It’s been too long between revels with Holly Black, my fault, not her’s. Holly Black’s been writing just as fast as her enchanted quill allows. The Darkest Part of the Forest is the perfect balm to reacquaint myself with Holly Black’s dark fantasy because she’s back in the faerie court, not the Seelie and Unseelie Court of Tithe and Ironside, somewhere sideways at the Alderking’s dark hillside. I loved the Tithe series, so revisiting the nasty doings of tricksy faeries was a horrifying pleasure.
In The Darkest Part of the Forest a horned boy is deep in an enchanted slumber in the woods, where all the town kids party, dancing on his glass coffin. Tourists come to Fairfold to see this magical sight and the fairies of the the Alderking’s Court kill one here and there. Townsfolk are safe from the “surfeit of faerie awfulness” as long as they don’t act like tourists, or bargain for their heart’s desire under the hawthorn tree on a full moon.
Carter’s brother Jack is a changeling, swapped by his faerie mother, but Carter’s mother used her knowledge of faerie lore to trick the faerie into leaving both babies to grow up in town.
When she was younger, Hazel had a crush on Jack, her brother Ben’s best friend, but she’s moved on, until she accidentally kisses Jack at a party. She can’t tell Ben, and she wishes she hadn’t kissed Jack, he’s her friend too and he matters.
When Ben was a baby, an elf woman gave him the gift of faerie music.
“Music so sweet that no one will be able to think of anything else when they hear it, music that contains the magic of faerie.”
As children they roamed the forest hunting faeries, Ben lured them with his piping faerie music, Hazel cut them down with a faerie sword she stole from a water hag. But they grew out of that too. She was “good at killing monsters” but when the family moved to Philadelphia for Ben to go to music school, Hazel discovered her other talent,
“making boys squirm.”
Now back in Fairfold, after Ben gave up his music, Hazel’s quests change from hunting ancient forest monsters, to kissing every boy who asks, trying to repent her first kiss with Ben’s boyfriend.
“But no matter how many other boys she kissed, she couldn’t bring Ben’s music back.”
Kissing Jack is the beginning of strange times in Fairfold. The horned boy’s coffin is smashed and he’s nowhere to be found. Jack warns Ben and Hazel to stay away from the horned boy and his kin, but Hazel remembers the thrill of the hunt.
“She’s still lured by stories of the beauty and wonder of the Folk.”
The fearful monster that lurks in the darkest part of the forest appears in town, terrorizing all in her path. Hazel has strange dreams that seem so real and she gets messages in walnut shells, riddles that confuse her and drag secrets to the surface that she thought she had hidden for good.
When faeries want blood, a heroine needs to step up and Hazel does, although she’s not sure if she’s trying to save Fairfold, Jack or herself. Hazel might be forged from iron, but she’s not invincible. And does she want to slay the monster or something deep inside herself?
While reading I didn’t pay much attention to the cover design, then I saw a larger version online and realised how intricately detailed the artwork is. A verdant riot grows across the book, entangling everything in its path, and creeping past the spine to the back cover, making the dust jacket a sumptuous work of art. You’ll have to look at the book to see it all and I suggest you do, you will be ensorcelled.*
“This piece of typography was entirely handmade. Each piece of plant life was arranged tediously with tweezers and glue over several days. It lived for roughly a week before we had to say goodbye to the physical piece.”
* Holly Black enriches my vocabulary while entertaining me.