16 January 2015

Book Review: The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

Let me say this first: Holly Black's new novel, The Darkest Part of the Forest, is the first YA fantasy that I've read in a few years that I loved.  (Quite possibly since she published The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, which I liked a lot, but didn't love quite as much as I love this book.)

Hazel Evans and her brother Ben have grown up in Fairfold, a town that is to the faerie world what Sunnydale, California, is to the vampire world. People occasionally disappear, and if they happen to be outsiders, well, then there doesn't need to be too much fuss.  The people of Fairfold know the rules and raise their children to know them, too. They've reach an uneasy d├ętente with the Fair Folk.

In the woods just outside of town, there's a glass coffin with a boy inside -- a heartbreakingly beautiful boy with horns, locked in an enchanted sleep. It just so happens that Hazel and Ben are both in love with the boy, pouring out their secrets and desires to him as the years go by.  The others kids in Fairfold like to party 'round (and on top of) the coffin, but occasionally one of them goes too far, with unfortunate consequences.  The glass itself is unbreakable, or so they all think, since the glass coffin endures through generations of drunk kids doing their best to shatter it.

Then one day, the glass coffin lies in shards, the boy inside gone missing. That same morning, Hazel wakes up with bits of the forest covering her and her bedclothes, and she doesn't know how they got there.  Oh, and maaaaaybe there's a sword. And maaaaaybe she's been losing time and blacking out about certain things.  And did I mention that in her youth, Hazel made a rash bargain with the Faerie King and that for days she's been receiving mysteriously ominous messages regarding her promise?

In the mean time, strange things are beginning to happen in Fairfold.  The balance between the townspeople and the faerie world tips and the people need a scapegoat.  Perhaps they've found it in Jack, who is Ben's best friend and who also happens to be changeling.  Sorry, should have mentioned that bit earlier!

Here are some other bits that might be important to know: Ben has a magically-bestowed gift of music! And as a child, Hazel plays at being a brave knight while her brother sings, and together they drive off the dark spirits of the forest! But then Hazel kisses the boy her brother loves, or rather, maybe that boy kisses her (aside: Hazel kisses a lot of boys.  It's kind of her thing.). But from that day onward, Hazel and Ben's relationship changes.

Really, there is so much going on here.  Holly Black plays with standard tropes, standing many on their heads and letting a few run the expected course, which constantly kept me guessing.  Which ones would she keep intact? Which ones would turn off at a 90 degree angle? And which ones would she invert altogether? Holly's writing is good and solid, never taking the reader out of the story, and she hits just the right blend of plot, character and pacing, overlaying it all with a cloak whose warp is humor and whose woof is darkness, so you can never really separate one from the other.  It's a coming of age tale, it's love and romance, it's a high quest adventure, and at the end of the day, it's also a story of loyalty and family.  It's brilliant.

My bookstore was lucky enough to host the book launch for Holly earlier this week.  Some fellow booksellers from Brookline Booksmith made the trek to our store for the launch, and we went all-out for it, dressing up in costume, serving faerie wine (drink it if you dare!), and even creating our own glass coffin so that attendees could use it for selfie photo ops. We had a grand and glorious time!  Standing room only, and a room full of fans, friends, and other great authors.

Holly, signing stock in the back.  This is
where the magic happens!
Showing a fellow bookseller how to
create my custom spiral display
Beware the faerie wine, ladies!
Here I am in the glass coffin
My amazing coworker, Hannah, who planned the
event and co-created the coffin
Holly trapped in a device of her own making
(photo courtesy of Hannah Moushabeck)
You can see authors Sarah Rees Brennan
and Cassandra Clare in the audience here. Not
pictured, but in also attendance, were Kelly Link,
Gavin Grant, and Deborah Noyes
How many booksellers can you fit into
 a glass coffin with Holly Black?
NB: Little, Brown published this book in the US on Tuesday, 13 January, and I read an advance reading copy provided by the publisher at my request several months ago. This book qualifies for my "diversify your life" label because there is one main character who is gay and a secondary character who is bi-sexual, at least by human standards.  My guess is that the fair folk don't gauge sexuality the same way we do.


  1. Wow, that glass coffin looks good on you!

    Wish I had been there. I loves me my faerie wine.


    1. Why, thank you, ma'am. ;)

      A large time was definitely had by all.

  2. Awww the Booksmith!

    So YA fantasy is sort of eh for me but this sounds entertaining. And I do very much like that cover.

    1. You know the Booksmith folks?

      THis book is so entertaining and fun and in general just excellent.

    2. I used to live down the street from the Booksmith and have spent a lot of time there. It's one of the places we try to hit whenever we're back in Boston.

    3. I've only visited the Booksmith once, but it was fun and funky. Their current assistant manager used to work at my store. We're a slightly incestuous world that way, indie booksellers.

  3. You don't have to push hard to make me want to read Holly Black.

    That glass coffin is SO awesome. Why can't other bookstores do awesome shit like that.

    1. Yeah, I think you'd enjoy the heck out of this one.

      We have a secret weapon that other bookstores don't have: Hannah Moushabeck.

    2. I loved this book thanks to your recommendation. I had no idea what to expect by going to the launch but what a treat. The Odyssey really knows how to do it right wether you are reader, author or publisher. Thanks Emily, what should I read next? (Liz :))

  4. Loving this book thanks to your recommendation. I had no idea what I was in for by going to the event but what a treat! The Odyssey really knows how to do it right wether you are reader, author or publisher. Thanks Emily, what should I read next?


Please, sir, may I have some more? (Comments, that is!)