Holly Black takes something so ordinary, so relatable to the modern adolescent, and juxtaposes it against the profoundly extraordinary.
After a dismal run of DNF and one-star reads, Holly Black‘s The Darkest Part of the Forest was a pure delight. I have to confess, ten years ago, I never would have picked up this book: I was strictly a high-fantasy or slice-of-life contemporary literature kind of girl. I had no interest in magical realism or the blurring of lines between our world and others. What a wonderful thing personal growth is!
This is perhaps one of the quickest novels I have ever read. I’m a notoriously slow reader, averaging one standard 350-page book a month. For me to finish Darkest Part in just over two weeks speaks volumes to how much I enjoyed it–it was simply devoured. Holly Black‘s prose is beautiful, with just enough lyrical description to appreciate her wordsmith skills but not so heavy-handed that the pace suffers. It was a wonderfully balanced piece, both stylistically and in the themes it tackles. There’s romance, action, and subtle unnerving horror all interwoven with childhood mischief, fairy tales, lies and sexuality in a neat, captivating package.
Let’s talk characters first. Having a likeable (or intentionally hateful) cast is a hugely important element for me as a reader. If I don’t resonate with any of the characters it’s pretty much off to the DNF pile because honestly, what’s the point? Fortunately, Hazel Evans and the inhabitants of Fairfold are more than palatable. As a protagonist, Hazel is well-rounded. She’s strong and brave and clever, but most importantly, she’s fallible. Hazel does some stupid things–as we all do in our youth–and she’s selfish and deceitful. Yet despite this, or perhaps because of this, we still find ourselves cheering for her success. I found a lot to like in Hazel Evans, and I am very picky with female characters.
The supporting cast are equally as solid. Local misfit and total hunk Jack was by far my favourite (as is my penchant for the emotionally tortured), but Ben and Severin held their own too. Without giving too much away, Holly Black did a marvelous job with her inclusive cast in that the LGBT character’s story line did not revolve entirely about him being gay; his character arc focused on his flaws as a fearful coward, not his sexual identity, which I feel is a huge achievement.
The imagery of The Darkest Part of the Forest is rich and earthy; evocative and eerie yet entirely alluring. Holly Black‘s writing is vivid and sensory–a real joy to read. On top of that, her world-building is fantastic. The township of Fairfold, its rules and history, have been successfully rendered. Magic is a part of life there. The Folk are not something stumbled upon by some special snowflake–they are a part of the community, for better or for worse. From the novel’s opening pages, we are presented with this artful blending of worlds. We see teenage hipsters drinking from mason jars, dancing and partying in the forest … with a horned boy encased in a glass coffin. Holly Black takes something so ordinary, so relatable to the modern adolescent, and juxtaposes it against the profoundly extraordinary. By doing so, and presenting it in the matter-of-fact way that she does, helps make The Darkest Part so accessible and believable to the audience. It works so well because it’s not a sleepy little town suddenly inundated with fairies and monsters thanks to someone awakening magical powers–it’s life for the people of Fairfold. Something that, no matter how terrifying, has been a part of their identity for as long as anyone can remember. And it is truly something special.
This book left me gushing. Holly Black is a gem among writers and I am eagerly awaiting the release of her upcoming dark fantasy series, The Cruel Prince. If it’s half as good as The Darkest Part of the Forest, I will be very happy indeed.
The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black, first published 2016.
Get it here on Amazon.