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?
Fairfold is a tiny town tucked away in a forest, where the locals live alongside the Folk… and (mostly) aren’t troubled by the fact. Tourists disappear every year though – that’s part of the bargain. Hazel and Ben grew up in Fairfold, and except for a few years away in Philadelphia they have lived their entire lives there. Fairfold, with its horned prince lying in a glass casket in the woods, with its acknowledged fairy changeling, and with the strange mix of dread, denial and dreaming that lies thick over everything. When Hazel begins to find sinister messages and ‘lose’ bits of time, she believes her idyll is running out. For Hazel, even though she knew the consequences, once made a bargain…
Hazel lives like there’s no tomorrow, in part because she doesn’t believe she has (or deserves) one. Her fear and numerous falsehoods are tied up together, but she cares for her brother deeply, and desperately needs crusade, a reason to save others – even if she can’t save herself. She kisses boys she doesn’t like to distract herself from the other bad decisions she’s made. She’s outwardly strong, and always, always fights for what is right. Hazel works to forget the things she doesn’t want to remember, and carries her secrets, doubts and sorrows close to her chest. She’s both strong and fragile, complicated and not, full of guilt and self-loathing, while wishing (or often not letting herself wish) for good things.
In a way, her brother Ben sees some of these troubles – and sometimes he misses them completely. He’s a fish out of water himself – gay in a small town, gifted in music through a fairy touch, and counting down the days until he can find something different. Ben has chosen to fight his Folk-entwined fate, and he’s in love with the fairy prince in the casket. Ben and Hazel’s friend Jack, the only changeling in Fairfold, sees more than Ben, but he has his own reasons. And all of them are twined together by love, secrecy, and power.
What is this story about? It’s got the typical Black twistiness and it’s unnerving and strange, like an otherworldly fairy people would be. At the same time, it’s about justice, sibling love/rivalry, about the dreams that make it seem worth it to sacrifice your life. Black asks (through her beautiful prose): What are you willing to sacrifice, and who are you willing to sacrifice it for? What changes when love comes into the picture? How do you deal with a society entirely ‘other?’ The answers are chilling, honest, and hopeful by turns.
Oh, and yes, there’s kissing. And diverse characters. And a mystery that unravels like a con. My only complaint, as it were, is that the ending ties up a bit too neatly (I’m one of those few who prefer a loose end or two). However, I read a very early advanced reading copy, so there’s a chance things will change. I should note that the conclusion did not in any way affect my enjoyment of the book. I thought it was a delicious read: all dark and dangerous. Black’s writing is (as always) addictive, vibrant, and delightful.
Recommended for: fans of Charles de Lint, Emma Bull and Sarah Rees Brennan, and anyone who likes young adult fantasy and fairy stories, the darker the better.
The Darkest Part of the Forest will be released by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (Hachette) on January 13, 2015.
Fine print: I read an ARC version of this book that I received from a book-reviewing friend. I did not receive any compensation for this post.