Book Review: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

The Darkest Part of the Forest seems brief as a stand-alone novel, but it’s packed full of events, action, and twists, traipsing all over the fictional town of Fairfold, through the woods, and down below the Faerie hill.

The Darkest Part of the Forest Synopsis

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?

(Via Goodreads)

About Holly Black

Holly Black is the author of bestselling contemporary fantasy books for kids and teens. Some of her titles include The Spiderwick Chronicles (with Tony DiTerlizzi), The Modern Faerie Tale series, the Curse Workers series, Doll Bones, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, the Magisterium series (with Cassandra Clare) and The Darkest Part of the Forest. She has been a a finalist for an Eisner Award, and the recipient of the Andre Norton Award, the Mythopoeic Award and a Newbery Honor. She currently lives in New England with her husband and son in a house with a secret door.

(Via Holly Black’s Website)

My Thoughts

I had to actively seek out The Darkest Part of the Forest at a more far-flung library branch than the one I usually visit, but I had heard good things about it floating around the internet, so I deemed it worth the effort.

Some have postulated that this tale exists in the same universe as The Cruel Prince (which I reviewed here) and I could certainly see it, but readers don’t have to have read one to dive into the other. Each book stands alone.

What I Liked

Plot

The Darkest Part of the Forest seems brief as a stand-alone novel, but it’s packed full of events, action, and twists, traipsing all over the fictional town of Fairfold, through the woods, and down below the Faerie hill. I thought it was cool how the main characters became fantasy trope classes — a knight, a bard, a wizard, and a druid.

Characters

There! Are gay characters! Who kiss!

There! Are lady characters! Who talk with each other about things other than boys! (Mostly they talk about monsters, which I am all about.)

I liked very much the human X faerie coupling parameters that happened quite naturally over the course of The Darkest Part of the Forest. We get two (2) romances that build on past, off-screen pining rather than sudden interest, which I can appreciate.

Theme

A certain friend of mine would appreciate the rampant duality of The Darkest Part of the Forest (the kind of thing that features heavily in his current Dungeons & Dragons campaign). We get brother and sister siblings, one paranormally blessed and one not. Night and day versions of one character. A human duo and a faerie duo. A party in the mortal realm and one in Faerie, as well as a battle in each. A faerie who belongs with the humans and a human who belongs with the faeries. Two worlds, the court of the Alderking and the town of Fairfold, so closely linked, ultimately become mirrors of one another.

Ending

The ending of The Darkest Part of the Forest involves ascension of a new generation as well as acceptance. While the new court may be small, they draw their strength from a certain entwining of mortals, solitary faerie, and court faerie. I would love to see this bunch appear somewhere in the series for The Cruel Prince, just to know what the rest of Faerie might make of them and their inclusiveness.

What I Disliked

While most likely a stylistic choice, there were three or so parts of The Darkest Part of the Forest mentioned but glossed over. Some of them had to do with memory loss, others seemed cut out for pacing maintenance. Either way, I wouldn’t have minded reading them as they happened, rather than summarized as an after mention.

There were maybe fewer lady characters with meaningful impact on the plot than I would’ve liked, but Hazel, the main character, drives the whole thing forward anyway and more than makes up for it.

Recommendations

I would recommend The Darkest Part of the Forest for lovers of urban fantasy, faerie aesthetic, lady knights, and soft horror.

My rating: 4/5 stars
Goodreads rating: 3.91 stars


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Book Review: Valiant

A study in edges, where Faerieland meets big city, where drug addiction meets magic, where homelessness meets whimsy.

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Valiant by #1 New York Times-bestselling author Holly Black

Synopsis

When seventeen-year-old Valerie runs away to New York City, she’s trying to escape a life that has utterly betrayed her. Sporting a new identity, she takes up with a gang of squatters who live in the city’s labyrinthine subway system. But there’s something eerily beguiling about Val’s new friends. And when one talks Val into tracking down the lair of a mysterious creature with whom they are all involved, Val finds herself torn between her newfound affection for an honorable monster and her fear of what her new friends are becoming.

(Via Book Depository)

About the Author

Holly Black is the author of bestselling contemporary fantasy books for kids and teens. Some of her titles include The Spiderwick Chronicles (with Tony DiTerlizzi), The Modern Faerie Tale series, the Curse Workers series, Doll Bones, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, the Magisterium series (with Cassandra Clare) and The Darkest Part of the Forest. She has been a a finalist for an Eisner Award, and the recipient of the Andre Norton Award, the Mythopoeic Award and a Newbery Honor. She currently lives in New England with her husband and son in a house with a secret door.

(Via the author’s website)

My Impressions

It turns out that Valiant: A Modern Tale of Faerie actually exists as the second in Holly Black’s Modern Faerie Tales series. Not that it mattered much, as this story stood on its own quite splendidly. The narrative may have made one or two references to Tithe, its predecessor, but clearly I needn’t have read it to understand Valiant, because I absolutely took these out of order.

