After the herculean doorstop that was Brandon Sanderson’s Way of Kings, I needed a fast, fun, and gripping read. So I turned to Holly Black, whose Folk of the Air trilogy I gobbled up in about 72 hours over Thanksgiving break.
The Darkest Part of the Forest did not disappoint, and I blew through it in a day. Written a few years before Folk of the Air, it was fun to see how Black was playing around with the themes and premises that she later expanded and perfected in Folk of the Air.
The Darkest Part of the Forest follows two teenage siblings, Hazel and Ben, who live in a town riddled with Faerie issues. The story opens with the town’s teenagers partying around a glass casket in the woods where a horned prince lays in an enchanted sleep. The town of Fairfold is awash with strange occurrences, the least of which are a horned boy dead in a glass casket in the middle of nowhere, but the locals take it in stride, both delighting in their town’s oddness and warily going around with rowan berries in their pockets while tourists mysteriously disappear.
But Hazel, Ben, and their best friend, Jack, are much closer to the world of Faerie than anyone else in town, though Hazel can’t quite pinpoint why. As she and Ben try to unravel the mystery of the horned prince, they find themselves face-to-face with the darkest and most cruel lesson of Faerie, where the only way out is through finally being honest with each other.
I really delight in Black’s visceral depictions of Faerie and the juxtapositions she makes between their immense beauty and intense cruelty. I’ve read many books about the Fae, but Black’s descriptions and thematic notes on Faerie duality are the best I’ve come across. No one else captures how horrible beautiful creatures can be quite like Black, and the way she maneuvers her main characters in both this story, and the Folk of the Air, showcases how humanity’s flaws are sometimes our best features.
Aside from the amazing descriptions and my love of her Faerie lore, one of the things I most appreciate about Black’s characters are their very realistic teenage qualities. They are multi-faceted and complicated, struggling with their world and growing up, while also being the story’s heroes.
Four books in, Black is sitting pretty as my personal favorite YA author this year, and while this is a 4 star review, it’s simply because the themes and concepts in this story are so much more polished in Folk of the Air than here. But if I’d read The Darkest Part of the Forest first, this would have been a 5 star review.