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Friday, June 19, 2015

"The Darkest Part of the Forest" by Holly Black (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

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OVERVIEW: 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.

Hazel lives with her brother, Ben, in the strange town of Fairfold where humans and fae exist side by side. The faeries’ seemingly harmless magic attracts tourists, but Hazel knows how dangerous they can be, and she knows how to stop them. Or she did, once.

At the center of it all, there is a glass coffin in the woods. It rests right on the ground and in it sleeps a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointed as knives. Hazel and Ben were both in love with him as children. The boy has slept there for generations, never waking.

Until one day, he does…

As the world turns upside down, Hazel tries to remember her years pretending to be a knight. But swept up in new love, shifting loyalties, and the fresh sting of betrayal, will it be enough?

FORMAT: The Darkest Part of the Forest is a standalone YA contemporary fantasy/urban fantasy. It has a fairy tale feel with a modern setting and lots of mystery and romance. It stands at 324 pages and was published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers on January 1, 2015.

ANALYSIS: Fairy tales and fairy tale retellings seem to be the current 'in' thing within the children's/YA genre. There is a desperate need to take the familiar, retell the tale, and add a slight twist. But leave it to Holly Black to bring the genre a much needed unique fairy tale that breaks this cycle by bringing readers a new, contemporary fairy tale that is creepy, scary, and filled with a little mystery.

The Darkest Part of the Forest begins with the tale of a glass coffin that lies in the center of the woods. Inside lies a beautiful, almost handsome young boy who has pointed ears and horns on his head. No one really knows why or how the coffin got there, but each generation has its own tales, myths, and stories surrounding it. No matter what stories or myths were told about it one thing remains clear – no one takes the glass coffin or the boy inside serious and no one believes he will awaken. Unfortunately, that is far from the truth.

The boy in the coffin awakens. And his awakening appears to be happening just around the time that the nearby town seems to be experiencing an increase in paranormal problems.

Readers are treated to a tale about Hazel and her brother, Ben, as they try to unravel the mystery of the boy in the coffin. After he unexpectedly awakens – after sleeping for generations – the two work to uncover exactly what is going on in their town and if the glass coffin and newest member of the town has something to do with it. While uncovering this mystery, they will face numerous magical creatures and battle an enemy that isn't your average 'bad guy'.

One of the unique things about Holly Black is she has the ability to write in so many different styles and each one she excels at writing. There is the Spiderwick Chronicles, for younger children looking for fantasy/spook stories, there is the Modern Fairie Tales series that is a little more contemporary fantasy, and Magisterium (with Cassandra Clare). Each series is unique and wonderfully written, but not at all the same exact style of writing.

 Fans of Holly Black's previous work, especially Modern Fairie Tales, will certainly not be disappointed with The Darkest Part of the Forest. It has a very similar style of writing. Unfortunately, those not familiar with this style of writing may find it difficult and even a bit sluggish.

I'll admit, even though I am familiar with her numerous styles of writing, I struggled to get into the book. It wasn't that the story was bad, it was just a style of writing I am not 100% used to reading and it took me some time to get into the flow of the writing/pacing.

Overall, there are parts of Darkest Part of the Forest that I loved and enjoyed, and there were parts that I was not a huge fan of at all. This made for a love/hate relationship. I appreciate that it is a good story and I want to love it, but some of the quirks of the book have me reluctant to love it.

What I did love about this novel is that the characters aren't your average gender specific carbon copy characters. Hazel, our main female character, wants to be the hero of things, run off and be the knight in shining armor. Ben, on the other hand, is the hopeless romantic. He wants to be the one to wake up a prince with a single kiss and ride off into the sunset for his 'happily ever after'.

It was nice and refreshing to see an author not only willing to take the challenge of trying new things with characters, but succeeding with it. Hazel and Ben were fairly detailed and their characterization fit with the story. It didn't feel forced or clunky. It worked.

Another aspect of Darkest Part of the Forest I enjoyed was it was a stand-alone novel. There was no need to read previous books to understand the plot and everything was self-contained inside it. Good stand-alone novels are becoming a rarity lately.

Now for the part of the book that I felt really didn't resonate with me. My biggest complaint is the portrayal of the parents. Hazel and Ben's parents are your typical (and almost required) negligent parents. They barely fed their kids growing up, let them wander around and do whatever, and didn't really care to be parents.

Flash forward to the current story and they have supposedly changed, but they were absent for much of the story and really didn't seem very caring. Of course, we – the readers – are told they changed, but it didn't come across that way at all. No matter how hard I tried, I kept thinking back to just how bad the parents were at parenting and couldn't get over it.

Overall, Darkest Part of the Forest is a solid, modern urban fantasy/fairy tale. Holly Black does a wonderful job with the character development and story line – and even successfully threw in a few twists and turns at the end. I did enjoy reading this story and highly recommend it to anyone looking for something a little out of the ordinary.


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