I like Holly Black’s writing. She she sets books in, basically, our real world with fantasy tweaks, and the stories are unapologetically confident in defense of myth and magic. The Darkest Part of the Forest is set in and around an ordinary town called Fairfold with a supernatural attraction: there is a faerie boy trapped and hibernating in an unbreakable glass coffin in the forest, symbolic of the town’s close proximity to the Fae people. Generations of residents have built lore around the boy and featured him as a player in personal fantasies and dreams, while tourists come to Fairfold to get a look.
Because he is trapped in his box, he is mostly a harmless curiosity for the locals, who are otherwise inclined to lead normal lives and purposefully steer clear of the faeries in the forest. But siblings Hazel and Ben never quite outgrow the stories they played as children, where they battled harmful creatures and rescued the lost prince. And when the coffin is found broken one day and the boy inside missing, that sets off a chain of events that disrupts the town’s delicate co-existence with the Fae, with Hazel and Ben in the thick of the proceedings.
Magic is integral to the story, but the writing is grounded in character relationships with real-life complexity. Dynamics between siblings drive the plot as much as faeries do, and the characters manage their imperfect love, loyalty, and self-identification with the same spirit as actual teens do, with about as much success. Sometimes they get it right, but not always, and they have to learn how to stumble forward and backward together to make peace with who they are all becoming. It’s admirable how much Holly Black can do in standalone fantasy novels, doing justice to the world-building without compromising the richness of her characters.