Hardcover, 336 pages
Expected publication: January 13th 2015 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
I just finished this book about fifteen minutes ago. I have many thoughts that have not yet settled down enough for me to eloquently articulate myself. What I’m saying is, the review may be a garbled mess and probably not even an exact elucidation of the book so please excuse.
The Darkest Part of the Forest is the latest offering by Holly Black who is famous around here for books like Tithe, Valiant and my personal favourite, The Curse Worker trilogy, which contains one of my favourite male protagonists. Black has an enviable way of weaving fae elements with the more prosaic so that finding a glass coffin containing a monstrously beautiful faerie prince being used as a table for cans of beer or the focus around which teenagers dance to the latest tunes blaring from an Ipod becomes less extraordinary and more whimsical. Yes, the novel contains a glass coffin with a beautiful prince (bolded for emphasis), a creature made from trees and moss called Sorrow, changelings, a brother who makes fae music, and a sister who dreams of becoming a knight. They all live in Fairfold, a town that has (or so it likes to think) come to terms with the fact that it shares space with the fair folk who sometimes like to do cruel and evil things to human beings.
Hazel and Ben have long loved the horned prince (the dude in the glass coffin) but Hazel has done some things and made some bargains that have led her to promising seven years of her life to the AlderKing. She is also in love with her brother’s best friend, Jack, who is a changeling. Ben is in search for true love but the one he really wants to love him back is the prince who hasn’t opened his eyes in generations.
So, this book. I liked it quite a bit. I was not, ultimately, as crazy about it as I had thought I would be when I first started reading the novel but I did enjoy it. Black does lots of things very well but what I most appreciate about her stories is the diversity of her characters. She doesn’t make a big issue about the different races, ethnicities of the characters present in her novels but she includes them as a matter of course and I appreciate that. The Deepest Part of the Forest also has no slut shaming, mean girls or dumped best friends. Actually, a girl character other than the protagonist is not really present which I would take more issue with if it were not for the fact the ladies are represented in other characters like mothers and crazy monsters.
The twist is very twisty and when it came, I tried whistling my appreciation even though I don’t know how to whistle. Just, good stuff. The pace is brisk and though the book is slim (if you compare with a Libba Bray book), a lot of things happen. Battles are fought, alliances are made, hearts are broken. As I said, good stuff.
Now for the things that gave me pause. The romance. I like romance but I like more subtle and understated romance. I liked Hazel’s romance but I didn’t like Ben’s. I was prepared to get all dizzy with Ben’s romance but the feels just didn’t appear. Sadly. Maybe it’s me. I have a heart of stone (not really). Their relationship (I am not specifying who Ben’s paramour is) felt too easy and it was just not satisfying. I wanted more of their time together; I wanted more complexity. Hazel’s relationship, on the other hand, gave me all the feels. All of them.
This book did almost everything right. Almost. It did fall into the whole “let’s not hold the grown-ups accountable for the shitty things they have done to their kids simply because the things that happened did so a long time ago and now they are better and wiser” trap though. I think if people are horrible parents and have done things that have badly affected their kids, this should be addressed and not dismissed as something that happened in the past. I’m sorry, I’m not that forgiving. I want a conversation, I want yelling, I want someone to be held accountable. And if they do not prostrate themselves on the ground and grovel for forgiveness, I want some acknowledgement of their failings and a conversation. If parental neglect is going to be introduced into the narrative, I want, as a reader, to have it be addressed in a proper way.
Well. I’ve gotten that off my chest and it feels good.
But honestly, if you can overlook the parental thing, this book is fun. It’s entertaining. You should enjoy it if you like fairy tales.