The undertone of Valiant puts me in mind of Maggie Steifvater’s Ballad: A Gathering of Faerie, one of my absolute favorite books — it displays a similar raw hunger, oozing pure enthusiasm if not finesse. An obvious representation of Black’s earlier offerings before experience could smooth out the edges of her style. The narrative itself is a study in edges, where Faerieland meets big city, where drug addiction meets magic, where homelessness meets whimsy. In that regard, it displayed a remarkable likeliness to Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere.

I enjoyed how such a jagged demeanor overflowed into the main character, Val, and her total jock attitude. Not only does the narrative not focus on refining her into something more feminine, it makes a point of proving how her masculine interests and behavior become integral to the plot’s resoluation. She herself grows increasingly liminal, bearing a unisex name and wearing a unisex identity, until she seems mutable enough for anything and anyone. Capable of navigating the fine line between the mortal and Faerie worlds thrown together in the shadows of New York City.

I would recommend Valiant to fans of Neverwhere, urban fantasy, and angry girls.

My rating: 4/5 stars
Goodreads raiting: 3.91 stars


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Book Review: The Cruel Prince

I recommend this book. I just do. But it’s especially appropriate for lovers of faerie fantasy, political intrigue, brutal, bloody struggles, and powerful women. 

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The Cruel Prince by #1 New York Times-bestselling author Holly Black

Synopsis

Jude was seven when her parents were murdered and she and her two sisters were stolen away to live in the treacherous High Court of Faerie. Ten years later, Jude wants nothing more than to belong there, despite her mortality. But many of the fey despise humans. Especially Prince Cardan, the youngest and wickedest son of the High King.

To win a place at the Court, she must defy him–and face the consequences.

As Jude becomes more deeply embroiled in palace intrigues and deceptions, she discovers her own capacity for trickery and bloodshed. But as betrayal threatens to drown the Courts of Faerie in violence, Jude will need to risk her life in a dangerous alliance to save her sisters, and Faerie itself.

(Via Goodreads)

About the Author

Holly Black is the author of bestselling contemporary fantasy books for kids and teens. Some of her titles include The Spiderwick Chronicles (with Tony DiTerlizzi), The Modern Faerie Tale series, the Curse Workers series, Doll Bones, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, the Magisterium series (with Cassandra Clare) and The Darkest Part of the Forest. She has been a a finalist for an Eisner Award, and the recipient of the Andre Norton Award, the Mythopoeic Award and a Newbery Honor. She currently lives in New England with her husband and son in a house with a secret door.

(Via the author’s website)

My Impressions

The Cruel Prince came to my attention through an Amazon suggestion based off my interest in the The Language of Thorns (and you can read my review of that Leigh Bardugo short-story collection here). I had thought I read three of Holly Black‘s books already, but it turns out AshesMonsters, and Drowning Instinct instead come from author Ilsa J. Bick, who often shows up on the shelves next to Holly Black. All this time I believed I’d tried Black‘s books and decided they weren’t for me.

Oops.

I am, however, incurably attracted to urban fantasy capital F Fairy Tales revolving around European faerie folklore set in modern times. Someone–might’ve been Maggie Stiefvater, might’ve been another writer whom I admire–endorsed The Cruel Prince on social media, so after that and Amazon’s suggestion, I figured I’d give it a try. The Cruel Prince went straight into my to-be-read pile and soon thereafter right into my hands.

Let me tell you, I’m honestly angry that I got Bick and Black mixed up for so long because I lost so much time that I could’ve been reading Holly Black‘s delightful prose. Beyond her masterful handling of story, her complex and interesting characters, and her intricate weaving of intrigue, she nails modern telling of faerie tropes. The Cruel Prince itself takes place in the hauntingly beautiful land of Faerie, centering around the descendants of recognizable folklore figure Queen Mab, as well as focusing on the circumstances of humans living there alongside its denizens as second-class citizens.

I loved the entire story. The narrative of The Cruel Prince often appeared as one thing only to reveal itself as something darker, more secretive, more seductive, holding the reader at a cliff’s edge, always threatening to let go. I saw myself in Jude, the main character, who wanted to fit in with greatness and had to discover her true aptitude to even begin to fulfill that desire. Watching her grow and change into someone dangerous and deadly left me feeling savagely pleased with her unconventional choices in the pursuit of power. So the story not only takes place in a setting I’ve wanted to see written but written well, it also explores a plot to match the aesthetic of that cruel and wicked world. It lovingly lingered over its female characters, giving them voice, strength, cunning, and daring, but also allowing them to exhibit faults and disappointments. I love all of the ladies and their contributions to the story.

I recommend The Cruel Prince. I just do. But it’s especially appropriate for lovers of faerie fantasy, political intrigue, brutal, bloody struggles, and powerful women.

My rating: 5/5 stars
Goodreads rating: 4.21 stars


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