Review: Holly Black’s ‘The Darkest Part of The Forest’

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Book blurb:

‘Near the little town of Fairfold, in the darkest part of the forest, lies a glass casket. Inside the casket lies a sleeping faerie prince that none can rouse. He’s the most fascinating thing Hazel and her brother Ben have ever seen. They dream of waking him – but what happens when dreams come true? In the darkest part of the forest, you must be careful what you wish for…’

Warning: this review contains **spoilers**

I really, REALLY wanted to like this. I’ve had mixed reactions to Holly Black’s work before- I disliked ‘Tithe’ for its tweeness and its unlikeable heroine, but loved ‘The Coldest Girl in Coldtown’ even if, at times, it felt a little too near the knuckle. I also loved her short story collection, ‘The Poison Eaters,’ and TDPOTF includes an enchanted forest and a fairy boy in a glass coffin. Some of the reviews on Amazon have been nothing short of gushing. Come on, people! I had my fingers crossed for this one!

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And yet…I’m hearing sad trombone music in my head already. Because, although TDPOTF had some good parts, and some interesting quirks, it was- in my humble opinion- too similar in style and substance to ‘Tithe’, and other ideas Black had previously explored and done well- e.g. in ‘The Spiderwick Chronicles.’ I liked the idea of a human family keeping a changeling, I liked the idea of a fairy boy sleeping in a glass coffin for years upon years (an interesting inversion of ‘Snow White’, of course,) and I liked the way that the town of Fairfold becomes a tourist hot-spot because the tourists know it’s also populated by fairies, who can be both bad and good. Some of the descriptions of this was wonderfully imaginative.

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I even KIND of liked the main character, Hazel- even if she seemed a bit aimless and a bit too woe-is-me. (‘Oh woe is me, with my pretty red hair and my pretty good looks, oh it’s so terrible everyone wants to snog me.’) Some parts of it also felt unrelatable and too far-fetched: for example, when not thinking ‘oh woe is me,’ Hazel wanders around the forest slaying mean-ass fairies with a magical sword that she just HAPPENS to find. Now, I’m all for imagination, but really? Why aren’t her parents up in arms about this? Why hasn’t she been killed or seriously injured already? Ah yes, I remember, because, when boiled down to its very bones, without the glamour and the description, TDPOTF is disappointingly like ‘Tithe’. Case in point:

‘Tithe’:

Pretty girl kisses boys she doesn’t really like for no real reason
Pretty girl drinks too much and parties with people she doesn’t particularly know or even trust
Pretty girl is confronted by magical fairy beings who intend to harm her
Pretty girl attends fairy revel under ground where bizarre-looking fairies wear antiquated costumes
Pretty girl falls for male fairy character with hard-to-pronounce name
Pretty girl is neglected by parent/s who let her run wild
Young gay male character also falls for male fairy character with hard-to-pronounce name
The fairy world and the mortal world collide with dangerous consequences etc. etc.
A changeling character feels out of place
A horrible fairy monarch endangers life of pretty girl

‘TDPOTF’:

Pretty girl kisses boys she doesn’t really like for no real reason
Pretty girl drinks too much and parties with people she doesn’t particularly know or even trust
Pretty girl is confronted by magical fairy beings who intend to harm her
Pretty girl attends fairy revel under ground where bizarre-looking fairies wear antiquated costumes
Pretty girl falls for male fairy character with hard-to-pronounce name
Pretty girl is neglected by parent/s who let her run wild
Young gay male character also falls for male fairy character with hard-to-pronounce name
The fairy world and the mortal world collide with dangerous consequences etc. etc.
A changeling character feels out of place
A horrible fairy monarch endangers life of pretty girl

Image is Creative Commons licensed for re-use and modification (via Google)

I wish I was making this all up for laughs, but I’m not. I wanted more from this, and this whole thing just felt…lacklustre to me. (Apologies for the harshness, HB fans!) If you’re really after some kick-ass fairies, flick through a volume of Brian Froud’s work. Or if you really love ‘Tithe’ and the subsequent books in the series, this one is definitely for you. Otherwise, leave Hazel to her half-witted fairy hunting, and give this one a miss.

Overall rating: 5 out of 10 stars. Quirky in some places, a good try, but ultimately tired, a little stereotypical, and a rehash of previous works. Come on Holly, I know you can do better!

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