“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought. This week’s “take a peek” book:
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?
I find myself not quite knowing what to say about this unusual, lovely book. I love the juxtaposition of the modern world, with its IPods and high school parties, alongside the hidden world of the Folk who live in the deep, dark forest. In fact, the opening lines create such a magical aura that it’s a bit jarring to realize that this story is set in a 21st century real-world town with ordinary teens who drive cars, drink beer in the woods, go to football games, buy vintage clothing, and have all the usual rivalries, gossip, and tensions you’d see in any young adult novel.
And yet, in the town of Fairfold, residents know that there are other beings in the forest, and it’s best to be wary. Every child knows the rules, such as never saying “thank you” to a fairy or eating any food offered. It’s just tourists, flocking to what’s known as a kitschy destination with cutesy, magic-themed main street shops, who get into trouble, finding their money replaced by leaves or, in more recent years, being subjected not just to harmless pranks but to actual life-threatening danger.
Hazel and Ben have grown up with the stories and know the ropes. They’re also each crazily infatuated with the sleeping prince in the glass coffin in the woods, and have concocted all sorts of fantasies about him and his world. As the story progresses, we learn much more about Hazel and her secrets, and what she’s done to help her brother, despite all the warnings and scary-sounding rhymes.
While the book is a bit odd at first, introducing plot points as facts already known (so that I kept having to flip back and say, “wait, when did that happen?”), it eventually settles into a logic and rhythm that work. The everyday lives alongside the magical, and the writing too can veer from the commonplace to the enchanted in the blink of an eye.
I loved the strange interplay between waking life and dreams, and I especially loved how traditional fairy tale gender roles are turned on their heads. A girl is the wielder of a powerful sword, defending family and all those who need her strength. A boy can find true love by waking a sleeping prince.
Meanwhile, there are changelings, goblins, a terrifying Alderking, and a creature so consumed by the loss of her true love that she literally becomes a monster.
In The Darkest Part of the Forest, author Holly Black creates a spell-binding tale of sibling love, bravery and devotion, with language that weaves its own magical enchantment.
Title: The Darkest Part of the Forest
Author: Holly Black
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date: January 13, 2015
Length: 336 pages
Genre: Young adult fantasy