The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black / My rating: ★★★☆☆
One sentence summary: Twins Hazel and Ben have dreamed all kinds of fairy tale stories about the sleeping prince in the forest, but when he wakes, a terrible monster begins reeking havoc in their town.
Down a path worn into the woods, past a stream and a hollowed-out log full of pill bugs and termites, was a glass coffin. It rested right on the ground, and in it slept a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointed as knives.
Genre: Young Adult/Fantasy
I liked this book. It’s a story that uses fairy tale tropes and mixes them up a bit, turns them on their heads. This book was an enjoyable read for the most part, and I read it quickly. It plays with the typical roles of gender in fairy tale which I loved. But my biggest problem with this book is that it felt too imbalanced and like it had the potential to go much deeper into, well, everything, but never did.
The story is set in a town where modern humans and fairy tale creatures coexist, but not altogether peacefully. I liked the atmosphere of it- magical yet unsettling. Rather creepy. But it could have been more thorough. I was confused at how the people who lived in this town understood it- yeah, they know there are faeries that want to hurt them and snatch their children, but there’s this weird element where some don’t believe in it? Authorities create human excuses for magical things, when clearly this is a very magical town- so much so that tourists come to see it all. And then when tourists disappear, when locals disappear, they just…do nothing? Make excuses? To be honest, I never really understood why any of the characters who lived there didn’t just…leave, since it seemed like everywhere else was “normal,” AKA, did not have creatures that would snatch them in their beds.
Now, the balance of this book. It felt as if too much was trying to cram itself into one novel. Which is odd, because that contrasts the slowness of the pace I felt at times. It took me about 100 pages in to really get into it, and I couldn’t put it down during the middle, but then I began to rapidly lose interest about 80 pages from the end. I enjoyed it, I was into it, but I kept waiting for it to go deeper, and instead it would introduce another twist or plot point. Near the end, when I realized I wasn’t going to get that depth I craved, I lost interest.
The plot simply felt like it could have been cleaner. It was not complicated, but I would find myself losing track of all the information I was given (perhaps because I stopped caring about some of it because I couldn’t always trust it to be as important as it seemed), and I kept wishing that instead of continually getting more, the things I had already been given were pieced together more meaningfully.
I enjoyed this book, but it was one that I felt needed a good re-outlining of the plot, and a bit more solid world building.
Most of this book is told from the point of view of Hazel, but occasionally we would find ourselves with a chapter from the point of view of her twin brother Ben, or her friend Jack, and this definitely added to the imbalance of the story. I would have liked it better if I got to hear more from Ben or Jack. I liked Hazel, but I didn’t find her particularly interesting. She was a very classic case of “I have all these secrets but I must remind you a million times that I can’t tell anyone because I’ll hurt their feelings even though it will probably help solve our situation before it starts to get deadly.” She kisses a lot of boys, which is cool, but I didn’t find the reason behind it to be very compelling.
Ben, in particular, I think could have been delved into much more deeply- I liked him, but I wanted to like him more. And the sleeping prince…the hotshot of the story…didn’t wow me. I liked him a lot, but I so wanted to just see more of him, internally. I wanted more on his romantic feelings and his conflict with his family. My favorite character would have to be Jack, Ben’s inhuman “changeling” BFF. He felt the most developed, and I really enjoyed his part of the story. I’d want to be buddies with him.
As for the romance between these characters, I loved it at the beginning. I was all for the romance. But then by the end they just felt too contrived. Maybe that was meant to make them more fairy tale-ish, but I found myself rolling my eyes at some of their monologues. My heart went out of it.
Lastly, the parents. There a rather uninteresting and underdeveloped subplot involving Hazel and Ben’s neglectful artist parents, which just felt wholly unnecessary. Like, I really don’t need to read another book involving spacey artistic parents ever again.
There was a sentence here or there I would find worded strangely that would trip me up, but for the most part the writing was fine. Not great, but not terrible.
Was I satisfied?
I liked this book, but it could have been more. I loved the unconventional twists on a fairy tale, but I wish it had just been…more. More balanced, more detail, more development.