Holly Black’s Tithe came out when I was in high school at a time when I was pretty much done with YA books. Not because I’d “grown out” of them—that anyone could grow out of any sort of book is a ridiculous notion that everyone should abandon—but because I had started noticing trends and tropes in YA books that I just wasn’t interested in. In that time, Holly Black seemed to be writing just for me: aware of the very things I had come to dislike, but not writing specifically towards them. And I’d met her once or twice; she was a friend of a friend.
I don’t know if Tithe (and then Valiant and Ironside) was my first encounter with faeries as the Fae, but I know it must have been close, and I have ever since been enamored. Ms. Black continued her writing career with other subjects (which I have also enjoyed) but in The Darkest Part of the Forest she has returned to the subject matter that I first fell in love with.
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?
The world Holly Black has constructed is at once eerie and alluring, with pieces of Faerie creeping into the modern world like the quick-spread of moss. I have always found that Ms. Black’s writing evokes strong images of people and places and this book is no different in that regard. From the first moment I encountered them, Hazel and Ben and the sleeping Faerie Prince were as clear to me as any photograph, as was the world they walked in.
Hands down my favorite part of this book was the fairy tale aspect. Even without the faeries themselves, this story includes a prince under a curse, a knight on a quest, a bard struggling to master his powers, and a changeling grappling with his place in the world. There is a faerie revel, a monster to defeat, and a duel that decides all their fates. At the same time, the heroes of this book are teenagers living in the modern world, with cell phones and who worry about the politics of their high school. It’s a delightful juxtaposition Holly Black has created, one that I thoroughly enjoyed.
My second favorite part of this book—and it’s a very close second—is that the love triangle (or maybe it’s a quadrangle?) is established very early on, and then is demolished not terribly long after that. While I do enjoy the tension a love triangle can lend to a story, I really enjoyed that the romantic tension in this particular book didn’t rely on one person choosing between two people since that always leaves one person disappointed. Instead, our four heroes all end up happily coupled up by the end of the book, and I ended up happy for all of them.
As a stand-alone novel this book works perfectly well: all of the threads of the story are wrapped up by the end, in ways that I found satisfying. I anticipate rereading this book in the weeks, months, years to come and delighting in it the same way I did when first I read it. But I couldn’t help but want more time with these characters, more time in this world. On the other hand, I feel like that with all the books I come to hold as favorites, so that’s really not surprising.
The Darkest Part of the Forst is written by Holly Black and was published on January 13, 2015 by Little, Brown Books.