At the beginning of the week I finished reading THE DARKEST PART OF THE FOREST by Holly Black. It took me maybe a week to read it. That’s partially because I started it and then adopted a cat and so therefore got distracted by helping new kitty adjust. I did quite like this book though.
Black tells the story of a brother and sister team, Ben and Hazel, who hunt faeries (or at least at one point did) in the forest near their town, Fairfold. In this town there is also a fairy boy sleeping in a glass coffin a la Sleeping Beauty. No one knows how to get into the coffin or how to wake him, and so he’s been there for years. He even became somewhat of a draw for tourists.
I really like that Black depicts queer characters. Hazel and Ben are both queer. Ben is gay, and Hazel reads as bi though her sexuality is never stated outright. There is a seen in the book in which a fairy girl kisses Hazel and she isn’t grossed out by it, shocked, nor does she otherwise act like that is something out of the ordinary for her to do (kiss a girl I mean). However, her relationship in the book is hetero. So there’s that. Ben also has a relationship and it is actually a gay relationship. I also like that Black depicted queer characters without having it be a coming out story. There was “flashback” seen in which it dealt a little with Ben’s coming out, but that scene actually served more to develop Hazel’s character and explain some of her motivations. It’s not even close to being the focus of the book.
I also really like that Black consistently writes about faeries. I really enjoyed her book TITHE when I read it several years ago, and it too was about faeries. (The combination of consistently writing about faeries and queer characters puts Black among my list of favorite authors.)
However, there are some issues I have with this book.
The main one being the question of “why”. It is never explained why the fairy boy is put in the coffin. It’s alluded to, but never said or confirmed. It’s also never stated who actually put him there. We can assume it was his father, but again it’s never actually stated. The other thing never actually stated is why the monster in the forest goes after the town folk. It isn’t them who did the wrong and yet she continually goes after them and terrorizes them. It’s also never explained how she got her monstrous form–why she changed from normal fairy to what she is.
I’m trying to write this review without spoilers because I do actually think this book is worth reading. It had a slow start (I really wish Black would have done a little more foreshadowing in the early pages/chapters), but once the story got going I couldn’t put it down. Had I not adopted Luna while reading it I probably would have finished it in a couple days.
The only other gripe I have about it is a few sentences were hard to read. As in they didn’t make sense and it took me reading them a few times and then simply sitting and thinking about what Black was trying to say to figure them out. This happened like twice in the entire book. It obviously pulled me out of the story each time, but it wasn’t anything that would deter me from recommending this book.
Having said all of that, Black does an excellent job setting the scene and giving her characters backstory. They feel like real people–people you’d meet at your local high school, despite their interesting upbringing. Overall, I give this book a 4 out of 5 stars. Pick it up, give it a read, and let me know what you think!
Look out for Raven’s upcoming book, Seaborne (a NA Lesbian Magical Realism novella), which is being released on September 18, 2016. And if you simply need more lesbian fiction before then, check out her free lesbian stories~!