in Fairfold is booming, as the mysterious slumbering Horned Boy in his glass coffin draws many curious onlookers.

Fairfold borders a dark and mysterious wood, a place the locals know to be full of Fae creatures that frequently cause mischief for the townspeople and offer a much more sinister fate to tourists. But for Hazel and Ben Evans, the forest is also a place of wonder and adventure. As children the two siblings would use their gifts – reckless bravery and musicianship, respectively –to hunt down and kill malicious Fae. Telling stories and playing knights, they are invincible. Until one day they aren’t.

Ever since that fateful day the siblings Evans have been separated by secrets too personal, too shameful to confess. But things are changing in Fairfold, and secrets can never stay buried. The Folk are no longer honouring their tacit agreement to leave the locals be…and the Horned Boy no longer lies sleeping in his coffin.

There’s a lot to love about THE DARKEST PART OF THE FOREST, not least of which was Holly Black’s writing. She has a very distinct, smooth style that’s readable without sacrificing that elusive lyrical element associated with traditional faerie tales.

Like many old school Fae stories, THE DARKEST PART OF THE FOREST is really a meditation on love, loyalty, and family – and how those things are often in conflict. Hazel and Ben love each other dearly but the complexities of their relationship are often the source of some pretty major drama. Ben’s best friend and Fae changeling Jack says about the siblings’ relationship:

“You think I want to hurt Ben?” [Hazel asked.]
Jack shrugged. “I think both of you always want a little bite of whatever the other person’s got.”

Trust me when I say that Jack hit the nail on the head with that one. Hazel and Ben often want the same things…and sometimes even the same people. Ben is openly gay and he will often discuss boys with his little sister, which led to some pretty hilarious moments. I loved that Holly Black included Ben’s sexuality as an important part of the story, but she didn’t make it the only thing about him. If you’re looking for swoon worthy romantic subplots, you’ll definitely be satisfied by Ben and Hazel’s respective storylines.

My one complaint about THE DARKEST PART OF THE FOREST is that everything wrapped up a little too quickly and tidily. I get that romance is a large component so some form of HEA is basically required, but this standalone would have benefitted from an extra fifty pages to even things out a bit more at its conclusion.

I listened to THE DARKEST PART OF THE FOREST in audio format and absolutely adored Lauren Fortgang’s narration. Her pacing, tone, and voice pitches were all flawless and she helped emphasize the lyricism of Holly Black’s writing. Plus her dry delivery of zingers made me laugh.

THE DARKEST PART OF THE FOREST is a whimsical and romantic modern faerie full of adventure and danger. Recommended for fans of the Fae, YA romance, and of course Holly Black lovers.

What are your favourite YA fantasy standalones? Have you read anything by Holly Black? If so, were you as impressed by her style as I am? Inquiring minds want to know!