Friday, May 20, 2016

The Darkest Part of the Forest (Holly Black)

The Darkest Part of the Forest
Holly Black
Little, Brown
Fiction, YA Fantasy
***+ (Okay/Good)

DESCRIPTION: In a glass coffin deep in the wood sleeps a horned prince. It sounds like something out of a fairy tale, but it's quite real in the small modern town of Fairfold - like the faeries themselves, tricky and often deadly beings who prey on tourists and the odd careless local. Like generations of children before them, siblings Ben and Hazel told themselves stories of the prince, how they alone must be destined to wake him and how he'd save the town, and themselves, forever and ever. For a time, they even hunted monsters in the woods, playing at heroes... but, as all too often happens, childhood dreams fall behind through the years. Ben turned away from his music, Hazel gave up on delusions of heroism, and life stretched on before them as it had for everyone else growing up in the small, strange town: dull and dark and devoid of hope.
Then the coffin is shattered and the prince disappears... and a dark terror, a monster from the darkest part of the Fairfold woods, stirs. The town needs a hero to save it - but Hazel can't even save herself.

REVIEW: Black draws off elder lore to create this modern-day fairy tale, one where the heroine carries a cell phone and a changeling attends high school alongside the human boy he was intended to replace, where the rest of the world scoffs at magic even as tourists come to snap selfies with the sleeping prince (whose grove is also a popular drinking spot for bored small-town teens.) Her faeries, are capricious beings, not necessarily amoral (well, not all of them), but operating on a very different sense of right and wrong and reality itself, as doubtless they would given their immortality and deep ties to the mysterious forces that manifest as magic. I found it a rather intriguing mixture, most of the time. The characters, though, particularly the nominal heroine Hazel, grew rather irritating, especially when she can't even help herself and often actively works against her own best interest, let alone those of her friends and the town. Some of this can be explained by a rather rough upbringing and sacrifices made on behalf of others - sacrifices that, in the manner of most such things when the Fair Folk are involved, went sour. (Indeed, everyone in the book has been touched by fae magic at some point... and even the most well-intentioned gift often becomes a curse.) At some point, though, it crossed the line, making Hazel less an intriguingly flawed character and more an annoyance to be tolerated for the sake of the story. She also takes far too long to work out vital clues because she's too busy beating herself up. It didn't help that the plot often felt jumbled, jumping around in time and to other characters without warning, with events not always connected in a particularly logical or sensible manner. There's fairy tale logic, and there's just plain confusion... Hazel and her companions trip and frequently stumble along a twisted forest path of a storyline, traveling through strange and dark and occasionally surreal terrain, eventually arriving at a conclusion that didn't feel entirely earned. It was satisfying enough to (somewhat) ameliorate my earlier frustrations, but I couldn't quite justify a full Good rating. It just isn't my cup of cocoa, I'm afraid.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Faerie Wars (Herbie Brennan) - My Review
Stardust (Neil Gaiman) - My Review
The War of the Flowers (Tad Williams) - My Review

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